After a three-year hiatus, Trent Reznor has made due with his promise to revive Nine Inch Nails with Not the Actual Events, a series of hellacious soundscapes which give rise to a dark, festering lyricism that invents space between sadism and morbidity. This is an unflinching, abrasive assault on things like pop music, happy endings, and sunshine.
The five-song EP amounts to the aural equivalent of abrupt death throes — a statement on Reznor’s vision rather than the future of his career. These tracks capture the kind of helpless fatalism you’d expect from a younger musician; but it’s peppered with a weary certitude that has traded the common melodramas of heavy, industrially tempered genres for the macabre shadows that circle youth and curses.
Lyrically, the EP’s strength lies in Reznor’s capacity to make gruesome vignettes of single lines that linger throughout a song, rather than overloading his lyrics sheets with desperate appeals to imagery. Interspersed with desolate mantras and mortal chants, Not the Actual Events finds accessibility within its vivid gore, and authenticity in its honest perspective, as heard on “Branches/Bones:” [LISTEN]
Cold and black and infinite, with nothing left to lose
If you try to keep the flies away, the makeup hides the bruise.
Her branches are the bones that break, become a perfect line
And no he won’t just be a man who’s sometimes, he won’t just be a man who’s sometimes
This is a sinister album, and it takes a little while to delineate one song from the next. Reznor’s vocals pace the dim hallway between explosive frustration and the insomniac rants of asylum inmates. Demons run amok. Everything is rotting, or burning, or black, or dying out with an infected shrug. When it comes to an end — suddenly — you might have a sinking sensation. Like something passed you by while you were busy looking the other way.
As a deeply Nine Inch Nails album, Not the Actual Events seems to posit that the something was probably your life: [LISTEN]
You dig in places till your fingers bleed
Spread the infection where you spill your seed
I can’t remember what she came here for,
I can’t remember much of anything anymore