Since its unveiling a month ago, we’ve been closely following every movement made by How To Destroy Angels, Trent Reznor’s new band with his wife Mariqueen Maandig, as well as longtime Nine Inch Nails producer/collaborator Atticus Ross. We’ve been looking forward to their six-song debut EP, and it’s finally arrived.
Admittedly, a good percentage of our anticipation was due to the breathless excitement that usually accompanies new NIN releases – after all, Trent Reznor used to be the guy who gifted the world with one album every five years, then suddenly got all prolific on our asses and released 3 pretty great records in the past three years – which ultimately culminated in his “retiring” NIN, at least in the live incarnation. The other reason for our piqued interest is the fact that Mariqueen had come from virtually nowhere, suddenly aligned with such great artists. Now that we have HTDA’s debut EP, we’re able to finally experience the 6 songs they’ve produced so far, in their entirety.
Our first impression of opening track The Space In Between wasn’t necessarily the best, and not much has changed in that regard. The distorted guitars still rock, and Mariqueen’s vocals still sound like they shouldn’t be there. But when the abrupt ending arrives, the track gains new meaning, as if it were meant as a mere introduction to Parasite, which kicks ass in a very Nails kind of way. The bassline is groovy, the inferno of background noises is as effective as it was on NIN’s Year Zero, and – surprise – you can actually hear Trent singing alongside his wife.
Where Parasite was glorious in its broken electronic sound effects all over the place, Fur Lined revels in the tight beat and polite keyboards, with singing and guitars that would make a Pop-era Bono Vox very proud. A downright danceable track with a frantic robot-hive chorus that flirts with a Girls & Boys echo, framed in the same digital disco manner as the first half of NIN’s last album The Slip.
BBB, the last surprise on the EP, is a dangerously catchy spin of electronic/pop music into a militant, pulsing industrial buzz march. The lyrics are straight-up funk, there’s no denying it, but the weird instrumentation that accompanies it all is what makes this track so fucking interesting.
The greatest comparisons to Reznor’s main project will be made on The Believers, a largely instrumental track that builds the same pulsing digital deathhouse soundscapes so increasingly prevalent through the artist’s work over the previous two decades. When Mariqueen’s breathy whisper arrives, it’s clear that she’s a fit for the project; an actual singer who was actually singing would draw attention away from the sound as a whole. Mariqueen’s delivery enables her to blend in with the surrounding atmosphere while driving it just enough to seduce the listener, never distract.
Originally, I said that this band sounded like “a poor man’s Portishead”. I stand by that claim only for the final track, because the rest of the EP has proven me wrong. A Drowning definitely sounds better to me now, as a closing track to the collection rather than a debut piece, but the beat is still leaning over the edge of tacky, and the singing is no better than amateurish. Of course, Trent and Atticus throw in some heavily-distorted guitars in the middle, shift our attention away, and all is well.
Fernando collaborated with Johnny Firecloud for this review.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.