By at 9:29 AM Monday, November 12th 2012


How to Destroy Angels Shift, Unmemorably, With ‘An Omen’

How To Destroy Angels, Reviews


After Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor waved goodbye to the band’s live incarnation, he took on How To Destroy Angels, a new musical project with his wife Mariqueen Maandig, fellow Oscar winner Atticus Ross, and longtime visual collaborator Rob Sheridan. Coming two years after the band’s surprising 2010 debut EP is their second effort, An Omen EP, carrying the obligatory, breathless anticipation from NIN fans on its shoulders. While it’s clear from the get-go that HTDA has evolved into a more easily identifiable entity, the resulting changes made to the group’s sound weren’t all for the best.

L-R: Rob Sheridan, Mariqueen Maandig, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross

Listen to An Omen in full

The timeline behind the EP’s production is a bit cloudy: despite claims that How to Destroy Angels’ full-length record was reportedly finished earlier this year, it got pushed back to 2013, leaving An Omen to fill the gap before that release. Given the time it’s been in development, one could reasonably expect their second offering to be much more fleshed out – especially after Reznor stated that HTDA’s self-titled debut sounded a bit too much like their first experiment. Positive results do come to fruition here, but crucial aspects of the music aren’t taken as far as they could, and wind up creating room for setbacks.

Opening number Keep It Together, the first cut unveiled from An Omen, remains an alluring affair. Its warm synth bass  pulses all the way through, providing a solid bottom-end for the track, bound to linger like an earworm along with with the simplistic chorus “I can’t keep it together.” Although it doesn’t entirely fit conventional structure, it works surprisingly well as a proper song – much like some of the best tracks on the band’s debut, and like the one that follows on this EP.

Out of all the music that Trent Reznor’s been involved in making, the beautiful, refreshing Ice Age arguably sounds the least like what anyone would expect from him. Mostly led by acoustic strings (we’re tempted to say it’s a banjo being picked), track number two is a surprise and a standout right away. While Reznor and Atticus Ross had already implemented plenty of acoustic instruments on their co-written NIN album Ghosts I-IV, it’s Mariqueen’s singing on Ice Age, pushed to the front and with no post-processing effects to aid it, that truly make this one special. If there ever needed to be a statement against claims that all her vocal melodies were starting to sound too similar, this is it. The fact that it goes on for seven minutes without overstaying its welcome only strengthens it.

Unfortunately, that strong impression begins to fade away when On The Wing hits, letting an uncomfortable amount of repetition start to settle in. The electronic beats and loops return to stay, and it wouldn’t be a bad move at all, were it not for the slowly diminishing focus on more noticeable song and melody progression. The instrumental The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, which begs to be listened to with headphones more than anything else on the EP, features endless layers of sound gently emerging and intertwining. Along the main synth line, eventually comes a bass, a muffled beat, a distant guitar – then, suddenly, it’s all gone with an abrupt cut, and it feels as if there was barely enough progression to justify the piece as more than an experiment.

The final two cuts (and Speaking In Tongues) act as amalgamations of Reznor & Ross’s soundtrack works for A Social Network and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – except featuring vocals, of course. The Loop Closes, the most similar to something you can actually bob your head to on this EP, still goes on for too long with the repetition of the unimpressive verse “The beginning is the end / Keeps comin’ ’round again“, over and over again. Speaking In Tongues, with its odd use of percussion and disturbing synth, could’ve been stellar, had it not gone for a couple of minutes too long, totaling seven.

From a technical standpoint, An Omen is undoubtedly impressive, and can cause jaws to drop among those well-versed in whatever equipment the band is using. Most everyone else might be unable to shake a feeling of aimlessness, very early on. It takes dedicated listens to actually reveal new textures – and they’re still subtle, hardly noticeable. The sounds that were created and looped here are rich, to say the very least, but the songs lying underneath aren’t strong enough to carry it all.

Two years after HTDA’s selft-titled debut, there’s nothing here that’s quite exciting like the menacing bass line and guitar of Parasite, the memorable chorus of BBB, or the danceable beat of Fur Lined. Even if that release came off as simplistic at times, there was a clear sense that the group could hardly contain the amount of ideas they were having and put them in one place; with An Omen, it’s as though simpler song ideas are pushed through walls upon walls of impressive craftsmanship. In the end, less attentive listeners will be hard-pressed to actually remember what most of these six tracks sound like after the first few run-throughs, since very little sticks to the memory besides the obvious hooks of the first two tracks. For all the time the group spent making An Omen (and how comparatively little time their previous effort took to make), it’s more like a debut EP than their debut EP, and brings up concerns regarding their upcoming full-length record.


How To Destroy Angels

An Omen

Released: 13/11/2012
1. Keep It Together
2. Ice Age
3. On The Wing
4. The Sleep Of Reason Produces Monsters
5. The Loop Closes
6. Speaking In Tongues

Meanwhile, On The Internet...

  1. Reverend Justito says:

    I dig the second track. It reminds me of the project Robert Plant did with Alison Krauss.

  2. Zac Gelfand says:

    Is the album worth paying for? I listened to it once, but I spaced out considerably… thinking about getting it from iTunes today. Should I?

  3. Jon says:

    Spelling mistake in the HTDA cut-out on your site’s front page: “proccess”

  4. mary miller says:

    couple songs were good, but overall not very memorable for me.

  5. Jason says:

    The first EP was lame and this is even worse if that was possible. What a disappointment. I can’t help but laugh right along with Chris Cornell.

  6. Micke Nelson says:

    I wouldn’t even download this if it were free. Much like the rest of HTDA’s stuff; this is not memorable.

  7. Ross CMR says:

    Second song on the EP is the best in my opinion as well. If your considering buying it check out the free stream first to help you decide:

  8. Jeff Hazen says:

    What’s with all of these commenters (seemingly) blindly following the lead of this review? I honestly don’t think it was all that bad, and even enjoyed it more than the first EP. I can’t get “Keep It Together” out of my head, “Ice Age” is just straight up weird/awesome, and I like the last 2 tracks especially.

    I’m honestly hoping that people don’t just brush this off, and instead give this a legitimate, open-minded listen, as I think that there’s a lot here to enjoy….

    …but that’s just my humble opinion. Disagree if you wish.

  9. David Munson says:

    In my opinion, these two EPs are very reminicent of the work done on GHOSTS. Now, with that said, this OMEN EP does have some different sound to it. Like Mrs. Reznor had more of an input to bringing in a lighter sound. Honestly, as a long time NIN fan I have always loved the layered, dark, synth sounds Trent has brought to the table. When HTDA came about, I felt this was a project that was a Reznor/Ross sound with Maandig on vocals. I think was these EPs are doing are bridging the gap between the old NIN era and what will be the HTDA era. I think Mrs. Reznor will bring more to the table with the full length debut album. What we are seeing with the OMEN EP is a muddy water effect. Yes, its not pretty and not all will like it, but I think the end result will be awesome ear candy.

    As for the timeline. I have a theory. The first EP was released and you have REZNOR, ROZZ, MAANDIG as the artists envolved. With the second EP you now have the trio with Sheridan added. SO! my theory is that once Sheridan put down the camera for awhile and started learning music, I think he brought something to the table that either (A) required some musical rework because of his input, or (B) they are delaying the release so he can learn to be a musician; bluntly stating.

    Now, as for buying this EP, I have yet to deposit my tithing to the music gods, but I tend to go BACK to the OMEN EP on their soundlcoud account just to feel it out from time to time. It didn’t grab me like the first one did, but I was in a different place 2-3 years ago. So, we shall see if the full length is worth it and whether or not I partake in paying for my digital copy with this EP or the debut of the full length album.

  10. Von Torro says:

    pure crap imo

    Ive given on TR , I used to love his early work but this is awful – and his wife cant sing !

    • T-Rez says:

      I wouldnt go as far as the guy above me, but I have to say the sound of the new album generally comes across to me as too weak. The lyrics, the sound and Maandig’s voice are too vulnerable and too weak, there is no energy. There also is too much attention to detail as far as all the organic and synthetic sounds are concerned, overproduced.
      The only song I find somewhat good is speaking in tongues. I really hope this sound wont be carried over into a new NIN album.

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