When Trent Reznor announced that he would be retiring the touring aspect of Nine Inch Nails, it was hard to believe that the prolific mastermind would remain silent for long. What came as a surprise was the announcement that his return is in the form of a “new” group named How to Destroy Angels, featuring his longtime NIN collaborator, Atticus Ross and Reznor’s new bride — and former vocalist for West Indian Girl — Mariqueen Maandig. The group released their debut EP digitally last week and will be issuing a physical copy on July 6th.
The record is a mixed bag of industrial sized beats and studio rat tweaking that only finds its balance when its not trying too hard. The lead off track, “The Space in Between,” sets the stage; with a menacing electronic beat framing vocalist Maandig’s musings on the end of something that is never quite defined. Her voice here is mostly untouched, but she takes on every nuance of her new husband’s vocal delivery, almost to the point of being a perfect facsimile.
“Parasite” is a noisy affair, reminiscent of Downward Spiral era NIN and bringing little new to the table. Reznor wraps his whispered vocal around his wife’s, providing a subtle contrast to the otherwise chaotic surroundings. “Fur-Lined” takes the post-industrial group in a decidedly dance punk direction. Maandig’s vocals continue to take a distorted backseat to the bombast of Reznor and Ross’s digital groove. “BBB” — which apparently stands for Big Black Boots — continues the dance movement, though suffers from far too much repetition for its own good.
“The Believers” relies far too heavily on the hokey imagery that would have driven the goth-crazed kids crazy in ’95, but seems downright comical now. The husband and wife duo whisper, “Hand and knees, we all atone / path is paved with blood and bone,” as earnestly as can be, but manage to be about as scary as a knife-wielding teddy bear.
The closing track, “A Drowning,” gives Maandig her first moment squarely in the spotlight, with her vocal front and center in mix. The mid-tempo tune also finds familiar footing with Reznor’s minor piano melody supplementing the fray. There are moments when the music closes in, building a tension which never quite bubbles over.
Reznor has often cited Prince as an influence, here he cops His Royal Badness’ penchant for vanity projects featuring his current wife/lady/muse. The results are, unsurprisingly, the same; with Maandig essentially adding her vocals to what amounts to material that ended up on the Nine Inch Nails cutting room floor. That’s not to say it isn’t worth a listen, and fans of Reznor will certainly be just as enamored of this as they are anything Trent releases. Though you have to wonder: why not just label it properly as a Nine Inch Nails EP?
(The Null Corporation 2010)