When Trent Reznor announced the release of the new Nine Inch Nails EP, Not The Actual Events, he described its sound as “impenetrable” and removed from his previous soundtrack work with longtime collaborator and now official bandmate Atticus Ross. This was a very enticing prospect, as Reznor and his revolving door of musicians have cultivated a project wherein anything is possible. Not knowing what to expect, the very short time waiting between the surprise announcement and finally hearing the release felt like ages for longtime Nine Inch Nails fans, particularly after a fairly underwhelming 2013 comeback record Hesitation Marks.
As it turns out, Not The Actual Events isn’t all that impenetrable or ugly compared to how far we’ve come in the world of industrial metal. However, Events contains what might be some of the heaviest Nine Inch Nails material we’ve heard in over a decade, and certainly some of the most fascinating. It’s a surprisingly diverse selection of tracks as well which calls to various eras within the NIN discography, making for a rather engaging listen despite its short runtime.
Events eases into its upbeat rapidfire opener “Branches/Bones,” which sounds like a cut from the first half of The Slip with its catchy structure, fuzzed out guitars, and snappy drums. Reznor wails over a building chorus and wall of guitars and synths before cutting out abruptly just before hitting the two minute mark, burning bright and fast. “Dear World,” propelled by its darting synths and drums, comes across as more of a Year Zero or With Teeth-era track in its kinetic energy and murmured vocals.
“She’s Gone Away” changes tone to a more somber atmosphere as a hypnotic 6-minute piece with a darkness and songwriting style that would fit alongside material from Downward Spiral. “The Idea of You” is a fascinating inclusion that picks up the pace as the penultimate track, sporting an oddly timed metallic groove and a punk banger of a chorus that could have easily been lifted from Pretty Hate Machine. The call and response riffing and drum fills that come in the bridge (from none other than guest drummer Dave Grohl) are exhilarating. The real oddball is the final track, “Burning Bright (Field on Fire)”, which sees Nine Inch Nails approach doom metal with a lumbering blues riff straight out of the Black Sabbath playbook (thanks to a contribution from Dave Navarro, of all people) and playing more like Godflesh than anything else out of the Nine Inch Nails discography,
Aided by its limited format and short runtime, each song is distinct and inspired, boding well for this coming era of Nine Inch Nails with Atticus Ross acting as co-pilot. As meticulous as Nine Inch Nails albums tend to be, perhaps what the band needs is the kind of spontaneity and diversity that Events offers; the spirit of wild experimentation without limitations, and an ambitiousness without heady concepts, as cool as those are. Reznor has proven that anything is possible under the NIN umbrella, and that the well of inspiration continues to run deep. Events may not be entirely immediate or vital, but it’s a worthwhile proof of concept for the idea that Nine Inch Nails has plenty left to say.