Music

How to Destroy Angels: Welcome Oblivion

Trent Reznor has not lost his attention for detail – it has just gently slipped through the cracks and out of sight, off to fight another day.


How to Destroy Angels

Welcome Oblivion

Label: Columbia
US Release Date: 2013-03-05
UK Release Date: 2013-03-04
Amazon
iTunes

On a technical level, we can discuss Welcome Oblivion as How to Destroy Angels's first album. But realistically speaking, we all know that's not quite the proper way to put it. How to Destroy Angels came from the ashes of Nine Inch Nails when newlyweds Trent Reznor and Mariqueen Maandig teamed up with NIN holdover Atticus Ross and visual artist Rob Sheridan to make a self-titled EP in 2010. An omen EP_ dropped in late 2012 as a taster for the project’s forthcoming album. Of the EP's six tracks, four of them can also be found on Welcome Oblivion. Mariqueen Maandig had already been singing for West Indian Girl for about five years while the musical partnership of Reznor and Ross goes back at least eight years and boasts one Academy Award and a Golden Globe (for their soundtrack work on The Social Network). So yes, Welcome Oblivion is How to Destroy Angels's first long-player. But when you take a step back, it's just another album for Reznor, Ross and Maandig – and that's probably how history will remember it.

If there's one thing that rubs a died-in-wool cult member the wrong way, it's thrusting the new work of a seasoned veteran under the harsh glare of past glories. With every new release from Reznor since the doubly-vicious The Fragile, alternative/industrial/metal fans the world over would jump to their keyboards to proclaim that this new thing was no The Downward Spiral, Pretty Hate Machine, or Broken EP. But the dedicated NIN following knows that you just can't do that. That's not very healthy. How can you expect anyone, especially a volatile experimenter like Trent Reznor, to push the same product for more than 20 years? It's at times like this that I like to bring up the biological theory that your body's cells replace themselves over a seven-year period. You can't blame Reznor for not duplicating The Downward Spiral because that was almost three Trents ago.

So comparisons between How to Destroy Angels and Nine Inch Nails may be inevitable or annoying, depending on your opinion, but let's get one thing straight: Welcome Oblivion is more informed by Reznor and Ross's recent work than anything else. By which I mean their soundtrack work on The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in addition to the NIN all-instrumental double album released in 2008, Ghosts I-IV. The last one mentioned received mixed reviews, as though critics were looking for a 36-track, 110-minute album of numerically-titled instrumentals to be a demonstration of cohesion. The practice of building these vignettes have certainly sharpening Reznor and Ross's compositional chops to fit the silver screen. But when it comes to making music without a context, the pair has demoted themselves from industrial architects to musique concrète construction workers. It's not a hard, painful fall from the bold to the workmanlike, but it's still noticeable. Welcome Oblivion stands where the fine art of establishing mood with looped cues just a few shades shy of crossing into tedium; a soundtrack in search of a film.

Welcome Oblivion is very long. At one hour and five minutes, I realize it's not the longest album to exist, not by a long shot. But when you listen to it straight through, it feels longer than it is. One explanation for this is that the collective's 2010 EP had just a little more variety, and consequently, personality. You had your downtempo industrial dirges ("The Space in Between”) sharing space with dance-inflicted mope rock ("Fur-Lined") with a nice sampling of things that neatly fell in the middle. On most of Welcome Oblivion, the tempo and dynamics are uniformly restrained. The overall mix treats Mariqueen Maandig's voice as another instrument in the band to ride alongside all the other components, not unlike bands of the shoegaze variety. The one exception to the rule of dynamics and Maandig's compressed vocals is the single "How Long?", with a introductory chorus designed to announce the arrival of the album's centerpiece. But to refer to the song as such is misleading since it seems to artistically stand outside the rest of Welcome Oblivion. Not that its appearance derails the album, it just seems a little on the obligatory side.

But the filters and compressors through which Mariqueen Maandig emits her soft moans and groans aren't a deal-breaker either, especially on "Too Late, All Gone", where the platitude of choice for the chorus is "the more we change" ... wait for it ... "everything stays the same." And rounding out the choruses of "On the Wing" with "I don't believe in anything" would sound dubious to say the least had the happy couple been singing into a dry mic. Though it give us some mighty good elephant-like blares from the keyboards, "We Fade Away" also becomes Maandig's excuse to chant disputable poetry that would not go over well around a camp fire. Perhaps it's best for everyone involved to say that the lyrics are window dressing. Otherwise, "The beginning is the end / Keeps coming round again", but "How long? / Can we keep holding on?"

As the lengthy instrumental passages slowly conclude Welcome Oblivion, it's evident that Trent Reznor has not lost his attention for detail. Instead, it has gently slipped through the cracks and out of sight, off to fight another day. Whether you look at this as Reznor, Ross and Maandig's "first" album or not, Welcome Oblivion depicts How to Destroy Angels as a little adrift, mixing road-weary maturity with rookie mistakes. But hey, if experience is the best teacher, Trent Reznor should have a PhD in something by now.

5

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.