Nine Inch Nails: Add Violence

A pinch of The Fragile, some With Teeth, a helping of Downward Spiral, a few cups of Hesitation Marks, and a dash of Broken at the end.
Nine Inch Nails
The Null Corporation

As Trent Reznor’s career progresses, it becomes easier and easier to compare him to David Bowie, Madonna, Prince, or Led Zeppelin because of the shifts, accelerations, decelerations, explorations, and spirals of his catalog. Add Violence is unique not because it’s unlike anything we’ve heard before; it’s everything we’ve heard before. It recalls every previous Nine Inch Nails album, and yet none in particular.

A pinch of The Fragile, some With Teeth, a helping of Downward Spiral, a few cups of Hesitation Marks, and a dash of Broken at the end. Yet these tracks would not all fit comfortably on any one of these albums.

“Less Than” reaches even further back to an alternate 1980s version of Nine Inch Nails with a new wave keyboard beat before revving into a hard guitar riff and then settling back to the synthesizer. Lyrics such as “You got what you asked for” and “And you can always justify / The missile trails across the sky again” suggest the song is about our current presidential crisis.

“The Lovers” is a loose, wobbly, anxious look at a man wishing to escape—as usual—from his self and into the perfect “arms of the lovers”. The track isn’t bad, but it’s just okay and the nadir of the EP.

The low, slow beat and skittering, almost atonal piano of the very moving “This Isn’t the Place” builds and swells, resting on a long, prolonged moan from Reznor that transforms into a chant and then breaks into a quivering, thin voice separated from a “friend” and lamenting that he “thought we had more time”. Now, he just wishes for someone to “carry me, carry me home”. We’ve all been in this place, but no one wants to be. No, this isn’t the place. This isn’t the place at all. No guitars, no pounding beats, but it’s heavy. Very heavy.

“Not Anymore” scrapes along with Reznor horrified that his “feet are nailed to the floor” with “Mouth taped shut / Crippled and frozen with fear” but the song picks up, and Reznor explodes in a self-anthem, declaring that “No, no that doesn’t happen round here / I won’t forget; I know who I am / No matter what I know who I am / And what I’m doing this for”. A complete rejection and refusal of victimization, Reznor empowers himself and vows to be the master of his fate.

The mid-tempo piano-driven “The Background World” could have been a standout on any NIN release and is the final and most powerful track on Add Violence. Lines such as “I will keep myself awake / I know what’s coming” are a declaration not to avert one’s eyes to uncomfortable truths and to stand completely within the moment in the realization that “There is no moving past / There is no better place / There is no future point”.

About four minutes in the track jettisons the vocals and the piano, and a distorted groove repeats for the remaining eight minutes of the 12-minute track. The predominant opinion seems to be that these eight minutes are some self-indulgent, throwaway fiddle-diddle from Reznor. However, the hardcore has noted other possibilities. For example, one super fan counts the number of times the loop appears as 52, and thus it is a commentary on Reznor’s own life since he is 52 years old. Someone else notes the parallels to William Basinki’s The Disintegration Loops, a series of music particles played in tape loops that decay with every pass, accompanied by artwork of the New York skyline in the aftermath of 911 and finished the morning thereof. Is “The Background World” political statement through allusion?

To these theories, I add that this sense of listening with anticipation replicates Broken and its 99 tracks of possibilities that listeners in the 1990s, free of Internet cheat sheets and postings, sifted through in case something was hidden. On Broken the first six tracks contain music, and then after 91 one-second tracks of silence, two final, listenable tracks appear to reward the faithful. But, of course, there is nothing ahead in “The Background World”, but further disintegration as the loops gradually break down into white noise. Ultimately, we are waiting for nothing, and that may be the most disturbing message of Add Violence.

Linking back the opening track and its political overtones, the final audible words of “The Background World” are “Are you sure / This is what you want”. At four minutes in, we say yes. At 12, maybe not. The track, like America’s political situation, implies that we had no idea of the full and final extent of what we got ourselves into, but it will not end in any pretty or comprehensible way.

RATING 7 / 10
Call for Music Writers, Reviewers, and Essayists
Call for Music Writers