March 4, 2013

Album Review: How to destroy angels_' Welcome oblivion

Last year, How to destroy angels_, Trent Reznor's latest creative outlet in the absence of Nine Inch Nails, made its most serious step toward being considered a primary focus of his with the release of their second EP, An omen. Consistency hasn't really been all that much of a strength of the project since Reznor assembled the ensemble featuring wife Mariqueen Maandig, Social Network score collaborator Atticus Ross and visual artist Rob Sheridan back in 2010 in the midst of NIN's hiatus and his award-winning theatrical ambitions -- Their self-titled EP being something akin to a clandestine female-fronted extension of his famous alternative-industrial psyche while An omen more a clutter of experimental electronic pop neutralized with organic folk and the moody cold soundscapes seemingly stuck within The Girl With a Dragon Tattoos' cellulose. After three years of baiting listeners with the prospect of something just as worthy of their attention as Nine Inch Nails, How to destroy angels' full-length debut Welcome oblivion provides them with a respectably refined hold-me-over that serves as a proper starting point for anyone who didn't bother investing interest in the will hes or won't hes of Reznor's seriousness over it.

Those who did spend time with either 2010's self-titled or An omen EPs shouldn't be too surprised by what they hear here, although it does bring closure to the any curiosity or skepticism over the project's ultimate direction. A bulk of An omen's remarkable moments have made their way onto How to destroy angels_' eerie, industrialized post-apocalyptic aura hovering over Welcome oblivion, and now, just a part of a greater whole, they find re-purposed support from their new track neighbors while providing the consistency that was apparent on the short-hand release. With the exception of "Ice age" still being a black sheep of a quiet acoustic drip, the bigger and arguably more accessible turns which also centralize on Mariqueen's pop effervescence in "Keep it together" and "The loop closes" continue these ideas for an arena-sized audience on lead single "How long?" and "Too late, all gone," a track that could fit comfortably on any of Nine Inch Nails' latter day outputs had Reznor being fronting the mic. Likewise, he and Ross' background compositions don't suffer from the same monotony or congestion that An omen's glitchy resolution presented, with album opener "The wake up" or front-half standouts "And the sky began to scream" and the LP's title track igniting scathing burns of synthetic manipulation and a ferocious annihilation of dub that states a valid case as to why Reznor devotees such as Skrillex and Deadbau5 aren't necessarily terrible -- They're just misguided and unkempt in comparison to the master. The only criticism to be had about their collaboration this time around is that Welcome oblivion's three-pronged finale ("Recursive self-improvement," "The loop closes" and "Hollowed ground") is co-opted by an instrumental fizzle that suggests the two are still not 100% removed in thought as film composers instead of part of an alternative rock band.

The arrival of Welcome oblivion does have one huge thing going against it, and it's that it couldn't be any more awkwardly timed. Just last week, Reznor announced his intentions to reactive Nine Inch Nails, with plans for new material and a live return coming as soon as this summer. Knowing Reznor at his assumedly best will be within reach imminently makes it easier to accept that How to destroy angels_ aren't necessarily a substitute for his most well-known moniker, but rather a cog turning inside his chronic creative machine, much like AMOK proved to be a laundry list of ideas for Thom Yorke to have fun with before potentially committing them onto the next Radiohead album. Welcome oblivion is a hulking but not entirely fortified example that says everything about Reznor (and friends') signature sound tailored to technology-age paranoia and no tomorrow. It works perfectly for the moment, but given his multi-disciplined career path, it also wouldn't be too surprising if How to destroy angels_' long-awaited full-length debut also served as its expiration date.

How to destroy angels_' Welcome oblivion will be released on March 5, 2013 on Columbia Records.

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