Nine Inch Nails ‘Bad Witch’ Is Haunted by David Bowie
Trent Reznor has built his storied career upon experimentation. His imaginative penchant for seaming together genre elements that otherwise contradict one another has produced some incredibly compelling pieces of music. Over the years he’s become bolder, taking more risks and bringing his work to increasingly unconventional territory. Bad Witch continues down this road, drawing elements from noise, jazz, industrial, lounge music, and EDM -- much like David Bowie's final album, blackstar -- to create a unique and eccentric offering that concludes Nine Inch Nails’ recent trilogy of releases, which started with 2016's Not The Actual Events and continued with last year's Add Violence. Reznor has managed to evolve not just with the times, but ahead of them. His body of work isn't just timeless; it nearly always feels like the future.
Bad Witch kicks open with “Shit Mirror,” which sounds exactly like what would be bumping through an acid-soaked industrial rave in a dingy N.Y.C. warehouse. In other words, it’s something you’d expect Nine Inch Nails to deliver. Lines like “Got a new face and it feels alright” and “I’m becoming something new / it’s getting hard to recognize” address some kind of change, and pretty soon, the album's sonic tone changes as well. The latter part of the album rolls deeper into the noisy void which NIN submerged the last two EPs in.
The standout track here is the saxophone-driven “Play the God Damned Part.” Reznor's playing -- yes, he plays saxophone -- sounds influenced by David Bowie's atonal sax-work on his own albums (in fact, when Bowie and Nine Inch Nails toured together in the '90s, Reznor would play Bowie's sax part on "Subterranean"; you can see a bit of it at the beginning of this video).
At this point, Bad Witch has moved from rave-territory to Reznor's one-time home of New Orleans. Not the New Orleans where drunken tourists vomit on themselves on Bourbon Street; this is the New Orleans where Madame Laveau performs late night voodoo rituals on the Bayou. If an actual “bad witch” was looking for a theme song, "Play the God Damned Part" would be a good choice.
“God Break Down the Door” goes further into Bowie territory, delivering a soundtrack for a 90 mph drive down the autobahn on a moonlit night. It almost sounds like something Reznor could have created for the Lost Highway soundtrack that he produced in 1997 (and which he included Bowie's "I'm Deranged" on). “I’m Not From This World” lingers in space, emulating the hopeless vacuum of a black hole. “Over and Out” wraps up the 30-minute long LP, keeping the listener in space, but this time in the comfort of some kind of alien rooftop lounge.
The closing line seems to acknowledge the band’s place in music, echoing the very same sentiments expressed earlier, “I’ve always been ten years ahead of you, over and over again.” That’s a bold statement to make (and again, one that would apply to Bowie), but Bad Witch proves it to be accurate. But let's check back in ten years, and see how we feel about the album then. Of course, by 2028, Reznor will surely be on to even wilder sonic creations.
Top 25 Industrial Rock + Metal Bands
You Think You Know Nine Inch Nails?