Although Trent Reznor recently hinted that he’ll be resurrecting Nine Inch Nails in the not-so-distant future, his current focus is How To Destroy Angels, his band with wife Mariqueen Maandig and frequent collaborators Atticus Ross and Rob Sheridan. The group’s 2010 self-titled debut EP felt like an extension of Nine Inch Nails, with its crisp industrial disco, electronic squelching and diffracted digital noise. But the new An omen EP_ merges Reznor’s electronic past with the more nuanced soundtrack work he’s done with Ross.
Ominous restraint marks the sparse, folk-inspired “Ice age,” which revolves around a thrumming acoustic guitar loop and Maandig’s unadorned vocals, while the equally spare “The sleep of reason produces monsters” is a mostly-instrumental lullaby with gentle, bubbling keyboards. In contrast, other songs on An omen are dense and complex. On the despairing “On the wing,” Maandig and Reznor’s murmured vocals share time with muffled piano and fat electronic beats which resemble splotchy raindrops; “Speaking in tongues” grafts sharp, plucked tones to chanting vocals and haywire electronic effects; and “Keep it together” is a brooding number with perforated digital beats Joy Division-esque background guitars.
If An omen has a flaw, it’s lyrics. More often than not, the EP’s topics (existential nihilism), imagery (references to “zeroes and ones”) and even phrasing (“The beginning is the end, it keeps coming around again,” from “The loop closes”) are recycled from Nine Inch Nails. While it’s not like anyone wants to hear Reznor going soft, the lack of thematic progression is disappointing. Still, How To Destroy Angels’ creative evolution mostly negates this weakness – fingers crossed the band’s forthcoming full-length continues this forward momentum.