Sound — 9
I have been a NIN fan since I was 12 or 13 years old, and also a fan of pretty much everything else that Trent Reznor has been involved with. When I first heard about How To Destroy Angels, I was very excited and I got my hands on the self-titled EP. I listened to it repeatedly, and then got the "An Omen" EP as soon as it was available. Needless to say, I was waiting for the release of "Welcome Oblivion" with as much patience as I could muster. The people I've talked to about How To Destroy Angels keep wanting to compare it to NIN but this is a different animal. You can definitely hear Trent Reznor's hand in the compositions and he does provide occasional back up vocals, but this is a group effort by the members and they each bring something to the mix. There are 13 tracks on the album, with a total run-time of over 65 minutes. The vinyl version contains two additional bonus tracks. The other members of the band are Mariqueen Maandig (Trent's wife and previous vocalist of the band West Indian Girl), Atticus Ross (best known for his movie soundtrack work), and Rob Sheridan (NIN's art director, and also acting art director for How To Destroy Angels). Alessandro Cortini (previously worked with NIN) co-wrote and performed on the track "We Fade Away", but is not a member of the band. Okay, I know that 3 out of 4 of the new members have been involved with NIN, so maybe this project sounds a little bit like NIN. I find myself hard pressed to describe the sound of the album, except to say it is obvious that Trent Reznor has continued to hone his craft over the years, and has been great at picking collaborators. Wikipedia lists the album as "post-industrial" and I guess that title is as appropriate as any other. People sometimes say that electronic music is "soulless" but projects like this prove that electronic music can be a valid and expressive form of music (there just happens to be a lot of really horrible bands in the electronic genres mixed in with the good ones). Something you will find different from a lot of the material released by NIN, there is occasionally a more positive vibe conveyed in the songs which isn't really something that NIN was known for.
Lyrics — 8
Mariqueen's vocals have a haunting breathy quality that works great with this genre of music, giving it just the right creepy factor. Trent's vocals which I'm hard pressed to say whether he is "co-vocalist" or "backup vocalist", are also well-suited to the music. For those familiar with Mariqueen's previous career with the alternative rock band, West Indian Girl, her vocal delivery is much different on all of this album. The difference being that with the band West Indian Girl she sounded like she was competing vocally with co-vocalist Robert James to be the lead vocalist, while with How To Destroy Angels even when singing WITH Trent their vocals don't seem to be at odds with each other at all. Here are some lyrics from the track "Too Late, All Gone": "Stuck on static/ automatic/ turn off tragic/ mother magic/ too late, all gone/ interferon/ I can't move on/ keep on, keep on/ parasitic/ just a pinprick/ cancer conflict/ cataclysmic/ engage, dismiss/ close call, near miss/ I can't take this/ I can't take this/ The more we change/ Everything stays the same/ The more we change/ Everything stays the same/ The more we change/ Everything stays the same/ Christmas crushes/ baby blushes/ seedling ashes/ moment passes/ listen, regret/ we do forget/ special effect/ same old, same shit/ scraping, killing/ shredding you/ coming, repeating/ lack of feeling/ no sick, no cure/ get down on all fours/ make up, make sure/ go on, get dressed". Kind of a word association thing going on there with the lyrics, but somehow while listening to the song it feels really powerful.
Overall Impression — 8
To me, the projects that Trent Reznor has been involved in have been the perfect examples of electronic music done right. I have absolutely loved this album from start to finish, and have it on heavy rotation on my mp3 player. When you listen to electronic music you are talking about people using samples and synths to create rhythms and melodies... Sure, they tweak the sounds a little bit... But what is done on this album is like a finely crafted piece of sonic art. To start with, they use the perfect balance of electronic and real instrumentation. The compositions are well constructed and serve a function besides just taking up a few minutes of time. At first listen the song "Ice Age" was probably my least favorite song on the album, but after a few listens it has really grown on me. The other songs on the album I had taken to immediately. So, my favorite song on the album is "Ice Age", but coming in close behind it is "How Long?" and "Hallowed Ground". This is a really solid album to be the freshman full length release, and I find myself waiting eagerly for what they will release in the future.