Nine Inch Nails – Not the Actual Events

Posted: 23 December 2016 in Singles and EPs
Tags: , , , , , ,

23rd December 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

This is Nine Inch Nails? That whipcracking Roland snare, thin and snappy, in a landlside of scuzzed-out bass noise, sounds more like Metal Urbain or offshoot Dr Mix and the Remix. Were it not for the distinctive vocals, the throbbing punk guitars of ‘Branches_Bones’ isn’t immediately regonisable as the work of NIN. But then again, it does distil into its explosive one minute and forty-seven seconds all the violent fury of the best tracks recoded under the NIN moniker. Nevertheless, you weren’t expecting that, were you?

Or maybe you were. Trent Reznor had not only promised new material before the year was out but also warned, on announcement of the release of Not the Actual Events, that ‘it’s an unfriendly, fairly impenetrable record that we needed to make’. And it is.

‘Dear World’ is dark, murky, tetchy, twitchy, deeply electronic. Bleepy synths ride the crest of an insistent drum loop, while Reznor croons in a hushed tone. It’s probably the closest they’ve come to looking back to the Pretty Hate Machine days, and I can’t help but think of the stark, claustrophobic groove of ‘Ringfinger’.

The six-minute ‘She’s Gone Away’ is a messy, mid-tempo dirge that, with its dense, dubby bass groove calls to mind ‘Reptile’ from The Downward Spiral (which along with its immediate predecessors in the shape of Broken and Fixed still stand as the band’s artistic apogee, and there’s nothing which quite scales those heights to be found here). ‘The Idea of You’ is a tense affair, and the thunking, leaden guitar slabs border on Nu Metal. Reznor builds layer upon layer of vocal until there’s something approximating an entire arena’s worth of voice – or a choir’s worth, at least, and it’s actually quite uncomfortable. If the cacophony of overdriven guitars, anguished vocals, layered synths and extraneous noise, which build to a cranium-compressing density sounds like classic Nine Inch Nails, that’s because it is.

Unveiled on the same day as the EP to advance purchasers, ‘Burning Bright’ is brutal assault buried in a dense sonic sludge. And yes, it is unfriendly, a grinding bass-led barrage that draws together the pulverizing grate of Melvins with a black metal and the ground between dark ambient and black metal. Don’t come looking for a chorus or nifty hook here: this track is predominantly about battering the listener. Yet for all its weight, there’s a contrarian element to the arrangement, with bombastic synths and an extravagant guitar solo that goes on – and on.

The overall effect of this bears parallels with Foetus’ Butterfly Potion EP; emerging as a standalone studio release, it was a relentless sonic assault, and a productional tour de force. In the same way, Not the Actual Events is evidently a studio-borne project, which utilises the kit available to achieve a bewildering sonic experience.

From reading Linda Hutcheon on postmodernism, and from digesting William Burroughs’ theories of the cut-up, I’m aware that history is essentially a construct, a representation and reinterpretation of events. As such, while it may be entirely coincidental, it’s notable that Not the Actual Events emerges synchronously to a bundle of souped-up, ultra-deluxe expanded and ‘definitive’ reissues of back-catalogue classics, which are a boon for collectors or a cynical and sacrilegious cash-milking exercise, depending on your perspective. It’s interesting, then, that while Reznor rewrites his own history, his latest material also contributes to its development, drawing on elements of the past while very much looking to the future.

Not the Actual Events is a stronger work thanks in no small part to its brevity: having kept it concise and focused, it has impact to match its density.

And if anyone’s ordered the digital version rather than the vinyl, I’d love to know what the ‘physical component’ is when it’s delivered. If it’s simply a CD, I’ll not be impressed.



  1. Louise Deakin says:

    I ordered and paid for the digital version + ‘physical component’ 31st Dec 2016. The download was available immediately, however, its now several weeks later and the ‘physical component’ still hasn’t arrived, my account has been marked as unfulfilled and my enquiry has been ignored, needless to say i’m not impressed at all, I’ve been a dedicated NIN fan since the beginning and own every official ‘Halo’ that’s been released, so this is a real bummer to not have an ‘actual physical component’ has anyone else experienced the same problem? Yours hopefully, Louise

    • cnosnibor says:

      Hmm. The website states that the ‘physical component’ ships in Jan 2017, but doesn’t specify when in January. However, it’s now February, so it should have at least been dispatched. And, as it happes, your comment has just reminded me that I also ordered a ‘physical component’ in the form of 2 copies of the eye-wateringly expensive vinyl – the website simply gives ‘spring 2017’ as the dispatch for that. Not cool.

  2. Louise Deakin says:

    Hey, thanks for taking the time to reply 🙂
    Coincidently, I’ve also had a reply today from Gnarlywood customer service in response to my order query.
    I’ve been advised that the ‘physical component’ is now expected to be shipped in the next two weeks and I’ll be notified when it’s being shipped. I don’t feel quite so bummed out now I’ve been given the heads up, albeit somewhat vague…
    So I guess watch this space and I’ll be sure to let you know when and indeed what the ‘physical component’ is when it arrives. Best regards, Louise.

    • Louise Deakin says:

      So, my ‘physical component’ has finally arrived, nine weeks after payment was taken from my account. I really wish I could tell you it was worth the wait and worth the money I paid.
      To say I’m less than impressed is an understatement! Its basically a black envelope sealed with this message…

      “To be read IN ITS ENTIRETY before opening. Actions have consequences! N.T.A.E. may contain subversive elements that produce feelings of euphoria and may be harmful and unsettling to the consumer. Likewise this physical package may lead to unrealised expectations or unexpected results upon opening. Caution should be exercised with both. AND THIS IS IMPORTANT… This will make a mess. By opening this envelope in any way, you assume all risks to your person and/or property, and waive any claim against The Null Corporation, any of its subsidiaries or affiliated entities from any and all damages or harm you may incur”.

      After reading this I looked more closely at the package and saw it contained a fine black powder, similar to that of clothes dye or printing toner…
      Grateful for the warning, I took it outdoors to open fully and inspect the contents hoping to find at very least a CD.
      But no, just some very high quality card displaying what appears to be lyrics, its hard to say as its covered in smudges and smears from the black powder, theres also a photo cell of Trent and thats literally IT !!!!
      Maybe I’m exceptionally dumb and I’m missing some deeply profound hidden message here, who knows? Right now I’m just too disappointed to give it much more thought, perhaps when I’m less pissed off I will revisit my envelope of black dust and expensive card with a more open and understanding mind, until then, I’m going to wash this black shit off my hands and sulk for a while 🙂
      I hope your eye-wateringly, expensive vinyl arrives soon and does not disappoint you….

      • cnosnibor says:

        Well. I’ve spotted a few news items and comments thread about this, and it’s certainly – and not surprisingly – proving divisive. I get concept art, and am au fait with perverse avant-garde ideas like autodestrutive art and the creation of art which is inteactive in various different ways, in that the experience is very much determined by the receiver. Equally, I get the idea of producing something different, novel and unique. But this does seem pretty shitty, because there was no way of knowing what you were purchasing. $12 + shipping is pretty steep for some digital files and soot-stained cards and black hands.

  3. cnosnibor says:

    Bugger me. My vinyl finally arrived today.

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