I may be almost five months late in publishing a review of How To Destroy Angels first full length album, but there’s a good reason for that. It’s not a casual record at all; one of those ones that you really have to feel you want to listen to to really appreciate it otherwise it could easily be consigned to the ‘meh’ curio pile. I’ve taken my time to give it plenty of opportunity to plant itself in my conscious.
In case the band have passed you by, How to Destroy Angels is comprised of Nine Inch Nails powerhouse Trent Reznor, producer and long time collaborator Atticus Ross, and features Reznor’s wife Mariqueen Maandig on the majority of vocals. As Reznor’s work is always unique yet recognisably his, an easy and lazy description would be NIN lite with a female singer, but that would be insulting to all parties involved. There’s no doubt that Welcome Oblivion definitely fits in the NIN ecosystem, but it isn’t a NIN album.
Vocals are frequently distorted but when they are clear Mariqueen’s voice is wispy and light and at times beautiful. In the few moments when Reznor joins in (only ever briefly) it’s clearly him and the song takes on a Nine Inch Nails feel which I think is actually a real shame and a detriment to the album. I think he should have remained on the instrumental side, although even instrumentally his signature is always present. The vocal distortion means that sometimes lyrics are indecipherable, but to HTDA vocal is just another instrument to be tweaked and shaped to fit its purpose.
It amazes me how so many seemingly random bleeps, bloops and pulses can become a cohesive piece of music. Although listenable, it’s not instantly accessible unless you’re a regular listener of obscure electronica or latter-era NIN at the least. In actual fact there are a few moments I wondered if my iPod had developed a fault. There aren’t a lot of songs that follow any traditional formula – a trait I now expect from most of Reznor’s concoctions – and yet there are some great tracks that work because they are so stripped back and simple, such as the excellent “Ice Age” which features little more than a simple plucked loop and vocal. It’s easily the closest to a traditional song you’ll find on the album anyway. Another highlight for me was “And The Sky Began To Scream”, a weighty and moody piece. I’d say that the best tracks and the ones I’d go back to are the ones with clean vocal, an opinion backed up by the thought that the band’s best song to date actually came on the self titled EP in the form of “A Drowning”.
Unfortunately it does taper off a bit by the end. If you’re not really concentrating, by the end of the album most songs unnoticeably blend into the next one. You could easily cut a few and never actually notice. In essence HTDA is more like an expansion and further experimentation of Reznor and Ross’s soundtrack work as if they tired of scoring instrumentals and wanted to see what some material would sound like with a different kind of vocal.
I feel I should point out something vital to listening. If you have a great stereo or set of top-notch headphones (none of your trendy ‘Beats’ shite) then you’ll get the most out of this. The production is stellar and deserves to be treated with respect otherwise you’ll miss half of the gargantuan range on show here, especially in the low-end.