Add Violence is the second in a trilogy of EPs from Nine Inch Nails mastermind, Trent Reznor. The first EP of the trilogy, Not the Actual Events (2016), was an underwhelming release that seemed to have potential, but never quite made it to peak listenability. Add Violence, by contrast, is much more controlled and disciplined – in fact, it’s Reznor’s most focused release since 2007’s Year Zero.
The EP opens with the first single Less Than, which while initially sounding like New Order, quickly becomes fuzzy with Reznor’s vocal entry in the flavour of the postmodern, uncomfortable, more recent Nine Inch Nails releases – though harking most strongly back to With Teeth (2005) and Year Zero. Less Than is a more club-friendly track than anything that appeared on Not the Actual Events, and was in fact being requested of Goth DJs the day after its release. In typical Reznor fashion, the lyrics comment on current social issues, including global overpopulation, from a parodic, self-centred perspective.
The Lovers proves a strong contrast to Less Than with its quiet brooding, most reminiscent of The Downward Spiral (1994). This is an interesting move, as Reznor has previously stated that he would not return to the sound of the overwhelmingly popular album, as it represented a time in his life that has passed. Nevertheless, in a continuance of what appears to be a more disciplined frame of mind, The Lovers seems to acknowledge this past rather than wallow in it. Reznor’s piano emerges beautifully in his understated mode, and his plaintive vocals lead the listener into a gentle embrace that contrasts Nine Inch Nails’ famed harshness.
The Downward Spiral flavour is somewhat continued with This isn’t the Place, though in a way that’s cleaner and more defined in this slow and downbeat track. Like the creeping insanity of The Downward Spiral, there’s something ominous lurking in this track; but where in The Downward Spiral it was pervasive and amorphous, here it seems to have been given a form that defines and tames it. Though not immediately apparent, Reznor’s voice first emerges as part of the instrumentation of the track, before the lyrics kick in.
Not Anymore is a gritty, atmospheric Industrial track that transitions the EP from Reznor as musician, to Reznor as sonic artist. Not Anymore is discordant, harsh and difficult to listen to, but in all these measures pales in comparison to the near-twelve minute The Background World. The Background World begins as a slow, melodic track that slowly builds with a strong sense of anticipation. It recaptures some of the downbeat instrumentation of This isn’t the Place, but with more of a Year Zero feel. The second half of the track suddenly turns Brechtian, breaking the listener’s connection with the music. The listener is forced to focus, just as Reznor seems to have forced himself to discipline his compositions on this EP. Unfortunately, that discipline didn’t extend to truncating this track, which over the course of seven minutes becomes increasingly ugly, monotonous and headache-inducing, to the point of being almost impossible to listen to. It’s a disconcerting and entirely unpleasant close to the EP, at odds with the danceable beats of Less Than, and quiet reflection of The Lovers. Harsh and indeed unique, The Background World nevertheless stops short of being particularly worth listening to long before the track ends.
Add Violence overall is a complex collection of sounds, with a number of strong tracks to recommend it. If you find yourself tuning out towards the latter part of the EP though, probably best to just let it go.