“Got a new face, it feels alright,” Trent Reznor bellows mere seconds into ‘Bad Witch’’s chaotic opener, the brilliantly-titled ‘Shit Mirror’. It’s a slight stretch of a statement – ‘Bad Witch’ is less a new visage for Nine Inch Nails, and more a refining of everything that already made them such a formidable force. Plastic surgery on an already chiselled jawline, if you will. Not that it matters much – reinvention be damned; ‘Bad Witch’ is Nine Inch Nails’ best release in a decade.
The conclusion to a promised trilogy of EPs (though Reznor’s been adamant this one’s actually an album, and it’s probably best not to argue), that ‘Bad Witch’ opens with such a rager is a statement in itself. Where the preceding ‘Not The Actual Events’ and ‘Add Violence’ EPs felt like Reznor setting back into his heavy boots after years spent tinkering away on Oscar-winning film scores, ‘Bad Witch’ is proof he’s truly back on his most brutal and brilliant bullshit. ’Shit Mirror’ careers into view with all the motorik pace and bleached-out aesthetic of NIN’s industrial-defining heyday, while the frazzled, looped electronics of ‘Ahead Of Ourselves’ sound akin to being buried alive in a broken photocopier.
Halfway through, though, things take a u-turn. ‘Play The Goddamned Part’ is a doomy, detuned saxophone arrangement, backed only by meandering percussion. In another life, it could settle amongst Reznor’s more twisted film scores; maybe they should get him on the inevitable Hereditary sequel. That sax abuse bleeds over into ‘God Break Down The Door’, too, a Bowie-indebted space-jazz odyssey that wouldn’t sound out of place on the late, great musical hero’s ‘Blackstar’, and perfect segue into the more ambient climes of the record’s closing two tracks.
A triptych of a record, ‘Bad Witch’ spans all of NIN’s many sides. From clattering industrial sonics, to expansive, soaring soundscapes, via free jazz and mutating electronica, it’s the sound of a band bolstering their already formidable palette. Free from the shackles of Reznor’s self-imposed trilogy of releases, the masters of melancholy sound rejuvenated, and ready for another 30-plus years as kings of the musical underworld.