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How to Destroy Angels - 'Welcome Oblivion' Review

Trent Reznor Gets Moody and Stripped-Down for New Band

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating

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how to destroy angels welcome to oblivion review

How to Destroy Angels - 'Welcome Oblivion'

Photo courtesy Columbia.
It’s no surprise that Welcome Oblivion, the first full-length record from How to Destroy Angels, would sound a little like band member Trent Reznor’s other group, Nine Inch Nails. But what’s most satisfying about this new disc is the ways in which it doesn’t recall NIN. That’s not to denigrate that iconic band’s catalog, only to suggest that Reznor has evolved creatively, and this 13-track collection captures that artistic growth. Fans of engaging electronic rock will be very happy to accept Welcome Oblivion’s dark invitation, but if you’ve resisted Reznor’s industrial storm in the past, this moodier concoction may be more to your liking.

Less Aggressive, More Seductive

Formed in 2010, How to Destroy Angels brings together Reznor, his longtime collaborator Atticus Ross, Reznor’s wife Mariqueen Maandig, and graphic designer Rob Sheridan. Welcome Oblivion is a stronger set than the band’s first self-titled EP, combining songs from the group’s second EP, An Omen, with new material. How to Destroy Angels are credited with all the songs and production on Welcome Oblivion, but it’s no question that Reznor had a forceful hand in the shape of this project. To be more specific, Welcome Oblivion is pleasingly reminiscent of the ominous, twitchy soundtracks that Reznor and Ross worked on for The Social Network and the American remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. (The duo actually won an Oscar for their Social Network score.) If you love Nine Inch Nails’ industrial-metal fusion, you’ll be disappointed by this new album, which floats in a sea of eerie percussion and down-tempo grooves. But even if it’s not as aggressive as Reznor’s old music, it’s seductive.

The Voice

One of Welcome Oblivion’s big assets is Maandig, the album’s principal vocalist. Previously the singer in West Indian Girl, she’s capable of sounding flirtatious, despondent or dangerous without ever coming across as affected. She provides the record with its soul. On the spare industrial-folk of “Ice Age,” her sweet voice makes the lyrics’ depiction of an apocalyptic landscape feel slightly less cataclysmic. And later on the clanking paranoia of “The Loop Closes,” her repetition of the song’s only lyrics (“The beginning is the end/keeps coming round again”) alongside her husband feels defiant and hopeful rather than soul-crushing. If NIN explored futility and decay, Welcome Oblivion focuses on finding the few shards of hope amidst the rubble.

A Sign of Growth

“Ice Age” and “The Loop Closes” both appeared on An Omen, but Welcome Oblivion contains its share of new highlights as well. “Strings and Attractors” is especially rapturous, Maandig’s desperate vocals juxtaposed with off-kilter beats and an ethereal chorus. Meanwhile, “Recursive Self-Improvement” could be an outtake from Reznor and Ross’s soundtrack work, which is meant as a compliment. On their scores, the two men managed to make industrial instrumental music palatable to a mainstream audience without sacrificing its propulsion or fire. The wordless “Recursive Self-Improvement” stretches beyond six minutes, and yet it’s so evocative and cinematic in its shifts that it doesn’t feel repetitive. Though Reznor didn’t work on the How to Destroy Angels material on his own, Welcome Oblivion suggests that he’s an artist who’s matured since the petulant angst of his early years, finding a new form of expression that’s equally resonant.

Flexing Their Muscles

To be fair, Welcome Oblivion doesn’t break a lot of new ground for Reznor and his colleagues. The down-in-the-mouth electronica is reminiscent not just of other acts but of Nine Inch Nails’ last record, The Slip. But that shouldn’t diminish the skill and confidence of this endeavor, which finds an old pro and his cohorts flexing their muscles and showing what they can do. Those lyrics to “The Loop Closes” really do sum up Reznor’s artistic modus operandi. He’s not the same guy he used to be, but that core worldview -- dark, intoxicating -- remains. Here’s hoping it keeps coming round again.

'Welcome Oblivion' - Best Tracks:

“Ice Age” (Purchase/Download)
“Strings and Attractors” (Purchase/Download)
“Recursive Self-Improvement” (Purchase/Download)
“Too Late, All Gone” (Purchase/Download)
“We Fade Away” (Purchase/Download)

Release date – March 5, 2013
Columbia

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