It’s fitting that the last song How To Destroy Angels played Tuesday night at the Vic Theatre was the aptly titled “We Fade Away.” The slow-rising track ended in a cacophony of noise before the stage literally faded to black and Trent Reznor uttered the only words he spoke all night, a simple “thank you.”
Despite taking a break from Nine Inch Nails, Reznor hasn’t faded away at all, continually churning out new work, winning an Oscar for the haunting score for The Social Network, and creating How To Destroy Angels. A collaboration between Reznor, his wife (and former vocalist of West Indian Girl) Mariqueen Maandig, Reznor’s soundtrack collaborator Atticus Ross, and NIN’s longtime graphic design and art director, Rob Sheridan, HTDA is the sum of its parts for sure, with no real leader or weak link amongst the collection of passionate artists. This much was evident the moment the lights went up with Sheridan controlling every aspect of the handcrafted display from his perch on stage. Sheridan has spoken about the intricate LED setup before, and it was as impressive as it sounds. Each artist was surrounded by a 3-D Barbie box light effect behind a mesh-like curtain. Dressed completely in stark white, the entire group served as a blank canvas for the LED beams as they dripped down red before the whole screen pulsed along to the paranoia-infused “Parasite” – the night’s most NIN-like track. The curtain finally parted, as if on cue from Reznor’s echoed howls at the end of “And The Sky Began To Scream,” allowing Maandig to move upfront to solo on “Ice Age.” On record, Maandig’s voice seems like an echo or shadow, but live, she is a true powerhouse. Stronger and more vivid on stage, her vocals shined on “How Long?”
Trent Reznor never shies away from remixing or altering a song in a live setting, as was evident throughout the night. The most obvious example of Reznor’s manipulation was the Sonoio remix of “The Space In Between” – a side project of Alessandro Cortini, a former NIN member who is currently touring with HTDA. Despite preferring the original, it was interesting to hear a different style, especially since the remix sounded like someone switched on the Goldfrapp filter on Maandig’s mic. The lighting even changed course for the remix, bathing the band in shades of pink, gold, and turquoise to match the swell of each chorus. Even the smallest reworking received a thoughtful, measured touch, like the heavy wood block and drums on the industrial “The Believers” stepping into the background to give the synths the spotlight. Reznor excels at distorting sound and he delivered on this track, bending and twisting his part into something more abrasive and raw.
HTDA is a more self-assured Reznor, the music more mathematical, the collaborators perfectly paired for the project. Even his appearance, a black shadow with his hip cocked and guitar swung low oozes more confidence than the version we first saw over 20 years ago. Taking a breather from his original project not only afforded him the right to explore new aspects of his art and find his focus, but also makes his new work even more aggressive and honest. He has found a perfect balance as an artist, and one expects he feels as if he is now hitting his stride. HTDA is another notch in an already impressive timeline of work that continues to create memorable pieces, both visually and sonically, for fans.
— Lisa White