Thursday, 12 September 2013

How To Destroy Angels - Welcome Oblivion (2013)

Four billion years ago when I played cowbell for a band called Konstruktivists, I spent some time dossing about at the offices of the apparently legendary World Serpent distribution company, scrounging free stuff and digging around for juicy morsels of industrial tittle-tattle - which member of Mnemonik Korpse Brigade had been seen stepping out with the singer from Foetal Banjo, who definitely wasn't a nazi-sympathiser
this week because they had a record by that Bob Marley, and so on. One of the more depressing nuggets of banter concerned Coil, who had apparently been paid several thousands of quid to remix something by Nine Inch Nails. Trent Reznor of said band, a massive admirer of Coil, would never get to hear the finished track it transpired, because Coil weren't going to do it even though they had already received payment, reason being that Reznor was American and ate McDonalds or something. They were going to keep his money and this was very, very funny.

Well, that's how I heard it, and it didn't strike me as at all funny. In fact it struck me as somewhat wanky, and so I never bought anything by Coil after that. Actually, I hadn't bought anything by Coil before that either, aside from Horse Rotavator which I took back to the shop as it turned out to be some twelve inch single with the wrong cover - Anal Staircase, which shouldn't have cost me the price of an album and was, in any case, not very good. To date, of all the Coil tracks I've heard over the years, I can count the decent ones on the testicles of a single scrotum; but if Trent Reznor likes them, well that's up to him I guess, although Lord knows why he should name his new band after a Coil record. Frankly I love the living shit out of Reznor's music and would happily have his babies were it not such an anatomically grotesque undertaking, so this seems rather like Elvis forming a band named Tommy Steele's Greatest Hits, but anyway...

Aside from turdy industrial bands dining out on past glories and producing records of mains hum with somebody mumbling something about Aleister Crowley over the top whilst having a wank, another musical travesty which once inspired my unalloyed hatred was trip-hop, the musical equivalent of a guy who raises his eyebrows in a knowing fashion as soon as you notice his take me to your dealer T-shirt. No thanks, man, he will tell you as you break out the Benson and Hedges. I don't smoke, well, not cigarettes anyway...

Trip-hop was the experimental music which wanted to be one of the cool kids and so, in an effort to distance itself from terminal bachelors with synthesisers and stamp collections, it named itself after hip-hop and claimed to have been into George Clinton back before anyone else had heard of him, apart from black people of course. In practical terms, trip-hop was actually a tape of a drum machine slowed to half speed and a girl with a squeaky voice singing dreamy observations over the top. Anyone could do it. At one point my milkman recorded his own trip-hop album.

Anyway, to finally swing around to the point, How To Destroy Angels are thankfully neither trip-hop nor in any way reminiscent of Coil, simply because Reznor has too much talent and probably couldn't fire a blank if he tried. That said, neither is it as tremendous as I was hoping. The eponymous debut EP that came out in 2010 was pretty damn great, so I'd been drooling with anticipation over this one for a while; and it's good but there's something missing, and it's taken me a few plays to work out what it is.

I'm not sure what ratio of this music can be attributed to Reznor, his singing wife, or to Atticus Ross, and although it all sounds like a more overtly electronic Nine Inch Nails to the point of Reznor's vocals being conspicuous by their absence, it's probably significant that Atticus Ross is apparently better known for film soundtracks, which is what a lot of the music here resembles. The great strength of Nine Inch Nails was always the contrast - soft acoustics rattling away next to something that sounds like someone rummaging around inside a transistor radio with a screwdriver and somehow producing a tune; but also the overall contrast of albums brimming with those short and shirty numbers like Discipline or The Hand That Feeds preceding the epic and tortured finale, the song that sounds like he's been through the wringer, and now he's sitting down and having a fag and a cup of tea and asking himself why me? Every single track on Welcome Oblivion is a grand finale; they're almost uniformly brooding, all building up to suns falling out of the sky in slow motion, and it's exhausting. Additionally whilst I would hardly suggest that Mariqueen Maandig was drafted in as singer simply because whilst it was nice to have her at the studio making sandwiches for the menfolk or standing by with a sticking plaster in case one of them should cut his finger, she probably kept knocking things over and making a fuss as women tend to do and was thus best left in the booth with a microphone; whilst I would hardly suggest such ideas as have here been shoehorned in for cheap sexist chuckles - she has a great voice, but in combination with the ponderous tempo of most of the songs, it bears annoying comparison with trip-hop shite of yore, and just inspires questions of how much better it might have sounded with Reznor's vocals.

That's a lot of slagging for what is on paper a great album, particularly as there's not a single clunker to be heard. I suppose the best way I can put it is that Welcome Oblivion is thirteen monumental tracks that unfortunately tend to merge into an amorphous mass of brooding awesome when stood next to one another.

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