If the interviews Trent Reznor has been giving lately are anything to go by, the leather-clad nihilist has, musically speaking, been a bit lost. Sure, there was an Oscar-winning score with bandmate Atticus Ross for 2010’s The Social Network. But he has said of his last three EPs that he and his LA industrialists Nine Inch Nails were casting around to figure out “who we are now and how we fit into the world”.
In the gothic splendour of the Royal Albert Hall, London, Reznor seems to have struck on the answer: let rip. This show – the second of two smaller London dates – has the saw-toothed ferocity of a rottweiler gnashing through its muzzle, bathed in exquisite monochromatic lighting and smoke. “All the songs on the new album are fucking fast!” Reznor announces – so fast that their gothic sex classics such as Piggy and The Hand That Feeds sound almost pedestrian by comparison.
As with their Bush-era treatise Year Zero, the current political climate has charged their music once more. There are still glimmers of Reznor’s egocentrism – a nepotistic rendition of a song from How to Destroy Angels, his band with his wife – and more lunges than peak time at a Soho gym. But these are overshadowed by moments such as a heartfelt cover of David Bowie’s I Can’t Give Everything Away. (The use of saxophone on Bowie’s final album Blackstar influenced NIN’s new mini-album Bad Witch.) “If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be here,” says Reznor.
However, the show doesn’t feel elegiac. Old hits such as Head Like a Hole, Wish and Hurt may get the nostalgia juices flowing, but Reznor was surely having a laugh when he opened it all with 2016 glam-stomper Branches/Bones, a song about “slowing down”. It sounds as if he’s just getting started.