Trent Reznor really is one of the greatest artists of his generation. He has done a lot more to shape the sound of ’90s rock than most people realize and is unique in the way he uses the act Nine Inch Nails — really just Reznor and a rotating group of touring musicians — as an artistic front. With other bands/artists, the act is the thing. Nine Inch Nails, on the other hand, is a concept, an idea — a window into Reznor as an artist. Once you look at his work in that light, Reznor’s work has a lot more depth. How to Destroy Angels is, from what I can tell, a slightly different endeavor. It’s more of a group effort; Reznor’s wife Mariqueen Maandig takes over as the primary vocalist — though there’s no shortage of Trent on the mic — and the presence of Atticus Ross has been consistent since the 2005 Nine Inch Nails album With Teeth.
Yet it’s interesting that even though this is a group setting, Welcome Oblivion still feels like Reznor’s show. Maandig does most of the vocals and you have to believe Atticus Ross has a good deal of input here, but this unquestionably bears the mark of a Trent Reznor production. Maybe it’s because his identity has been so clearly defined over the years. (For one thing, his trademark nihilism remains largely intact.) I should stress, though, that none of Reznor’s previous albums must be listened to before you dive into Welcome Oblivion; How to Destroy Angels is different enough from Nine Inch Nails — the touch is lighter, the feel is slightly chillier — that you can boot this album right up and not feel as if pieces of the puzzle are missing.
This one’s a winner.