These are strange times indeed and Nine Inch Nails have used the strangeness of the situation to produce a pair of connected instrumental albums. In fact, by doing so, the two albums may well be the first to be written and released specifically with the current state of the world and its lockdowns in mind.
There’s a statement on Nine Inch Nails’ website in which Trent and Atticus explain that ‘the situation has really made us appreciate the power and need for connection.’
They go on to say that ‘music, whether listening to it, thinking about it or creating it – has always been the thing that helped us get through anything – good or bad. With that in mind, we decided to burn the midnight oil and complete these new ghosts records as a means of somewhat staying sane.
‘Ghosts V: Together is for when things seem like it might be all okay, and Ghosts VI: Locusts…well, you’ll figure it out.’
‘Together’ does feel like an album with positive, almost relaxing overtones. The album is mainly piano and synth and the piano melodies are sweet with a gentleness that is a little unfamiliar for Nine Inch Nails. The track titles reflect what we either had before the current lockdowns and moments of self-isolation or what we are hoping for. ‘Together’, ‘Out In The Open’, ‘Your Touch’, are all things that most families are missing at the moment but the atmosphere in the tracks do project positivity and hope.
Despite this though, there’s still an uneasiness throughout Ghosts V. There are ominous undertones throughout, whether they’re in the form of an unpleasant ear squeal from the right hand side speaker in ‘Hope We Can Again’, or the ominous mid section in ‘Apart‘.
Ghosts V: Together doesn’t imply that the apocalypse hasn’t happened. It seems to tell us it has but that we’re going to get through it.
‘Still Right Here’, the album’s final track, is the most Nine Inch Nails sounding on the first album. Its guitar riffs overlain with aggressive drum beats could be seen as either of two things. That we’re ready to stand up and be strong, or that we’re going to be taken down.
Ghosts V: Together is the album that has some semblance of hope. Ghosts VI: Locusts, is where it all starts to go downhill. If the album title ‘Locusts’ didn’t give any clue about this album’s overtones, the tracks certainly do.
We’re trapped, staring at the ticking clock in ‘The Cursed Clock’, something most households are likely to be doing now as they’re stuck either in self-isolation or lockdown. The repeating piano keys are a reflection of watching the second hand endlessly turning while the minutes and hours drag on.
This vein continues throughout Ghosts VI and long gone are the gently, major keys of the of the previous album. This album could well be placed over Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ and would fit. There are moments of paranoia in ‘Around Every Corner’, a Radiohead-style anxiousness to ‘The Worriment Waltz’, a lengthy track which, appropriately, is quite difficult to get through.
There’s an uneasy sense of time and urgency in throughout Ghosts VI and we’re made to feel like it may well be running out. Not that running out of time is an issue for Ghosts VI. At 83 minutes long, it’s not an easy listen but it wasn’t made to be. It was made to project an image of our time, our ‘New Normal’, as the track title suggests.
The two albums are a projection of our futures, one of which is the red pill, the other the blue. Which rabbit hole are we heading down?