April 14, 2020

Nine Inch Nails - Ghosts V: Together & Ghosts VI: Locusts Album Reviews


Just over 12 years since the debut of the instrumental, ambient, and cinematic soundscape series Ghosts I-IV, seasoned film and television composer duo, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, aka Nine Inch Nails, release their surprise twin albums Ghosts V: Together and Ghosts VI: Locusts, to help aid an ailing world in the midst of a global pandemic crisis.

As opposed to their earlier 4-LP project, which was released as a singular 36-track drop, these two LPs feel more fully developed and focused, while I-IV consisted of a 36-day project that was a reactive experience to various environmental and urban visuals (which are a part of any purchase of the release). It is important to note that Ghosts I-IV preceded a lengthy string of soundtracks composed by Reznor and Ross for various films and television shows, most notably The Social Network, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, Patriot's Day, Bird Box, and Watchmen.

It is then easy to see, along with the cinematic aesthetic of some of the tracks on their Bad Witch EP, how much Reznor and Ross's musical landscape from soundtracks to Nine Inch Nails blend into an ominous, sonic, purgatory or no man's land, where hope and danger lurk around every corner. In 2020, however, Nine Inch Nails surprised a world sheltering-in-place with a pair of companion albums that both offer hope of togetherness and also shadows of doubt.

Ghosts V: Together


Together, as the name suggests, is the more ambient and hopeful release. Beautiful piano melodies, swelling voices, and cautious synths encapsulate a mood that Reznor and Ross have been known to highlight in the quiet spaces of previous Nine Inch Nails albums. Letting Go While Holding On is a perfect example of a meditative, transportive track that is meant to be experienced rather than listened to; its length borders on the 10-minute mark. Other tracks follow the same trajectory, such as Together, With Faith, Apart, and Still Right Here, which all meet or exceed this runtime.

While some of these songs could have easily been purposed for a film or television score, the message of togetherness over loneliness is instead conveyed through their popular industrial, electronic, ambient, rock moniker, a vehicle which by default will get more attention from a suffering world. Hope We Can Again serves up this message just right, as an expectancy of normalcy after the fallout is performed by a slow and innocent piano as droning echoes slowly fill the space and eventually overpower the track with an ear-splitting hiss. It all breaks away though and relieves the tension with a sweet and melancholy piano coda.

Your Touch opens with an almost religious-like atmosphere as if being performed on an organ in a cathedral, with angelic choirs and a free-floating synth that is playful and contrasts with the somber walking piano. Still Right Here, the album's closing track, is easily the most Nine Inch Nails-y of the eight. After a few minutes of quiet introspection, a repeated and distant guitar riff starts to enter from the haze, and it builds into a crescendo and flurry of electronic syncopation and drum beats, reminiscent of their Add Violence EP released a couple of years prior. Its presence is short-lived though as it quickly dissipates into radio static and unsettling atmospheres, a fitting transition into the darker and more dangerous backdrop of Locusts. 

Ghosts VI: Locusts


If Together could put aside all the concern and despair, then Locusts fully leans into it, with more chilling textures and foreboding atmospheres to match. Its opening track, The Cursed Clock, turns the piano melody over and over, as if hoping that things will change, all the while doom slowly rolls in. The dissonance from extra sounds and tones that enter the space work to disorient and almost sicken with its engineered physiological aura. Obviously, Reznor and Ross have become masters at capturing and encapsulating a mood into music, and the remainder of Locusts drives this point even further.

Around Every Corner is a stylistic departure from the signature NIN sound in the sense that it pulls from a dusty and deserted alleyway with its muted trumpet that wails through the darkness. It still has the piano walk and armada of drones at the ready, but the inclusion of a trumpet gives Locusts a slightly dusty and jazzy vibe, which is a welcome addition to the pair's overall sound. Run Like Hell, like the rest of the tracks, puts forward a feeling and sound that perfectly matches up with its title, as acoustic percussion beats to the rhythm of running before taking off into a manic race for survival, complete with several woodwinds, unnerving static, and instrumentation that puts the horror right in front of the listener. It eventually crashes right into its following track, When It Happens (Don't Mind Me), which is a dizzying house of cymbals and chimes that sounds as if an alarm is going off.

The feeling of this album as a soundtrack to the movie of our lives is a hard notion to shake, as several more tracks continue this suite of overwhelming despair and anxiety. Another Crashed Car comes off minimal and effectively eerie, which ushers in the horrorscapes of Temp Fix, and eventually the more straight-forward, piano-driven, but nevertheless reinvigorating Trust Fades. Your New Normal is a track that almost introduces a hint of hope amid all the chaos and downward spirals present in Locusts. Overall, the album is a triumph for the instrumental Ghosts album series. 

The timing of a new pair of Ghosts albums from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross couldn't have been more perfect, with the world staying inside and the growing concerns over a spreading virus. While Together seems just right for the quiet moments that we are all living in, Locusts feels like a more active, interesting, and signature Nine Inch Nails approach. The ghostly visitations through these melodies of cautious hope and existential dread reveal that these two artists are just as human as the rest of us, and remind us that we are not alone. 

Ghosts V: Together - 8/10
Ghosts VI: Locusts - 8.5/10
Ghosts V-VI Average: 8.25/10

Recommended Tracks: With Faith, Your Touch, Still Right Here, Around Every Corner, Run Like Hell, Trust Fades