Photo Credit: Lior Phillips
With their two new concurrent releases, Nine Inch Nails continue what they began with their surprising and rather lengthy 2008 offering Ghosts I-IV. That is, they return to an almost entirely all-instrumental approach, in a musical sub-genre which is supposedly known as “dark ambient.” “Ambient” stems from the word “ambiance,” meaning that the music is meant to be only part of the atmosphere, not the center of attention. Put more simply, background music. Lest anyone miss the connection to that earlier Nine Inch Nails release, the new ones are, in fact, direct sequels to Ghosts, with the full titles of Ghosts V: Together and Ghosts VI: Locusts.
Unlike on the previous Ghosts project, where the individual tracks were only titled as numbers, here Nine Inch Nails give each cut its own unique name, which on Ghosts V: Together includes titles which sound as though they could be standard rock songs: “Your Touch”, “Hope We Can Again” and “Still Right Here.” All those obviously imply the theme of togetherness indicated by the album’s subtitle. Beyond that it’s all strictly interpretation, since there are no lyrics. However, we can probably safely guess that much of this is a response to the current need for so-called “social distancing” which has affected nearly everyone.
Beyond what the titles suggest, the opener “Letting Go While Holding On” clearly informs – or warns – what the listener is in for on this journey: the track is close to ten minutes of a slow roll-out of the same (or close to the same) series of notes being played over and over. However, the song “Together” distinguishes itself with a touch of piano (plus some wind noises). And while it’s a bit bold on an album that’s undeniably repetitious to title a track “Here We Go Again”, the song is actually fairly compelling, contradicting the menacing synth notes with what sounds like a lullaby being played on a traditional music box (creepy!).
That darker and more pessimistic tone is expanded upon on Ghosts VI: Locusts, as the subtitle should indicate. Locusts, after all, are the insects that are synonymous with the apocalypse, as anyone knows who went to Sunday school or watched season one of Fargo. As if that wasn’t apparent enough, some of the track titles spell it out further: “Trust Fades”, “Another Crashed Car” and “A Really Bad Night.”
Although overall lengthier than Ghosts V: Together (try nearly an hour-and-a-half) most of the tracks on Ghosts VI: Locusts are shorter, some under two minutes. This might suggest that there’s a bit more of a variety of sound present, and in fact Nine Inch Nails do touch upon jazz and funk just slightly here. This is particularly the case on the track that also happens to have the cleverest title: “The Worriment Waltz.” The reference is most likely a nod to the notion that back in the day the music of Nine Inch Nails and similar bands were just one big downer (or, as Alicia Silverstone dubbed it in the movie Clueless, “complaint rock”). Ironically, it’s probably the most uptempo track of both releases.
As with Ghosts V: Together, tracks on Ghosts VI: Locusts at least by the titles, also seem to be making a statement about the 2020 health crisis, certainly “Your New Normal.” However, the album (and by extension, the entire Nine Inch Nails Ghosts saga so far) closes with hints of a full orchestra on “Almost Dawn”, another title that basically speaks for itself. Ghosts V and VI probably won’t stand a ghost of a chance with those music fans that still identify Nine Inch Nails with songs like “Head Like a Hole” or even “Closer” from the band’s early, multiplatinum days. The entire Ghost series is ambitious, if nothing else. Plus, ambient music – in it’s various forms – is a music subgenre that has had a small but loyal audience for decades. Many others, however, will wonder just what place this music has outside of a health spa.
Written by: Richard John Cummins