CD Review of Ghosts I-IV by Nine Inch Nails
Recommended if you like
Aphex Twin, Coil, Skinny Puppy
Label
The Null Corporation
Nine Inch Nails: Ghosts I-IV

Reviewed by James B. Eldred

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I
n October 2007, Nine Inch Nails brainchild Trent Reznor giddily announced on his website that he was no longer with a record label and was anxious to explore having a “direct relationship” with his fans. And while he has yet to buy them flowers or take them out to a movie, he has at least somewhat delivered on that promise. November saw the release of The Inevitable Rise of Niggy Tardust, the Reznor-produced record by indie rapper/poet Saul Williams. Williams and Reznor released the record online and let fans decide to either purchase the album as high-quality MP3s for five bucks or download a low-quality version of it for free.

Now after getting his feet wet with the Niggy Tardust experiment, Reznor is jumping head-first into the online distribution game with the entirely instrumental four-EP collection Ghosts I-IV. Unlike the Saul Williams album, those who buy the digital download of Ghosts have the option of eventually picking up a physical release of the album in various formats, including a bare-bones CD version, a deluxe CD/DVD combo and an ultra limited edition that includes the album on four vinyl LPs and a pair of art prints signed by Reznor himself. That last version costs $300, but that didn’t stop hardcore NIN fans from buying en masse (the limited run of it sold out in hours).

So yeah, Trent is breaking new ground in terms of digital releases and direct-market retail, but that really doesn’t matter. What matters is how the album sounds.

As mentioned before, Ghosts I-IV is nothing but instrumental tracks. The tracks (all of which are unnamed, just numbered) vary from quiet piano-based pieces to full-fledged industrial powerhouses. While Trent’s usual vocals of dread, despair, hate and angst aren’t present this time around, that doesn’t mean these songs are easy listening. Even without the vocals, Reznor’s bleak presence is felt on all 36 tracks, creating an unending vibe of misery and dread.

Much of the album is fantastic, but it’s not without its problems. What’s frustrating about Ghosts I-IV is the seemingly haphazard way in which the tracks were assembled. Fist-pounding, ear-splitting industrial tracks are sandwiched in between more subdued ambient tracks. The constant back-and-forth makes it hard to really get into the groove of the album as it constantly jars you from one side to another. The album’s quieter trips into ambient also aren’t that welcome, simply because they’re often quite boring. Seemingly random piano mashing coupled with the occasional industrial beat can get a little old after a while.

Thankfully more than half of the album falls into the industrial category, especially with the latter half, as the final two volumes of the four-EP set really kick things into overdrive with feedback-heavy guitars and the typical Nine Inch Nails noise pouring out of the speakers.

There hasn’t been an all-instrumental Nine Inch Nails experience since the 1996 soundtrack to the Quake video game, but almost every album since The Downward Spiral has included at least one instrumental track, so if you focus on those then you probably have an idea of what to expect with Ghosts I-IV. It may be a little spotty in places, but with 36 tracks and nearly two hours in length you can sure do a hell of a lot worse with five bucks.

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