• Daydreams and nightmares - Exploring Nine Inch Nails' Ghosts I-IV

    Nine Inch Nails - Ghosts I-IV (2008)

    Ghosts I: A Disturbing Journey

    It's rather surprising that a band as unconventional, experimental and courageous as Nine Inch Nails was ever able to achieve mainstream success but the unique band around controversial art director, performer and producer Trent Reznor somehow managed to make the improbable possible. The band from Cleveland, Ohio that has been around for more than three decades now has released two brand new records today to motivate people throughout the terrible Coronavirus Pandemic. These records are entitled Ghosts V and Ghosts VI and it only makes sense to listen to the first four parts as well to grasp the bigger picture.

    The first part was released twelve years ago and recorded thirteen years ago. It consists of nine nameless songs revolving around the three-minute mark. The songs are entirely instrumental except for some incomprehensible vocal fragments in the eighth track. The material is vaguely described as dark ambient. Some songs focus on fragile, melancholic and slow piano sounds as the opening and closing tracks that come full circle. Other tracks are much uneasier such as the fourth tune with its heavily distorted guitar sounds and the even less accessible eight tune that flirts with the noise genre as the instrumental sounds blur into one another. There are obviously quite a few experimental tunes such as the third one that works with tribal drums, simple electronic beats and domineering bass lines and might surprisingly still be the most accessible tune despite its unusual style because it has at least a hint of conventional concept, rhythm and structure.

    To conclude, the first part of Nine Inch Nails' Ghost series isn't easy to digest. It's very diversified, experimental and unconventional. Distorted noise sounds meet industrial rock patterns and uneasy ambient tones. In its radical execution, the album makes me think of releases by Lou Reed throughout the seventies. If you have an open mind for radical electronic and rock music, put your headphones on, close all the lights in your room and go on a most disturbing journey. Despite being overtly complicated, meandering and radical, this release has unique atmosphere, fascinating entertaining values and is obviously absolutely unique and unlike anything you have ever heard before.

    Final rating: 65% 

    Ghosts II: Mysterious Ghost Riders in Electric Funeral Fog

    Nine Inch Nails' second Ghosts record, released simultaneously with the first, third and fourth parts, looks quite similar to its predecessor on paper. Once again, we get to listen to nine tracks. The track lengths vary between one minute and a half and five minutes and a half. And yet, this is a quite different beast if compared to the first series of songs.

    There are a few similarities however. The songs are yet again entirely instrumental. The genre could be defined as dark ambient. It provides a quite creepy, gloomy and uneasy atmosphere. Discordant guitar sounds meet melancholic keyboard patterns.

    However, this album has a much clearer guiding line than the diversified, meandering and unpredictable predecessor. The songs here venture gothic ambient territory. They are calm, introspective and melodic. The haunting piano melodies are inspired and provide a wonderful soundtrack for long rides through rainy territories. The gentle guitar work is simple technically speaking yet efficiently atmospheric.

    ''10 Ghost II'' sets the melancholic atmosphere right from the start as highly efficient opener. ''12 Ghost II'' adds some elements to the rhythm section. ''13 Ghosts II'' employs some smooth electronic background vibes instead. The closing ''18 Ghost II'' entertains through five and a half atmospheric minutes with danceable psychedelic keyboard patterns and guitar riffs inspired by dark country music. This creative tune summarizes the preceding tracks very well but manages to add new elements as well. This is easily the best song on this second part of the release.

    To keep it short, Ghosts II is superior to Ghosts I thanks to a more coherent guide line in form of calm, gloomy and mysterious atmospheric vibes transmitted by electronic sounds inspired by pioneer bands such as Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream and occasional dark country sounds that could be inspired by the most sinister records of Johnny Cash and George Jones. If you feel like embarking on a sinister but inspired journey, Nine Inch Nails' Ghosts II would be your ideal soundtrack.

    Final rating: 75%

    Ghosts III: Riding through Dark Waves in the Sanatorium's Basement

    Nine Inch Nails' third Ghosts record consisting yet again of nine tracks varying between one minute and a half and four minutes in length is different from the first two parts in this unusual series. The first part was unconventionally experimental while the second part was almost appeasing and calm. This third part can be situated somewhere in between these extremes. Uneasy distorted guitar sounds meet dynamic darkwave passages and atmospheric piano parts in the different songs.

    If you take the songs one by one, they sound quite coherent. ''22 Ghosts III'' for instance would be the perfect song for the soundtrack of a gloomy horror movie as you can picture a figure clad in shadows wandering through the dark hallways of an abandoned asylum. ''24 Ghosts III'' focuses entirely on danceable electronic music with a few vocal samples and one would rather picture an ecstatic crowd celebrating an Electronic Body Music band on the stage of a gothic festival. ''27 Ghosts III'' seems to offer an uneasy ride through a tormented mind with heavily distorted guitar sounds and menacing rhythm patterns.

    While the tracks sound interesting one by one, the only element that connects them is the fact that you have to expect the unexpected. This third part of the Ghosts series offers some gems but the song writing isn't as coherent as in the two preceding parts. It's all over the place and hard to digest even by Nine Inch Nails' experimental standards. 

    My suggestion is to listen to this part of the series a couple of times, choose your favourite tunes for a diversified playlist and listen to the more coherent predecessors instead.

    Final rating: 70% 

    Ghosts IV: A Drug-Addicted Country Musician Having a Near-Death Experience

    This fourth part of Nine Inch Nails' dark ambient series was the final part released twelve years ago. Once again, it consists of nine separate tracks with running times between two minutes and six minutes. The songs are overall more coherent, detailed and vivid than tracks from the three predecessors. This fourth part is easily the most diversified, dynamic and entertaining. It's still experimental at all costs but more accessible than its predecessors.

    ''28 Ghosts IV'' is probably the most imaginative and memorable song of the bunch. The song features acoustic guitars evoking American country music, gloomy electric guitar riffs and only few electronic background samples. This song would fit perfectly on the soundtrack of an experimental western.

    Another great tune follows immediately after with ''29 Ghosts IV'' that focuses on vivid electronic music with eerie sound effects that combines the band's accessible and experimental sides in one single tune.

    ''31 Ghosts IV'' is heavy and noisy with domineering electric guitar sounds and uneasy electronic effects that make for a nightmarish alternative rock vibe. You shouldn't listen to this song when being in an anxious, negative or nervous mood.

    ''32 Ghosts IV'' blends in fluidly and includes samples that remind of a patient on a respirator in a hospital that sound quite creepy.

    After a much diversified fourth part of the series, the final ''36 Ghosts IV'' completes the tetralogy on piano sounds that are fittingly both appeasing and uneasy. This approach goes back to the very first song of the first part of the series and appropriately comes full circle. It shows that despite numerous changes, the concept combining these two extremes is the guiding line of these four initial releases.

    As mentioned earlier, this fourth part of the series is dynamic, entertaining and imaginative. It ultimately qualifies as the most accessible, coherent and recommendable part of the unusual series. If you don't have time to listen to all four parts with a total running of one hundred and ten minutes, you can simply check out this fourth and final part to verify whether this uncompromising project could be of any interest for you at all.

    On a closing side note, there are two bonus tracks that are particularly hard to find. ''37 Ghosts'' has an epic, mysterious and spiritual vibe that clashes with chaotic, fast and noisy electronic samples. ''38 Ghosts'' combines numerous interesting electronic samples but lacks coherence, flow and structure.

    Please note that this unusual series would only continue twelve years later with the calm and soothing ''Ghosts V: Together'' and the dark and unsettling ''Ghosts VI: Locusts''. 

    Final rating: 80%

    « A drug-addicted country musician having a near-death experience - A review of Nine Inch Nails' Ghosts IVDystopian science-fiction metal opera for the ages - A review of Ayreon's The Universal Migrator »
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