On Bad Witch, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross conclude the conceptual narrative arc started on 2016's Not the Actual Events and continued on 2017's Add Violence. Drifting outside the comfort zone of what a Nine Inch Nails album is expected to sound like, Bad Witch is the least accessible of the trilogy, a pessimistic, misanthropic, and frustrating cacophony that challenges even the most devoted NIN fan. And yet, after multiple listens, Bad Witch reveals itself as the most cohesive and enveloping experience of this period. As Reznor noted in interviews, Events focused on self-reflection and self-destruction, while Violence searched for answers from a broken world. Bad Witch concludes that we're the problem and humanity is doomed. That nihilistic blood courses through these six songs, which can be divided into pairs: a triptych within the trilogy.
Reznor launches an immediate assault with "Shit Mirror," a corrosive reflection of the worst of us all. Shards of Broken cut through the distortion and handclaps and saxophones herald a "new world, new times" as Reznor accepts that "mutation feels alright." Bleeding directly into "Ahead of Ourselves," the torrent continues, with Reznor's ring-modulated vocals buried beneath a heavily programmed drum'n'bass beat and jagged riffs. Maniacally hopeless, humanity is condemned as a pack of "knuckle dragging animal(s)" who celebrate ignorance. Reznor hasn't been this outwardly pissed off in years and it's a thrill.
The heart of Bad Witch owes much to David Bowie and his final album, Blackstar. Instrumental jazz break "Play the Goddamned Part" -- which recalls Lost Highway's "Driver Down" expanded with more sax squeals and piano tinkering -- serves as a five-minute introduction to the Lynch-ian noir of lead single "God Break Down the Door," an oddity in the NIN catalog that debuts Reznor's hitherto unheard, Bowie-esque croon. Bad Witch closes with a pair of experimental squalls that devour nearly half of the album's run time. "I'm Not from This World" builds with ominous dread, an unnerving mutation of Reznor's work on the Quake soundtrack. "Over and Out" ends Bad Witch and the trilogy itself with more sax, full-throated singing, Year Zero beats, and ghostly Fragile-era xylophone. Both warning and resignation, Reznor cautions "time is running out" as the song evaporates into the ether, ending this 18-month journey on an uncomfortable note. As the band looks back upon three decades of pain and rage, Reznor and Ross leave the sonic bread crumbs and callback allusions to the first two installments, advancing with fresh and surprising new possibilities for the coming era of Nine Inch Nails. ~ Neil Z. Yeung