I've always found it a tad strange that Nine Inch Nails aren't regularly included in discussions of significant metal bands. While I'd agree that Ministry is the more influential of industrial metal, I'd say NIN had a huge impact, especially for rock fans crossing over to heavier music. Nowadays, I understand how the term "rock" or "electronic" can be more aptly associated with Trent Reznor's music, yet just as Opeth will always be categorized as a metal band, I believe so should Nine Inch Nails and therefore an assessment is warranted for their latest EP, Not the Actual Events.
For starters, it seems many fans and media outlets have stamped the word "heavy" to this release (admittedly, this site as well concerning the last track), however I can't see how that term fully applies all too accurately when the band's standard of heaviness was set high with releases like Broken or The Downward Spiral. In a sense, yes, the material off this EP has a heavy aspect because of the white noisy attribute on a few tracks, but that is certainly a different kind of "heavy." Furthermore, it should be understood that just because both Broken and Not the Actual Events are the only NIN EPs, they shouldn't be automatically paired together as they greatly differ in sound.
The brief opener "Branches / Bones" hardly reaches two minutes and is very reminiscent of the vocal and guitar distortion on Year Zero as well as the dirty wall-of-sound production from The Slip. "Dear World," brings the songwriting and aesthetic back to a more modern expectation of Nine Inch Nails where the constant glitchy beat and synth worship could easily be misunderstood for a Hesitation Marks b-side. "She's Gone Away" marches down memory lane to the dystopian soundscapes from The Fragile.
The ending two tracks is where the energy finally starts to pick up and maybe it's because of the guest musicians included. Dave Grohl provides drums on "The Idea of You" and Janes' Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro is featured on "Burning Bright (Field on Fire)." While the former has the zest and slight of eeriness alike Year Zero that has been missed, the latter song officially blurs the line between Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' soundtrack score work and the releases under the Nine Inch Nails name. This notion first frightened me with tracks like "Find My Way" and "Disappointed" off the Hesitation Marks LP where the soft and slow atmosphere was more fitting in the context of The Social Network score rather than the artist affiliated with such tracks like "March of the Pigs" or "The Hand that Feeds."
I find it necessary to loop back to my intro paragraph regarding their overall legacy. As for why the NIN brand debatably dropped out of the metal community's spotlight is not only because of the band's descent away from heaviness, but also due to a gradual inconsistency in quality, with this EP as a prime suspect. Although there are some subconscious desires for an increase in the heavy factor, I feel that ingenuity and substance is the more significant aspect that listeners are hungry for. Personally, I see Trent Reznor as the embodiment of musical innovation or progression and this release didn't feel to entirely function on either. When listening to this release, I caught myself making so many comparisons to successful Nine Inch Nails records of the past. While it did feel momentarily exciting to experience those musical tidbits, I understood such satisfaction was a result of nostalgia.
In the end, I do believe this EP somewhat served its purpose. The slightly experimental 22 minutes presented whets the appetite of fans, but also leaves one wanting more. And even if this material doesn't seem totally at par with expectations, I think it's safe to assume that Not the Actual Events wasn't intended to be a game-changer considering the context of its surprise release and the EP's title. Although I'm unsure how it will stand the test of time amongst Nine Inch Nails' discography, the subtle hooks and dynamics stir my curiosity of what is next to come.