There is no way Trent Reznor, the mastermind and one-man-band behind Nine Inch Nails, could have known what state the world would be in when he recorded “Ghosts V: Together” and “Ghosts VI: Locusts.”
The two new albums from the long-running industrial metal band were shadow dropped March 26, and they somehow capture the mood of isolation and social distancing perfectly. Not a single lyric can be found across these sonic landscapes, but that’s okay.
Reznor instead speaks through dreamy, sometimes frightening instrumentals. The “Ghosts” series, kicking off with volumes I-IV, began in 2008. The four volumes were the first independent releases by Reznor following his split with the band’s former label Interscope.
They were a refreshing exercise in musical freedom, ignoring pop structure and diving headfirst into dreamy synthwave mixed with industrial crunch. The newest iterations are a continuation of that idea.
Spanning a grand total of 153 minutes, the pair of albums are not a slog. Instead, they provide a welcoming atmosphere that drags the listener into Reznor’s recorded daydreams. The opening track of “Together,” “Letting Go While Holding On,” particularly resonates with the situation at hand.
Its growing chorus of synths and eerie vocal loops make it seem okay to be alone, to get lost in musical meditation. Each song bleeds into the next, projecting the image of a large and continuous musical canvas.
The closer “Still Right Here,” a 10-minute epic, features some of the few notes of guitar on the entire album. It’s simple and acts like a light at the end of the tunnel as the song gradually crescendos. Halfway through it plummets into a sparse, ethereal landscape, giving off the idea that the dream the album created just ended.
“Ghosts V: Together” is a call to warmth and togetherness (SIX FEET APART) that gently pulls the listener through a strange time. “Ghosts VI: Locusts” is the inverse, providing sinister, apocalyptic instrumentals that echo some of the world’s darker moods.
“The Worriment Waltz” is a beautiful, melancholy piano ballad. A trumpet playing in a major key drifts in from the distance, juxtaposing triumphantly with the minor key that the piano inhabits. The song gradually gets darker as instruments fade away, being replaced by what can only be described as musical white noise.
A brief burst of energy comes in the form of “Run Like Hell.” A frantic piano lead gets a boost when pounding drums burst through. It’s like running from that monster that habitually shows up in our nightmares, like responsibility.
The track “Your New Normal,” which is right at the halfway mark of the album, hit hard. The title is on the nose for what’s going on, and the music is like living in a John Carpenter soundtrack for a Salvador Dali painting, complete with xylophone and a circus-like synth lead.
“Locusts” is not all doom and gloom. Rather, it acts like the backside of a page, providing the darker mood that “Together” hinted at. Both albums encompass every range of emotion possible while stowing away in our homes. They’re happy, lost, manic, angry and sad.
Reznor has recently been making a name for himself as a top-tier soundtrack composer for movies like “Gone Girl” and the hit show “The Watchmen.” Accidentally, he seems to have soundtracked the life of isolation with these two beautiful, dark albums.