Released less than a year after the first installment of a proposed trilogy of EPs, Add Violence builds upon the intrigue and mystique of Not the Actual Events, providing sonic allusions to various nine inch nails eras while injecting new life to the band's catalog. The second official NIN effort with Atticus Ross as an official member with Trent Reznor, Add Violence benefits from the duo's film score experiences, with deeply layered production creating evocative scenery and atmospherics. "The Lovers" pulses through claustrophobic burrows as Reznor whispers "I can hear you breathing," while "Not Anymore" clangs and cracks along a martial beat that recalls the paranoia of Year Zero colliding with the tension and fury of The Fragile. Those albums receive plenty of callbacks here, whether it's through the twang of organic Fragile guitar strums or Reznor's vulnerable vocal delivery on the swelling meditation, "This Isn't the Place," which merges the mood and lyrical content of "The Great Below" with Zero's apocalyptic despair. Highlights include the synthwave-y lead single "Less Than," one of NIN's stronger pop anthems, which joins the pack of late-era danceable gems like "The Hand That Feeds," "Discipline," and "Copy of A." However, it's closing track "The Background World" that provides the biggest reward. A nearly-12-minute exercise in patience and payoff, it's not only the longest song in the NIN catalog to date, but also one of its most surprising. The first half fits nicely into the focused niche occupied by the late-era albums and Reznor's work with How to Destroy Angels (Mariqueen Maandig even joins on backing vocals), while the latter portion boldly goes off the rails in a seven-minute descent of slow degradation. As the track dissolves into static oblivion, it deteriorates an otherwise polished effort into messy, uncomfortable decay. Provoking anxiety, "The Background World" is just one piece of an unfolding puzzle that should be engrossing for longtime fans willing to get lost in the maze of clues and references to periods like Year Zero, The Fragile, the mythical Bleedthrough, and even this EP's sibling, Not the Actual Events. With Ross as a foil, Reznor's usual indulgences become focused and refined, making Add Violence a satisfying addition to NIN's less-essential, non-album output.
AllMusic Review by Neil Z. Yeung