Released with no prior warning at the conclusion of 2016, Not the Actual Events unveils a new incarnation of Nine Inch Nails, one where Trent Reznor's longtime collaborator Atticus Ross is an official bandmember. Ross first entered the NIN orbit in 2005 when he engineered part of With Teeth, but he first received co-billing with Reznor when the pair composed the Academy Award-winning soundtrack for 2010's The Social Network. His addition to Nine Inch Nails does give Not the Actual Events a hint of cinematic sweep, but Reznor always excelled at painting with electronics, a strength that does not fail him here. Largely aggressive and noisy, the EP benefits from tight arrangements; squalls of fury might arrive out of nowhere but they're precisely timed. So is the sequencing of the EP, as it opens with the brisk blast of "Branches/Bones," moves to the muddy, cloistered "Dear World," builds to the six-minute centerpiece "She's Gone Away," which then gets blasted off the map by "The Idea of You" -- an ominous rocker anchored by Dave Grohl -- and then settles into the brooding closer, "Burning Bright (Field on Fire)." If Not the Actual Events seems somewhat less than the sum of its parts -- maybe it's the brevity, maybe it's how the arrangements are more memorable than the melodies -- it's nevertheless worthy, not so much as a cacophonous palette cleanser after 2013's Hesitation Marks but as an effective demonstration of craft.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine