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Thread: Trilogy themes/story ideas.

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    Trilogy themes/story ideas.

    I checked back a few pages and didn't see anything like this recently, my apologies to the mods if this has already been done. But I would really love some thoughts about what folks think ties the most recent three albums together. I had a thought of my own today and figured I should type it all out and see if anybody else is feeling this.

    So Trent and Atticus have both mentioned in interviews that Not the Actual Events/Add Violence/Bad Witch tell a larger story together. But what sort of message/story could be there for listeners in the three records? They honestly don't drop a lot of hints, and I am having a hard time finding the bits they have brought up during interviews at the moment, so I'm only going off lyrics for now.

    You know the saying "to a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail"? I think we tend to see the world through the lens of the things that impact our lives regularly. Since I spend a lot of time reading the Bible, theology etc: I tend to find bits and pieces of that story in every story (even where it doesn't exist), and the NIN trilogy is no different for me. Not trying to get preachy here, it's just that there are a lot of things here that can synch up with theology, although that certainly may not have been NIN's intention.

    A lot of the lyrics sound like the final destruction of the world to me. Like, a very specific, intentional, destruction of the world due to humanity's general sickness of the soul. There's a meme that I think of, and it's the "God hits delete/reset button" used in response to pictures and tweets that are just disturbing or abhorrent. This is the one:


    If the story in the trilogy isn't about a diety destroying what they created out of sheer frustration and rage, I think it could be about a contemptuous, disdainful human planning earth's destruction somehow. A created thing destroying a Creator's creation out of resentment for what creation has become.

    Starting with Branches/Bones. The title could be a reference to all things "created", both the earth itself (branches) as well as living creatures (bones). I'm also reminded of Ezekiel 37 and the Valley of Dry Bones, which is mostly a prophecy of the coming of Christ. There's a brief mention in that passage about a vine, a lot of folks interpret that as pointing to Christ's words in John 15 (I am the true vine, my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit.) The John 15 passage is largely focused on Christ's followers abiding in love, and rejecting the world. The theme of this trilogy reads to me as a perversion of this idea: destroying the world because we are entirely unloving and unlovable.

    "Still can make out the pieces with the opening sewed shut."
    When I hear this line, I think of how our vision of humanity has been marred and obscured. We still technically look like humans, flesh and bone and all. We've evolved past the rest of the living creatures, but despite our collective intelligence as a breed and all of the progress we've made - all of the same problems still exist. We still murder, we still rape, we still steal and so on. The saddest part of it all? We've been through these violent cycles a thousand times. We haven't learned, and if anything we've gone backward despite our massive technological advances. If anything, technology has made us more efficiently vicious.

    "Feels like I've been here before, yeah I don't know anymore."
    Probably because we have been. Theologically speaking, God has destroyed the earth due to violence and disobedience (see the story of Noah and the ark) as well as cities (Sodom and Gomorrah). The latter has frequently been used by evangelicals as an excuse for advocating violence against LGBT folks, but as Ezekiel 16:49-50 points out, S&G's biggest issue was not homosexuality but their pride, penchant for rape and mob violence as well as inhospitality towards sojourners *cough*. In addition to God's own acts of destruction, humanity has independently done the same through centuries of man-led slaughter.

    Essentially, the character in this song seems to be aching for another apocalyptic showdown or is at least, unbothered by the idea.
    "Yes, I have been here before. Yeah, I don't care anymore. Don't give a fuck anymore."

    I can also see pieces of this in She's Gone Away "You dig in places till your fingers bleed. Spread the infection where you spill your seed." Dear World seems to point to the protagonist as mocking a world who doesn't recognize how close it is to its own destruction. "Yes, everyone seems to be asleep/Trajectory in decline/And we become obsolete/it is coming and you didn't even notice." And then on to an internal dialogue about his conflicting feelings on the end of humanity. "I have been entirely patient/but I know I can't trust myself with this again"

    When I get to songs like The Idea of You and Burning Bright then I start to feel like it's definitely a human being who is sick of humanity and is battling this idea of destroying it somehow vs. giving the world yet another chance.

    Moving on to the tracks on Add Violence, I feel like I see the theoretical protagonist walking back his earlier thoughts: yearning and pleading for a more positive outcome. For the world to wake up, for humanity to change its violent ways etc. But unfortunately, whatever plan this person had set into place for razing the world has already kicked off "I thought we had more time", leading him to eventually fully accept the inevitable destruction found in Bad Witch.

    "Got a new face and it feels alright. Power and strength and appetite".
    Shit Mirror opens up with the destructor completely embracing the earth's fate, even becoming a monster himself. He now sees the hatefulness of the world reflected back in himself - and he appears unbothered by that.

    Ahead of Ourselves seems to be equal parts self-loathing and people-mocking. He knows what's about to happen, and judges humanity as a whole to be "obsolete, insignificant, antiquated, irrelevant" and thus, deserving of their fate. The world has overplayed its cards, and he sees no point in asking them to change when he knows they are incapable of doing so. One point of interest in this song is a reference to the Imago Dei, more commonly known as the Image of God. In the Bible, humankind is created to be uniquely formed in the image of their creator, unlike any other thing God created. The Imago Dei is what makes all humans worthy of dignity and capable of many of the same abilities and emotions that God himself is capable of: feelings of love and justice, the ability to create in an artistic way like God did etc.. However, because of the fall detailed in Genesis 3, the Imago Dei has been blemished and perverted and that reflects in our behavior ever since our ejection from the Garden of Eden. We have reduced ourselves from noble image-bearers to "knuckle-dragging animals/with our snouts in the dirt".

    From this point on, the trajectory seems to point more solidly towards total annihilation of mankind at the hands of the main character.

    The last four tracks appear to be wrapping up the story (both in the temporal and eternal sense.) Play the Goddamn Part opens with noises that actually sound like buildings collapsing. I once watched a planned demolition of an apartment complex, and the sound played here reminds me of it. The sax starts to sound more dissonant and chaotic towards the end of the song too. It sounds like shit is getting tore up from the floor up in this track. The beginning of the end has begun.

    God Break Down the Door feels like the protagonist presenting God (or whoever) with his plan and telling him to look elsewhere if he wants to save humanity. "There are no answers here, no not anymore." As if the central figure is throwing up his hands and saying: "do you want to save this worthless world, God? Break down the door and fucking take them because I'm done waiting for you to redeem them."

    Over and Out is where things get hazy for me. Is this the destructor looking at the wreck and ruin he's creating and having another too-late bout of second thoughts? Was his plan to waste the world actually drawing to a close, or was this series of events all in his head? Can he actually hit the "reset" button and draw the destruction to a close?

    "I don't know what I'm waiting for"
    "Feels like I've been here before"

    The lyrics make me think that this planned extermination of man could just be an awful daydream/psychosis that the main character keeps having, especially with the "feels like I've been here before" bit, but that line could just be a sort of refrain to connect other songs in the album together. I don't know.

    Either way, I hear these albums and that's what the lyrics sound like to me. I could write more about all this, but I've already got a wall of text that is probably making eyes glaze over. Sorry this is so friggen long.

    What do you guys think? I'd love to hear other ideas.
    Last edited by eachpassingphase; 08-05-2018 at 10:48 PM.

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    I like your explorations. I don’t necessarily see it all the same way, but I appreciate that you are asking questions and looking for meaning in this fantastic trilogy.

    I won’t pretend to know the answers or understand it all, but I would argue that Trent doesn’t fully know either.

    Art comes from our conscious AND subconscious minds. The latter inevitably subverts our ability to ever fully explain even our own intentions.

    I see this “story” as related pieces of a whole, but not the whole story. They share feelings themes but I don’t expect that they are a linear story at all. It seems to me the three parts actually use somewhat different metaphors to explain the thoughts and feelings that went into this.

    We see themes about dreams, simulation, sleep and waking, God and absence of God, hope and longing and contempt and loathing.

    I think the search for a cohesive narrative will disappoint, but the search for cohesive meaning will bear fruit.

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    Yeah, I feel like there was an article where he admits they sort of boxed themselves into a corner with the story by the end, but I can't for the life of me find that interview so I might be imagining things. So who knows!

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    Quote Originally Posted by eachpassingphase View Post
    Not trying to get preachy here, it's just that there are a lot of things here that can synch up with theology, although that certainly may not have been NIN's intention.
    The ending of over and out always reminds me of church bells. I think that this is intentional, but I've never seen it mentioned here by anyone else... so maybe its just me.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SchwarzerAbt View Post
    The ending of over and out always reminds me of church bells. I think that this is intentional, but I've never seen it mentioned here by anyone else... so maybe its just me.
    Well now I need to go back and listen to that song and see!

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    @eachpassingphase wow. Ok. While I think that's a badass interpretation, and I don't wanna take anything away from it, I don't think it's THE interpretation.
    I do like it though, especially as someone who is also obsessed with theology.

    My favorite theological NIN reference is "are you hiding in the trees," which I would imagine a lot of people didn't catch.

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    Quote Originally Posted by elevenism View Post
    @eachpassingphase wow. Ok. While I think that's a badass interpretation, and I don't wanna take anything away from it, I don't think it's THE interpretation.
    I do like it though, especially as someone who is also obsessed with theology.

    My favorite theological NIN reference is "are you hiding in the trees," which I would imagine a lot of people didn't catch.
    Do you mean from Right Where It Belongs? Because if so, the line is "You keep looking but you can't find the woods while you’re hiding in the trees." Basically a rephrasing of "you can't see the forest for the trees."

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    Quote Originally Posted by zecho View Post
    Do you mean from Right Where It Belongs? Because if so, the line is "You keep looking but you can't find the woods while you’re hiding in the trees." Basically a rephrasing of "you can't see the forest for the trees."
    Yeah but HIDING in the trees: in ye olde tesatament, after when yhvh came looking for Adam after he fucked up, Adam was hiding in the trees.

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    Trent at one point described the project as being like an “album” that is being released “one act at a time.” Of course he doesn’t give a play-by-play for each song, but in broad-strokes he does give authorial intent on the general message of each release. Referencing some excerpts from the interview here...

    Not the Actual Events: “The first record, Not the Actual Events, was more of an internal fantasy of what if I lit a match to my life and just embraced burning the whole fucking thing down. You know? All of this is an illusion and I really should be dead or lying in a ditch somewhere. Who I really am is an addict that self-destructs. That’s my true nature and this is an illusion and some borrowed time.”

    Add Violence: “With the second one, Add Violence, the idea was, loosely, to zoom out, to be more global and to imply that maybe we’re all in a simulated reality. And that might introduce the concept of meaninglessness but also provide a safe container to explain why everything feels off.”

    Bad Witch: “In the end, what felt true was to say that we as a society and as a species are probably an accident, a mutation. Really what we are is fucking animals. And the illusion was enlightenment. The more we’ve connected with each other the dumber we’ve gotten and the more we decide we want to kill each other. We’re not some elevated transcendent beings, we’re bacteria in a jar. I wanted the art direction of Bad Witch to feel like shadows on a cave wall and we’re trying to figure out what it is and really there’s no nice, clean, safe scientific explanation. We’re just an accident. String theory and quantum physics is a fucking trick. And we’re not going to suddenly elevate ourselves into transcendent beings. We’re kidding ourselves.”

    So there we are, Not the Actual Events = FML. Add Violence = But hey, what if we're all living in the matrix? Bad Witch = Nope, it's real, and we’re all shitty beings in a shitty world. And everything we hold dear and call sacred and aspire to is just meaningless horseshit.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dr Channard View Post
    Add Violence: “With the second one, Add Violence, the idea was, loosely, to zoom out, to be more global and to imply that maybe we’re all in a simulated reality. And that might introduce the concept of meaninglessness but also provide a safe container to explain why everything feels off.”
    One question I have for everyone is what you all think it means to be in a "simulated reality" for instance. The Matrix makes for a decent (and maybe too easy (?) ) way of understanding the idea, but what exactly does that mean in terms of life and the way we live it? If we take the interview at face value, it would seem that the intention of the album as a whole had a strong philosophical (perhaps also political and spiritual) bent. I'm wondering what everyone took away from the trilogy on that level of self concept and the nature of reality.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dedevoce View Post
    One question I have for everyone is what you all think it means to be in a "simulated reality" for instance. The Matrix makes for a decent (and maybe too easy (?) ) way of understanding the idea, but what exactly does that mean in terms of life and the way we live it? If we take the interview at face value, it would seem that the intention of the album as a whole had a strong philosophical (perhaps also political and spiritual) bent. I'm wondering what everyone took away from the trilogy on that level of self concept and the nature of reality.
    This is a big question that can't really be answered in a short way. For me, it's a matter of perspective.

    For most people, even if it's proven that we're living in a simulation, that won't change a thing. Life goes on. They will still drive their cars to work, walk their dogs, feed and fuck and live and die. They'll still buy too much shit at Christmas, have vices, loves, hates. It's all the same. Little ants in a little ant farm.

    On the flip-side, if nothing is truly real, none of it matters at all. What's the point in even continuing? Why even bother? Perhaps everything has been programmed this way for a reason. Perhaps you have been programmed this way and no matter what you do, your entire life has been written by someone else, and there's no escape. Perhaps there's no reason to any of it, and it's just some god-child's crappy petri-dish experiment. The sun will rise and fall regardless of what you do. You are powerless.

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    Well, here’s the thing - what is the actual difference between “simulation” and “reality”? Those are just words. And it could mean the same thing if you really thing about it.

    If if you are telling me that some higher intelligence created us and decided on the rules of that system including gravity and the visible light spectrum and love and death... are you speaking about a simulation or reality? Whether we are made up of ones and zeroes or atoms is there a difference? We are all made out of non-living atoms. Those atoms ARE the ones and zeroes of our universe. DNA is quaternary code.

    i think it is a distinction without a difference as they say. I have my beliefs about what the answer is. But I think “reality” and a super complex “simulation” are one in the same.

    when one asks “is this real?”, I think what they are really getting at is, “is there meaning to any of this, is there something beyond this?” I think it is a worthwhile question to be asking, and I think that saying we live in a simulation is really just a product of our current time-period. The ancients imagined the gods as being like themselves, and now with our computers we are doing the same primitive thing. I believe in a Maker, a programmer, but One who is wholly and utterly unlike us. Metaphors like simulations can help us wrestle with these deeper questions, but it’s really the same questions man has always had, dressed up in modern attire.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dedevoce View Post
    ... but what exactly does that mean in terms of life and the way we live it? ...
    That’s a tough one to wrestle.

    Even if true, it wouldn’t necessitate an existential crisis. We could never know it to be objectively true unless somehow we were pulled out of the simulation and into the base reality. Like when dreaming, the mind creates a simulated world for the consciousness to occupy. People, places, events that we accept as reality while dreaming, even though sometimes some of the things in the dreams don’t make sense and simply shouldn’t be. Nevertheless we continue on our merry way until we are pulled out of the dream by awakening. At that point it becomes clear that the reality of the dream world wasn’t real at all. I guess some people are capable of lucid dreaming, allowing them to consciously become the programmer of their own dream. But our reality doesn’t seem to have any such god mode that people can become conscious of, thereby allowing them to bend reality to their will. So, even if a program, we can’t alter it and will only ever see it as our reality unless the programmer has a way to pull us out.

    It seems like the safest bet is to treat this reality as though it is the base reality and not go off the deep end of thinking we need to be unplugged from “the matrix,” or whatever. Otherwise we might find our reality looking more like a straitjacket and four padded walls.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Max View Post
    I believe in a Maker, a programmer.

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    I'm pretty sure the simulation idea is directly inspired by the holographic principle. Trent mentions both string theory and quantum mechanics being "a trick," and I think he's referring to holography.

    It's part of sting theory and a possible solution to quantum gravity, and it's the hypothesis that reality as we know it is a 3D projection of information contained on a 2D plain. It comes from a Hawking hypothesis on black holes retaining the information of anything that they absorb on the two dimensional surface of the event horizon, and that hypothesis has been extended to include the whole universe in an attempt to reconcile the theory of gravity with quantum mechanics.

    It's super complicated, and I don't think that the album is trying to be super scientific about it, but I think it was inspired by the possibility that something outside of our knowledge contains the data that projects our reality, and the idea that it's controlled by something unknown to us, thus a simulation. Complete fiction, but I think it was probably inspired by some scientific articles he's read, since there's been some breakthroughs in the field recently.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Max View Post
    Well, here’s the thing - what is the actual difference between “simulation” and “reality”? Those are just words. And it could mean the same thing if you really thing about it.

    If if you are telling me that some higher intelligence created us and decided on the rules of that system including gravity and the visible light spectrum and love and death... are you speaking about a simulation or reality? Whether we are made up of ones and zeroes or atoms is there a difference? We are all made out of non-living atoms. Those atoms ARE the ones and zeroes of our universe. DNA is quaternary code.

    i think it is a distinction without a difference as they say. I have my beliefs about what the answer is. But I think “reality” and a super complex “simulation” are one in the same.

    when one asks “is this real?”, I think what they are really getting at is, “is there meaning to any of this, is there something beyond this?” I think it is a worthwhile question to be asking, and I think that saying we live in a simulation is really just a product of our current time-period. The ancients imagined the gods as being like themselves, and now with our computers we are doing the same primitive thing. I believe in a Maker, a programmer, but One who is wholly and utterly unlike us. Metaphors like simu!lations can help us wrestle with these deeper questions, but it’s really the same questions man has always had, dressed up in modern attire.
    Hey! 4 years late, but I agree 100%. Hinduism, the oldest extant religion, has the concept of Maya, which has been interpreted in subtly different ways, but basically comes down to "none of this is real."

    Later, a core tenet of a lot of what we collectively now call Gnosticism is that THIS reality is something of a false reflection of the TRUE reality of the Monad, created by the "demiurge," and the point is to learn and remember our true nature, as beings of light.

    This sort of thing has DEFINITELY been coming up for thousands of years, across multiple traditions.
    In both cases I mentioned, the "maker," as you called it, or the eternal, or the ONE, is absolutely NOTHING like us.

    And, good looking, that you'd compare these ancient religious ideas to the idea du jour, which is simulation theory. This reality, it turns out, is just a game on the PS 3000.

    I just really, really dig this answer, @Max . sorry it took me almost 4 years to mention it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dr Channard View Post
    I wanted the art direction of Bad Witch to feel like shadows on a cave wall and we’re trying to figure out what it is and really there’s no nice, clean, safe scientific explanation. We’re just an accident. String theory and quantum physics is a fucking trick. And we’re not going to suddenly elevate ourselves into transcendent beings. We’re kidding ourselves.”
    Though I've read this quote multiple times before, this time I realized this might be a reference to Plato's Cave. There's a lot here that relates to these same themes of perception, relative truth, and chosen reality.
    Last edited by Paul; 06-02-2022 at 10:13 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul View Post
    Though I've read this quote multiple times before, this time I realized this might be a reference to Plato's Cave. There's a lot here that relates to these same themes of perception, relative truth, and chosen reality.
    Yeah, that was discussed quite a bit in the Bad Witch threads. "Shadows On The Cave Wall" is the description of the album on the nin.com discography too.

    I thought there was an interview where Trent discussed it too, explicitly in reference to Plato's cave, but I think I am wrong.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dr Channard View Post
    Trent at one point described the project as being like an “album” that is being released “one act at a time.” Of course he doesn’t give a play-by-play for each song, but in broad-strokes he does give authorial intent on the general message of each release. Referencing some excerpts from the interview here...

    Not the Actual Events: “The first record, Not the Actual Events, was more of an internal fantasy of what if I lit a match to my life and just embraced burning the whole fucking thing down. You know? All of this is an illusion and I really should be dead or lying in a ditch somewhere. Who I really am is an addict that self-destructs. That’s my true nature and this is an illusion and some borrowed time.”

    Add Violence: “With the second one, Add Violence, the idea was, loosely, to zoom out, to be more global and to imply that maybe we’re all in a simulated reality. And that might introduce the concept of meaninglessness but also provide a safe container to explain why everything feels off.”

    Bad Witch: “In the end, what felt true was to say that we as a society and as a species are probably an accident, a mutation. Really what we are is fucking animals. And the illusion was enlightenment. The more we’ve connected with each other the dumber we’ve gotten and the more we decide we want to kill each other. We’re not some elevated transcendent beings, we’re bacteria in a jar. I wanted the art direction of Bad Witch to feel like shadows on a cave wall and we’re trying to figure out what it is and really there’s no nice, clean, safe scientific explanation. We’re just an accident. String theory and quantum physics is a fucking trick. And we’re not going to suddenly elevate ourselves into transcendent beings. We’re kidding ourselves.”

    So there we are, Not the Actual Events = FML. Add Violence = But hey, what if we're all living in the matrix? Bad Witch = Nope, it's real, and we’re all shitty beings in a shitty world. And everything we hold dear and call sacred and aspire to is just meaningless horseshit.
    Yeah that's as close as I reckon we'll ever get to the concept though we might find a thousand different ways to say the same thing.

    Musically, I'm fascinated by the many apparent callbacks and the recurring motif of the three releases.

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