A music phenomenon originating in the USA in the late 1980s, gaining momentum in the 1990s and surviving the turn of the new century, Nine Inch Nails is a masterful expression of negative emotions, giving rise to incredible creativity.
While the live band in its most recent incarnation (at the time of writing) consists of Trent Reznor (vocals, guitar, keyboard), Robin Finck (guitar), Danny Lohner (bass), Charlie Clouser (synthesizers, keyboards), and Jerome Dillon (drums), in the studio, the real ghost in the machine is Trent Reznor. Using technical genius honed over years as a self-described 'computer geek', Reznor painstakingly writes, programs, and arranges lyrics, melodies, distortion, and other noises. In the past, the band has included Richard Patrick1; James Wooley; and Reznor's longtime friend and aide, Chris Vrenna2.
Reznor was born in the small farming town of Mercer, Pennsylvania, USA, and was trained as a concert pianist from the age of five. However, Reznor left behind his home town, as well as his refined musical background, and began work on Nine Inch Nails while rooming with Vrenna in Cleveland, Ohio. After some time struggling to keep the dream alive on cheap beer and ramen noodles, Reznor finally got a chance to make the world's ears bleed with the release of Pretty Hate Machine.
Adding a hard-edged introspective bleakness to the synthetic techno-pop vibe of the 1980s, Nine Inch Nails hit the ground running. Ever since, Reznor has continued to plumb the depths of his own angst in order to shock, amaze, and delight listeners who love to look on the dark side.
All official Nine Inch Nails releases (with the exception of Into The Void) are called Halos, and are shown here with their official numbers. For example, Closure would bear a note somewhere on the package saying 'Halo Twelve'. The bold titles indicate the major releases, full-length albums which give rise to the resulting remixes and singles and explore new and exciting Nine Inch Nails ground.
- 'Down In It' (single)
- Pretty Hate Machine (1989)
- Head Like a Hole
- 'Sin' (single)
- Broken (EP, 1992)
- Fixed (remix ep)
- 'March of the Pigs' (single)
- The Downward Spiral (1994)
- Closer to God (remix album)
- Further down the Spiral (remix album)
- The Perfect Drug (remix album)
- Closure (video)
- 'The Day the World Went Away' (single)
- The Fragile (1999)
- We're in this Together (remix album)
- 'Into The Void' (single)
- Things Falling Apart (remix album)
- And All That Could Have Been (live CD/DVD/VHS) and 'Still' (companion CD)
The music of Nine Inch Nails is best defined as electronic and industrial in nature, a coupling of traditional instruments, synthesizers, and a variety of sounds which might have been produced by huge machines with moving parts, rusted and thirsting for oil. The industrial metaphor is utilised in lyrics, as well as mixing, and is most noticeably a recurring theme on the Broken EP.
Stick my hand through the cage of this endless routine,
Just some flesh caught in this big broken machine.
- 'Happiness in Slavery'
Other important themes in Reznor's lyrics include religion, power, violence, disillusion, vulnerability, and (of course) sex, often with blurred boundaries and in intriguing combinations. This is well illustrated in the quintessential Nine Inch Nails single 'Closer', from the album The Downward Spiral. While the refrain is a tad too explicit to repeat here, a sample of the second verse will be provided for the reader's edification:
You can have my isolation,
You can have the hate that it brings,
You can have my absence of faith,
You can have my everything.
The range of emotion apparent in the music of Nine Inch Nails is too broad to capture in a single entry. It is left up to the reader to contemplate the vast expanse of pain3 that is Nine Inch Nails. Reznor's daring musicality and intensity make for a virtuoso body of work that is well worth exploring.
Within the long, long intervals between tours and television airplay, the Closure video release and the new live material on And All That Could Have Been provide the band's fans with an ogle at their picturesque 'gods'. Reznor's ambition to push the limits has also resulted in the infamous Broken Movie, a cinematic treat approaching snuff porn in its depiction of torture and death, and bordering on the mythical in its rarity. Apparently, there are some music videos in there too.
In addition to live footage of the Self Destruct Tour, Closure contains all the Nine Inch Nails videos produced up to the time of its release (except for Burn), from Head Like a Hole to The Perfect Drug4, chronologically. The visual imagery is invariably surrealistic, disturbing, and visually captivating. The earliest videos, from Pretty Hate Machine, range from the artsy, demented yet TV-friendly camera work of Down In It to sexually explicit S&M imagery in Sin. Broken Videos, mostly black and white and with better production value, become stranger still. Happiness in Slavery stands out as the most gory video available outside the Broken Movie. Also climactic is the pair of videos directed by Mark Romanek: Closer and The Perfect Drug. Despite their commercial slickness, these are indisputable surrealistic masterpieces.
The live show, as evidenced in And All That Could Have Been and the live segments of Closure, is no less a treat for the eye. The frenetic production and pageantry create an intense and moving experience. The vision relies on exhaustively synchronized lighting as well as video effects to augment the charismatic stylings of the performers. In both the Self Destruct and Fragility 2.0 tours, huge screens display video segments, usually of natural imagery. Self Destruct's visual themes focus on decay, with elapsed-time footage of rotting plant and animal matter. Fragility 2.0's dazzling, colourful video interludes have the camera submerged in flame as well as water, giving impressions of drowning and inferno imbued with a moving, sublime beauty.
The show traditionally ends with the song 'Hurt', Reznor's most profoundly personal and emotional work, which inspires visibly 'religious' reactions in the audience. As arguably Reznor's crowning musical and lyrical achievement, it seems an appropriate ending to this entry as well:
What have I become?
My sweetest friend;
Everyone I know goes away in the end.