Tag Archive: Nine Inch Nails


This article first appeared at No Ripcord  on March 7, 2014.

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The Downward Spiral is an anomaly. It is the success that doesn’t make sense, no matter which angle you tackle it from. How did an industrial metal concept album, whose main character is on a mission of self-destruction and whose most famous single has an f-bomb in the middle of the chorus, sell more than four million copies? How does it become one of, if not the defining album of the year, and one of the best of the decade?

While there were likely many outside factors that contributed to its success (the band’s growing fanbase and live reputation, the dark experimentalism that was prevalent and popular in the early 90s, Closer‘s freaky-but-can’t-look-away music video), the simple truth is that The Downward Spiral is a masterful album from beginning to end. It seems that every year or two, there is an album that demands the world’s attention. Sometimes it gets it, sometimes it doesn’t. This one did.

The story of a rock star’s journey through self-destruction, burning everything and everyone in his life, is a motif that had previously been touched on by other artists, but never explored to such an extent. It pushes Trent Reznor and ourselves further into the abyss than we would want to go, but never goes too far (well, okay, maybe Big Man With A Gun was a little much). Instead, the album is a rabbit hole that we can’t help but go down.

The main reason we choose to follow Reznor down is the music. The Downward Spiral is brimming from top to bottom with fantastic songs that don’t abide by any audible rules or cues. Between its uses of distortion, sampling and off-beat time signatures, the record somehow crafts chaos into melodies and rhythms. The Becoming rides a manipulated piano line to a sample of screams from the movie Robot Jox. The track keeps building until it fades into a gentle acoustic guitar, only to build back into an explosive, screeched outro. March of the Pigs is probably the most popular song in music history with a 29/8 time signature and takes the loud/soft dynamic to its extreme. The mechanical percussion of Ruiner slams into a deafening synth chorus, followed by the most fuzzed-out guitar solo this side of the 70s.

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The further down the album you go, the more difficult the songs seem to get. But by this point, any listener is either hooked or left sometime around the first “God is dead” scream on HeresyA Warm Place is nearly an ambient track, with only touches of piano to latch onto in a wave of sound. Eraser is a buildup of buzzing synths, needling guitars and pounding drums to one of the most destructive minutes put on record. Reptile is a mix of industrial noises, grungy guitars and what sounds like a swarm of insects scrambling over each other, a spine-tingling moment and not in a good way.

And we haven’t even gotten to Closer. What can really be said about that song? Starting with the heartbeat drum sample from Iggy Pop’s Nightclubbing, the warped keyboard pattern sounds like it’s being played underwater. For the chorus, it’s joined by another riff that’s jumping out of its own skin. Layer after layer of percussion and synths are stacked for the extended outro, ending on a simple piano line known as the “Downward Spiral” motif.

“If I could start again / A million miles away / I would keep myself / I would find a way,” Reznor sings as the fragile classic Hurt bursts and fades away into white noise. Now, 20 years later, the mastermind behind Nine Inch Nails is basically a million miles away from where he was when he made The Downward Spiral. While arguments are made all the time as to whether he ever topped it, he never tried to repeat it. This is one of those “lightning in a bottle” albums, where Reznor took every negative emotion he felt and used it to craft of the most definitive albums of his generation. Unlike its ending, the record will never fade away. No matter how dark it may seem from the outside, this is one album that keeps drawing us back in to spiral down again.
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I actually reviewed record a few months back. I think I put my thoughts on this album there the best. Trent Reznor really does a fantastic job of showing both the continued viability of Nine Inch Nails and industrial metal as a whole.

Best Moments: The swarming drones of “Disappointed,” the taunt sound effects and string scratches that start “All Time Low,” the chaotic breakdown in “Copy of a” and the out-of-nowhere saxophone in “While I’m Still Here”

This article first appeared at No Ripcord on Sept. 10th, 2013.

In his 25-year-career, Trent Reznor has found solace in rebellion. Whether it was his fight against TVT Records in the early 90s, his battle with addiction in the second half of the decade, his fight with pre-conceived notions of what he should sound like or his attack on the music industry altogether, the mastermind behind Nine Inch Nails has taken on every obstacle and opponent in his path. With his latest release, Hesitation Marks, Reznor is tackling one of his biggest challenges: his own past. Nine Inch Nails’ first album in five years is an attempt by Reznor to find the balance between the person he used to be when he recorded The Downward Spiral with who is he today. The album art by Russell Mills, who also supplied the images for that 1994 album, helps to create a solid line to the past. Just like that album challenged expectations as to what Nine Inch Nails can be, so does Hesitation Marks.

After the creeping The Eater of Dreams, Copy of A evolves from a bare bones beat to a cacophony of percussion and barely-perceptible guitars. Within one song, Reznor shows the EDM generation how they did it back in his day. Came Back Haunted follows with a jittery keyboard that leads into a definitive Nine Inch Nails chorus that fans will shout along to for years. Another future NIN nation anthem is I Would For You, one of those “romantic” Reznor songs that will recall The Fragile, though the organic instruments of that track have been upgraded with swarming synths and scratching guitars. The real star of the track, though, is the vocal performance, during which Reznor goes from low-key to scared to a full-on shout for the chorus.

“Ghosts of who we used to be/I can feel them come for me” Reznor sings on Find My Way, over touches of icy piano keys. Not only has the journey from yesterday to today left him disoriented, but he is not even sure if he’s gotten through all the consequences for his sins. On In Two, he’s not even sure if he can clearly separate the past with his current life, with lines like “it’s getting harder to tell the two of you apart.” While the heavy beats may feel like an amped-up version of How to destroy angels_, the album continually challenges as you move down the tracklist. All Time Low has a wriggling guitar part that leads to a seductive Reznor singing in falsetto or a low growl. It’s easily the funkiest and sexiest track he’s down since Closer. It’s likely no coincidence that both songs come in at number five on their LPs. Further on, Running layers multiple rhythms, including what sounds like a shaker and steel drums, over sharp cutting guitars. Still, not all experiments are created equal. Everything, with its major chord punk-pop is an attempt for Reznor fit a square puzzle piece into a circle. The moment his singing comes in, along with those bright chords, it’s difficult not to cringe a little.

By the time the album fades into Black Noise, Reznor has once again flipped over the chessboard and started the game anew with Nine Inch Nails. While not his best album, Hesitation Marks shows that he has no intention to fall back on old formulas. He may often write about his various challenges, but it’s through those experiences that he keeps challenging us as well.

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This article first appeared at Consequence of Sound on August 29th, 2009.

After seeing Nine Inch Nails play its second to last show in New York on the Wave Goodbyetour, it was more than obvious that Trent Reznor is leaving at the top of his game. The club show at Terminal 5 in Manhattan was a straight-up, brutally beautiful attack on the audience’s eyes and ears.

Before NIN hit the stage, however, the crowd was treated to the alternative style of The Horrors. With a unique sound that combines garage rock with shoegaze, singer Faris Badwan spent most of the concert in full goth star mode. His vocals sounded like a harder version of Robert Smith, which meshed surprisingly well with the group’s juxtaposed sound.

When 9 p.m. rolled around, the stage filled with fog as Robin Finck, Justin Meldal-Johnsen, Ilan Rubin, and Trent Reznor took the stage. After opening with “Home”, the band really moved ahead with “Terrible Lie”. The audience of 3,000 screamed out the lyrics as a mosh pit quickly formed in the middle of the club. Reznor ended the song by screaming out the final lyrics and knocking over his microphone with his guitar. This on-stage brutality only doubled during “March of the Pigs”, which had the ill-tempered frontman chucking his mic stand behind the drum set. He may be pushing 50, but Reznor has more energy than most other frontmen who are in their 20s.

The rest of the main set fiddled about the band’s entire discography — everything from Pretty Hate Machine, to their free 2008 release, The Slip. After about an hour, Reznor told a story about Nine Inch Nails’ earliest shows in 1990. While he claimed that they were pretty bad, he remembered that one of the first artists to give him a chance was “Godfather of Goth,” Peter Murphy. The Bauhaus singer then came out to nearly deafening applause. He joined Nine Inch Nails for “Reptile” and two covers, Bauhaus’ “Kick In The Eye” and Joy Division’s “Dead Souls.”

While the hits were well represented throughout the show’s entirety, the band treated even the most hardcore of its fans. Songs such as “Wish”, “Eraser”, “The Fragile”, and “1,000,000” delivered the same punch as the bigger hits, thanks to the band’s unchecked enthusiasm.

By the time NIN closed their show with “Hurt”, they had played for more than two hours and gone through every stage of their now 20-year career. Reznor thanked all his fans for their loyalty over the years before playing the emotional song. When the song ended, he simply left with a wave.

Even though Reznor may be exiting stage left out of fear of becoming a parody, it seems like there’s no chance of that ever happening. He’s managed to stay relevant long after all his peers have fallen by the wayside. And while it’s a shame that he’s decided to leave, at least he’s giving his fans what they want for one final time.

Photo support courtesy Jeff

Setlist:
Home
Terrible Lie
The Beginning of the End
Discipline
March Of The Pigs
The Line Begins To Blur
I’m Afraid of Americans
Ruiner
The Big Come Down
Burn
Gave Up
La Mer
The Fragile
Non Entity
Eraser
The Way Out Is Through
1,000,000
Letting You
Survivalism
Reptile
Kick In The Eye
The Hand That Feeds
Head Like A Hole
Encore:

The Frail
The Wretched
The Day The World Went Away
Dead Souls
Wish
Hurt