They are one of the single greatest visionaries in rock music for the past thirty years, and a band whose impact was likened to The Velvet Underground by none other than David Bowie. There was never any doubt that, before the year was through, ABAD would be talking about Trent Reznor and the mighty Nine Inch Nails.
When NIИ first released ‘Pretty Hate Machine’ they stood out from their peers in the industrial scene of the late 80s. Reznor’s willingness to utilise synth pop elements, as well as catchier riffs and more mainstream song structures, gave ‘Pretty Hate Machine’ an edge and Nine Inch Nails pretty quickly started getting attention.
The debut was followed up by the companion EPs, ‘Broken’ and ‘Fixed’, with the latter offering a de/reconstruction of the tracks found on the former. ‘Broken’ brings a notable heavier sound than the previous release, with Reznor taking more inspiration from industrial metal. This more aggressive sound is strengthened by the lyrics, which carry over the themes of angst and disillusionment of ‘Pretty Hate Machine’.
But it was 1994’s ‘The Downward Spiral’ that jettisoned Nine Inch Nails to new levels of fame and recognition. A concept album about a man descending into depression and his eventual suicide, the album had a bigger focus on industrial rock and metal, while still maintaining the aggression of previous releases. It also gave us some of NIИ’s most iconic singles in ‘Hurt’ and ‘Closer’.
‘The Downward Spiral’ is regularly included in ‘best albums’ lists by various publications, and is often considered one of the most important rock albums on the nineties, but it was not without its dark side. The sudden mainstream attention and unintended commercialisation of Nine Inch Nails exacerbated Reznor’s anxiety and depression, as well as his drug use. These issues as well as writer’s block causes the next album to be delayed.
However, five years later (ten years after ‘Pretty Hate Machine’) Nine Inch Nails released what I personally consider to be one of the greatest albums ever record, perhaps Trent Reznor’s magnum opus, ‘The Fragile’.
Easily among Reznor’s most ambitious work, ‘The Fragile’ is 100+ minute double album that takes a step back from the aggressive industrial sound of past albums, by incorporating ambient and piano elements, even being labeled art rock by Rolling Stone. This makes ‘The Fragile’ a much more dynamic album, and an incredible journey for the listener. Reznor’s vocals here are more melodic and gentle than ever at times, but lyrically he continues the themes of ‘The Downward Spiral’.
It was another six years before Nine Inch Nails would release ‘With Teeth’, which saw a post-rehab Reznor aiming for something more ‘lean’ than its predecessor. Reznor also focused more on analog instrumentation and an overall lo-fi feel. These songs were more rock-oriented and less conceptually connected. This was followed up with a fifth studio album, ‘Year Zero’, conceived while touring.
From there, Reznor remained productive. In 2008 Nine Inch Nails released ‘Ghosts I–IV’ a dark ambient album, as well as ‘The Slip’ – a full fledged NIN album – both for free.
Five years later Nine Inch Nails returned with ‘Hesitation Marks’, a somewhat return to form. Since then they’ve released two more EPs, another full length (‘Bad Witch’) and two more dark ambient albums continuing the ‘Ghosts’ series.
Throughout this immense career, Nine Inch Nails have also become one of the greatest touring rock shows on the planet. Utilising unique stage productions, creating lighting, and enormous video screens, Nine Inch Nails live is simply something to be experienced.
Trent Reznor is one of the most talented and fascinating musicians on the planet. Once Prince for the angsty and disillusioned generation, but now clean and with family, he continues to be a prolific and influential creative force.