It’s been a long time since we were introduced to the industrial rock vibes of NIN, so we wanted to take a stroll back through their history to celebrate a band that formed 30 years ago in 1988.
Let’s not mince words, Trent Reznor IS Nine Inch Nails. Producer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and singer who has really been the only constant through the 30 years.
Nine Inch Nails has always felt like an enigma to me, much in the same way as Tool and Maynard James Keenan has. Probably unfounded, but they’re seemingly shrouded in an underlying mystery, like we don’t REALLY know what’s going to happen next. I think that’s part of the appeal, too.
In the beginning, Reznor was working at a studio and would use free studio time to record things, unable to find musicians to suitably realise his vision, he took it upon himself to record all the instruments, except drums, himself. A practice that largely remains the case to this day.
In 1989 the first studio album from Nine Inch Nails was released. Pretty Hate Machine took its cues from synth new wave sound, mixed with a harsher dark industrial rock sound. Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails found an audience pretty quickly, especially with the second single, "Head Like A Hole".
Pretty Hate Machine became an underground hit, eventually surpassing 3 million copies sold just in the US. They were a word of mouth band, pre-internet sharing, limited radio play, cult-like if you will.
It’d be 5 years later before we’d get a follow-up album from the band, and that amount of time is more than enough to assume the worst of a band, however, when The Downward Spiral was released, it debuted at #2 and sold over 5 million copies worldwide. Drawing inspiration from 70s Pink Floyd and Bowie, Trent set out to create a central character based album, which of course spawned their most well-known tune, "Closer".
It was during the touring cycle for The Downward Spiral that the bands live shows really started to make people talk due to their appearance in ragged, clothes, injuring themselves, attacking each other, stage diving into the audience and destroying their instruments. And, after appearing on a Pay Per View performance at Woodstock in 1994, their stocks only went up higher.
It was another 5 years before they released another album, in what would become a theme through the 90s for them. It would also be around the time that Trent Reznor suffered a heroin overdose in London whilst on tour that would result in the band taking a break so he could concentrate on becoming sober.
In 2002, Johnny Cash covered "Hurt", from The Downward Spiral and little did Reznor know how much his own song could help him.
“I pop the video in, and wow ... Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps ... Wow. [I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn't mine anymore ... It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form. I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone. [Somehow] that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning … different, but every bit as pure”
In 2005, the age of file sharing was well and truly upon us, and as a result, Nine Inch Nails share their entire new album, With Teeth, on their Myspace page (remember Myspace?) well before the release date. Reznor would also make tracks available in GarageBand format for people to remix themselves, it was a new age, and the sober and well Trent Reznor embraced it. With Teeth was the last album from Nine Inch Nails to reach Gold status in the US, despite the success of the very solid tune, "The Hand That Feeds", which went to #1 on the Alt-rock charts.
Bucking the trend of taking 5+ years to release music, we only had to wait two years before getting Year Zero from Nine Inch Nails in 2007.
A concept album criticising the American government's policies and the impact on the world fifteen years into the future. Oddly enough, that’s 2022, not so far away now, and it could become somewhat prophetic when you read the story of the album which cites terrorist attacks, the government drugging the water to make those who drink it carefree and apathetic, and the government becoming a Christian fundamentalist theocracy. A little too close for comfort really. Again, tracks from Year Zero were released in a multitrack format for fans to remix themselves, and alternate reality video games started popping up online around the time of release which depicted the US in 2022.
These guys were ahead of the curve. The Orwellian nature of the album is depicted beautifully in the film clip for "Survivalism".
Nine Inch Nails stayed at the forefront of online sharing, taking a proactive approach to engage with fans, and have been rewarded for it. Trent Reznor, in 2009, uploaded over 400GB worth of unedited concert footage to bit torrent for fans to go crazy with, and they did, creating a 3 part digital film by fans, for fans, with Reznor saying “This is yet another example of a devoted fanbase and a policy of openness combining to fill in blanks left by old media barriers. The entire NIN camp is absolutely thrilled that treating our fans with respect and nurturing their creativity has led to such an overwhelming outpour of incredible content, and that we now have such a high-quality souvenir from our most ambitious tour ever.”
But just like that, they were gone. In 2009 Trent stated on his website that it was time for Nine Inch Nails to ‘go away for a while’. He wasn’t done with them, they were just shelved.
To be fair, when they did return with a new album in 2012, it was a lot quicker than fans had anticipated. Let’s not forget that fans had to wait 5 and 6 years between releases in the early days, so a 3 years wait was nothing. That album, was Hesitation Marks. They started their Twenty Thirteen world tour and played festivals, expanding their line up when needed, and into 2014 the tour continued with Queens Of The Stone Age as a double headliner. A toss of the coin would decide who would open each night.
Two EP’s followed in 2016 and 2017, Not The Actual Events, and Ad Violence respectively. Not The Actual Events was a return to their 90s sound, raw and abrasive at times, melodic and dark, and a great throwback. Especially the track featuring Dave Grohl, "The Idea Of You". Super creepy, super NIN.
Nine Inch Nails have a legacy worthy of Hall Of Fame induction, they have been nominated a couple of times, but as yet have not made it in. Trent Reznors influence cannot be underestimated or understated. He’s a visionary, embracing sounds and styles and doing it his way. Nine Inch Nails is his creation, his soul set to music, and long may it live.