Nine Inch Nails
riginally the concept that would become Nine Inch Nails was a solo project of classically trained Pennsylvanian piano player Michael Trent Reznor. While in a studio job in Cleveland as an assistant engineer and janitor in 1987, he played keyboard in a Cleveland band called the Exotic Birds, then managed by John Malm, Jr. Reznor and Malm became friends, and when Reznor left the band to work on music of his own, Malm informally became his manager. While working at the studio, he asked the owner, Bart Koster, if he could have studio time for free when it was inactive - he was granted permission, but unable to find fellow musicians who could articulate what he wanted he recorded all instruments himself, resulting in Pretty Hate Machine (1991), an album featuring the darker side of the musical notes. The album was completely solo with him performing all parts. It was an album of charming synths. and Industrial beats set against despair and pity. The single for Head Like A Hole would get heavy rotation on MTV, becoming a minor hit.
He would venture out onto that year's Lollapalooza tour, now with a full band in tow featuring himself on guitar/vocals/keyboards/drums/programming/bass, with James Wooley (keyboards), Richard (guitar) and Chris Vrenna (drums). Regardless of the rumors, the name Nine Inch Nails was now a permanent fixture chosen for the operation because Reznor found that it could be abbreviated, he liked it, and he didn't grow tired of it after two weeks; in short it passed all his naming conventions.
His next effort, Broken (1992), deviated from his Depeche Mode/Ministry style and cleverly expressed the more intense sounds of the live act. The Help Me In Hell track expressed even deeper feelings of torment, while the video for Happiness Is Slavery received ample doses of controversy for its masochistic images of performance artist Bob Flanagan being bound and torn apart as a slave to a machine. A second similar video titled Broken remained unreleased, with Reznor stating that it makes "Happiness Is Slavery look like a Disney movie". Meanwhile pre-publication footage segments from the Down In It video was obtained and viewed by the FBI, who thought it was a snuff movie showing the Death of Trent Reznor by being thrown off of a building; they ended off with egg on their face when it was discovered during the investigation that it was footage cuts from a music video. Trent's acting was obviously convincing; his experience on screen went all the way back to 1987 with his appearance in the movie Light Of Day with actor Michael J. Fox as a member of the fictional band 'The Problems'.
A disc of re-mixes titled Fixed followed only months later, featuring tracks like Fist Fuck and Screaming Slave; not exactly party hits.
Reznor's music depicted him as an individual unhappy with his lot in life and an all-around scary dude. This feeling was further encouraged with his taking up residence at 10050 Cielo Drive, the house where Charles Manson and family had murdered Sharon Tate and her lot back in 1969. Reznor claimed to have no knowledge of this when he accepted possession of the property, but the discussion spilled over to boost sales of The Downward Spiral (1994), an album recorded in the aforementioned house of disrepute in the studio he built inside and dubbed 'Pig West Studios'. The new album featured mostly a new band of musicians, each taking turns on the tracks, Danny Lohner (guitar), Chris Vrenna, Stephen Perkins, Andy Kubiszewski (all drums) with Vrenna, Lohner, Wooley and Robin Fink appearing with him live. In fairness, The Downward Spiral didn't live on its infamous address but became known for being a masterpiece of the Industrial/gothic style in its own right. The album was a true alternative to the alternatives of the day. It successfully explored the inner depths of depravity and despair. NIN (as they became known) received a huge welcome at that year's Woodstock anniversary concert, while The Downward Spiral twisted its way to a US #2 chart position. Further Down The Spiral, another album of mostly remixes, would follow a year later with, The Perfect Drug (1997) following it.
The double album The Fragile (1999) debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, selling 228,000 copies in its first week and receiving generally positive reviews. Nine Inch Nails released three commercial singles from the album in different territories: The Day the World Went Away in North America; We're in This Together in the EU and Japan (on three separate discs); and Into the Void in Australia. Several songs from the album became regular features on alternative rock radio stations, however the album dropped to number 16 and slipped out of the Billboard Top 10 only a week after its release, resulting in the band setting a record for the biggest drop from number one at the time. Reznor funded the subsequent North American tour out of his own pocket.
Another remix album, Things Falling Apart (2000) followed to poor reviews.
Hurt, from the Further Down The Spiral, however, although a minor success with Reznor would receive far higher acclaim when re-released by country classic singer Johnny Cash in 2002 whose tear jerking rendition would prove to be one of the few examples of a country singer making a punk rock or Metal song palatable. The track would prove to be Cash's swansong for his voice was never heard again because he died shortly later of cancer.
A further six years elapsed before another album, With Teeth, was released in 2005; written and recorded following Reznor's battle with alcoholism and substance abuse.
In 2006, after being alerted by a fan website, Reznor issued a cease and desist to Fox News Channel for using three songs from The Fragile on air without permission. The songs La Mer, The Great Below, and The Mark Has Been Made appeared in an episode of War Stories with Oliver North detailing the battle of Iwo Jima. A post appeared on Reznor's blog, which read: "Thanks for the Fox News heads-up. A cease and desist has been issued. FUCK Fox Fucking News."
Year Zero (2007), was a marked change in the slow pace from the release of previous albums. With lyrics written from the perspective of multiple fictitious characters, it was a concept album criticizing the United States government's policies and their impact on the world 15 years in the future. The story takes place in the United States in 2022, which has been termed "Year 0", by the government, being the year America was reborn. It had suffered several major terrorist attacks, apparently by Islamic fundamentalists, including attacks on Los Angeles and Seattle, and in response, the government seized absolute control of the country. The government is a Christian fundamentalist theocracy, maintaining control of the populace through institutions like the Bureau of Morality and the First Evangelical Church of Plano; an alternate reality game emerged parallel to the Year Zero concept, expanding upon its story line.
In 2008 Ghosts I-IV (the first release on 'The Null Corporation' label), a 36-track instrumental album, became available via the band's official website. It was later made available in a number of different formats and forms, ranging from a free download of the first volume, to a $300 Ultra-Deluxe limited edition package. The Slip (2008) followed it the same year.
In February 2009, Reznor posted his thoughts about the future of the act on his official website, stating that "I've been thinking for some time now it's time to make NIN disappear for a while".
In 2009 Reznor married Mariqueen Maandig, and formed a project with Maandig and Atticus Ross dubbed How to Destroy Angels.
In July 2012 Reznor teamed up with video game developer Treyarch to compose the theme music for Call of Duty: Black Ops II.
Hesitation Marks (2013) followed incorporating rhythms reminiscent of earlier releases, but was more expansive and theatrical. Bad Witch (2018), Ghosts V: Together (2020) and Ghosts VI: Locusts (2020) followed; the 2020 releases arriving together and coincidentally at the height of the COVID-19 epidemic.
During his career, along with partner John A. Malm Jr., Reznor would start his 'Nothing' label; a record name he would publish most of his titles under, and in 1994 he branched out to publish other purveyors of similar styles; the most noted of which being Marilyn Manson.
Footnote: An earthquake destroyed the infamous house on Cielo Drive in January of 1994.
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Nine Inch Nails in November 2013 at the Staples Center. From left to right: Pino Palladino, Ilan Rubin, Trent Reznor, and Alessandro Cortini.
Photo by: Al Pavangkanan
CC BY 2.0
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