Nine Inch Nails It?

Originally published in The Chronicle on October 1, 1999

It's important to begin this review with a bit of a history lesson. Those of you familiar with Trent Reznor and his monomer, Nine Inch Nails, may be familiar with the association of NIN music with "industrial." I feel that many of you may be able to appreciate a clearer description of what Nine Inch Nails really represents, and what the term "industrial" really means.

The term "industrial" was coined by four individuals in the UK in the late 1970s, composing a musical entity known as Throbbing Gristle. The band's four members created Industrial Records, which began as an investigation of the extent to which a person could mutate and collage sound, and present complex, non-entertaining sounds to a popular culture. Their desire was to re-invent rock music, to step over the wastelands of disco dance with content, risk and motivation. The slogan of Industrial Records, coined by a man named Monte Cazazza, was "Industrial Music for Industrial People," and a legend was born. Genesis P. Orridge once said, "Industrial Records was named as the most unromantic yet appropriate title we could envisage. We work in an old factory; industrial labour is slavery, destructive, a redundant institution. We call it the Death Factory. Music from the Death Factory, from the world, from life."

In the years following the founding of Industrial Records, reaching into the early '80s, new acts such as Skinny Puppy formed and further developed the industrial sound. They meshed the best ideas of Throbbing Gristle with unique use of synthesizer, heavy percussion and harsh vocals. Industrial music started getting attention from record labels worldwide. Soon thereafter, Ministry arrived on the scene and began to add heavy metal guitars and more of a pop structure to the continuously developing "industrial" sound.

But where does Trent Reznor fit in?

Just around 10 years ago, NIN came out with their first album, Pretty Hate Machine. Pretty Hate Machine emphasized the influence of synth-pop, primitive techno and post-metal angst. It was followed by the Broken EP, which had an even harder edge, that further elevated NIN in the pop spotlight. Reznor was then invited to participate in the industrial supergroup known as Pigface. Pigface has been somewhat of a status symbol in the industrial scene, with a rotating line-up of collaborators always featuring drummer Martin Atkins (of PIL and Killing Joke). Pigface also featured Nivek Ogre, lead singer of Skinny Puppy, and through this he and Reznor had become friends. At this point Reznor had begun production on The Downward Spiral, after the demise of Skinny Puppy. The Downward Spiral drew great influence from Puppy, but it was Reznor's addition of pop-sensibility that lifted the album into the public eye.

Many have since labeled Reznor as nothing more than a cheesy rip-off of Skinny Puppy, but with his newest release, this comparison must be thrown out the window.

After just a few releases in the past five years since the release of The Downward Spiral, NIN present us with Reznor's newest release, a double compact disc entitled The Fragile. What this album represents is Trent Reznor's shedding of all influence by the industrial genre and his continued development within the world of high-tech hard rock.

At around 100 minutes total, The Fragile takes us through sadistic orchestral pieces, distorted guitar, synth-driven dancefloor stompers and slow, morbid rock. While the dominant instrument is the guitar, each song has a unique structure and development in its execution. The presence of many notable musicians and producers lending a hand with percussions, choral vocals and strings provides a powerful diversity that most albums lack. Trent's sorrowful, angst-ridden lyrics are here in full form, and the execution is as beautiful and catchy as ever.

If you've ever found yourself tapping your foot to a Nine Inch Nails song, singing along to "Closer," or if you're devoted NINcompoop, you can't go wrong with The Fragile. Fans of The Downward Spiral are sure to eat this up, and while the price tag is a bit discouraging, there's no reason not to grab this album.

The Fragile represents everything that a rock album in 1999 should-incredible musicianship, amazing production, unique arrangement and, all in all, fun to listen to. Unfortunately, true industrial music died when Industrial Records died, and while Trent may not be from the Death Factory, he has re-invented rock music today.

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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