Sharp edge of misery

By Adam Sweeting for Guardian Unlimited on December 1, 1999

Nine Inch Nails
Brixton Academy, London
Rating: ****

For a man who's supposed to be at the cutting edge of techno-metal, there's more than a hint of the traditional about Trent Rezor. He and his band take the stage clad in old-fashioned heavy metal black. His audience is a cross-section of chemistry students, computer geeks and kohl-eyed Goths, who clap politely as Reznor blasts through a set packed with tortured riffs, raging machinery and twisted lyrics.

Maybe it's because everybody understands that Reznor's cathartic howling is part of a carefully conceived theatrical whole. The five-piece Nine Inch Nails are posed artfully on a cunningly devised set. Overhead, strange platforms rise and descend, fluorescent tubes dangling underneath them.

Spotlights generate flickering strobes or a fine mesh of coloured beams. During the limpid instrumental La Mer, images of oceans and huge manta rays are projected on a gauze screen. Then the screen is engulfed in flames, and rises on a stage lit in infernal crimson. Reznor deals in doom, but at least he's given it some padded upholstery. Whether they're uncoiling the suppressed threat of Piggy, or hacking through the rotting undergrowth of Reptile ("My disease my infection, I am so impure"), the band play with an icy discipline. Behind the mesh of guitars and keyboards, Jerome Dillon's drums drive remorselessly, his human syncopations interlocked with the clatter of sequencers.

It's difficult to love Reznor, but easy to be impressed. In Starfuckers, Inc, he takes aim and blows a hole through the song's head. He sings Hurt like a man being sucked into a black hole, and loving every minute. Self-flagellation never sounded so exotic.

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

View the NIN Hotline article index