Nine Inch Nails have taken their place alongside fellow musical legends and industry peers – here’s how the band got there
Having produced the classic debut album Pretty Hate Machine in 1989, NIN would help to define the alternative music scene throughout the 1990s, and with The Downward Spiral and The Fragile become a multi-million-selling, globally adored band at the burning edge of music-making in the 21st century.
Nine Inch Nails have continued to produce arresting albums that interrogate the limits of our humanity within an increasingly technocratic society, creating music marked by bold sense of sonic experimentation that harbours constantly explores the darker side of our nature through the transgressive themes of S&M, alienation, and nihilism.
The R&R Hall noted Nine Inch Nails contribution to music: “NIN juxtaposes the brutal and delicate, chaos and order, nihilistic despair and spiritual rapture. After three decades, Reznor and Nine Inch Nails continue to express creative freedom and innovation, never resting on their success.” – WATCH the band’s introductory video
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Read more about Nine Inch Nails in my book INTO THE NEVER
HERE ARE THE YOUNG MEN
Reznor himself will be inducted alongside several of his bandmates who have featured as part of Nine Inch Nails at various stages in the band’s career: Atticus Ross, Robin Finck, Chris Vrenna, Danny Lohner, Ilan Rubin and Alessandro Cortini
Former touring guitarist, Richard Patrick is notable by his absence from the induction line-up, as is early sound engineer Sean Beavan, although it is fair to say that both artists are busy with their own projects. Patrick would leave NIN around the time of The Downward Spiral and have great success with his own group, Filter, while Beavan would go on to produce many of the most influential rock and metal albums of the 90s, including Marilyn Manson’s “Mechanical Animals”.
[In his acceptance speech Reznor would thank many of his other collaborators from across the band’s 30-year career – Charlie Clouser, James Woolley, Rich Patrick, Josh Freese, Justin Meldal-Johnsen, Jerome Dillon, Aaron North, Jeff Ward, and Jeordie White.]
Nine Inch Nails is inducted in 2020 alongside Depeche Mode -while Kraftwerk remain only nominated- groups that were around long before Nine Inch Nails but remain influential both for industrial music and in the sound of NIN, particularly in their use of taking electronic music to stadium-sized audiences, in this Reznor would later come to stand alongside them as a musical peer. Throughout the 1990s NIN and DM would trade increasingly dark material with Depeche Mode releasing Violator in 1991 and the much heavier and abrasive Ultra in 1997, as if in response to the NIN sound.
Trent Reznor –as Nine Inch Nails– has been shortlisted for inclusion in the hall both in 2015 (Lou Reed, Greenday, and Ringo Starr) and 2016 (Chicago, Deep Purple, N.W.A.), although the band was absent from later years’ nominations. Feeling he had perhaps been unfairly passed over, twice, Reznor commented: “I honestly couldn’t give less of a shit.”
After inducting The Cure into the hall in 2019 Reznor noted the value of the band being recognised and acknowledged for their contribution to music by their fellow musicians and industry peers.
Feeling he had previously spoken out of turn, he soon changed his mind and said as much in his induction speech: “I remember distinctly saying to myself, among other things, how can I even take this awards ceremony seriously if they’ll open their doors to X, Y and Z and not acknowledge the Cure? Not so long ago I get a phone call I wasn’t expecting, and, well, here we are. Let’s just say I’ve never been as happy to eat my words as I was tonight.”
Reznor said of The Cure: “The first album I heard was Head on the Door, and I hadn’t heard anything like it before. And a lot of darkness I felt in my head was coming back at me through the speakers and it blew my mind. It was like this music was written just for me.”
This is interesting to note, as I mention in my book about Nine Inch Nails, Into The Never, music’s great power comes from reflecting our feelings back to us, helping us to feel less alone, perhaps even more human. What NIN has given to fans, both hardcore and casual listeners, is the reassurance that no matter how weird or troubling we might think our most challenging emotional experiences, the dark alienation and depression of The Downward Spiral harboured in secret, there will be others out there who can relate – and this connection between music and listener has resonated with millions and spanned generations.
BEYOND ROCK AND ROLL
In his speech Reznor was acknowledging that he was stood on the shoulders of giants, but as his career as Nine Inch Nails has continued – the more he has grown as an artist.
Alongside collaborator and NIN band member, Atticus Ross, Reznor has become as well known for his albums as the soundtracks they have created for a range of films, documentaries, and TV series, that has seen Reznor been awarded an Oscar for the soundtrack to 2011’s Social Network.
And I think in some respects, the band’s induction into the hall of fame is also a recognition for the range and depth of Reznor’s musical achievements outside of the confines of “rock and roll”, for which he could no longer be ignored.
LOOKING BACK (TO THE FUTURE)
For the (online) ceremony artists such as St. Vincent and Jenny Beth cover classic NIN songs, “Piggy” and “Closer” respectively. It is interesting to note that two tracks from The Downward Spiral are chosen and not “Hurt” – which became mistakenly known as a Johnny Cash song previously covered by Reznor.
Speaking about her NIN cover version, St. Vincent said: “It remains one of my favourite Nails songs to this day.… I am obsessed with the slinky tambourine that is just a little lazy in feel. And when I took this song apart to cover it, it took me a long time to really understand the immensity of the groove. It’s a dark, industrial reggae. Muscular, but never as distorted as you imagined it when you think of it in your head…. They made a complicated thing seem easy and made big, bold sonic choices.”
It is arguable that while Nine Inch Nails remains an enduringly popular recording artist and a huge live draw, The Downward Spiral remains Trent Reznor’s definitive artistic statement, and so much of his legacy rests on that album still. So many fans mention that they prefer the double-album of The Fragile, but it is TDS that sticks in the mind of the average listener.
And it is in this era of Nine Inch Nails that the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame leans – its display installation of the infamously mud-slurried Trent Reznor performing at the band’s seminal Woodstock 1994 appearance – casting shadows of what has become his well-worn past.
Following the emerging success of The Downward Spiral selling hundreds and thousands of copies a few months after its March release, the Woodstock performance in August is now considered the show that helped the band break big across America – and later the world.
Nine Inch Nails bought, what was by now, the band’s trademark performative rage and on-stage violence to the highly visual medium of live pay-per-view screening presented to sofas in small towns and big cities.
Reznor’s lyrics expressed the burgeoning connection between American youth (Generation X?) and transgressive themes of S&M, heresy, and alienation building an alternative consciousness within the popular mainstream.
In his introduction speech for NIN, Iggy Pop gave. nod to NIN’s ability to play with funk (see the Prince-inspired grooves of Heresy and Closer) and transcend the “industrial label: “It’s the soundtrack to the dark and lonely party that was beginning to play out in America at that period. So I would call it, not industrial, but the sound of industrial and digital ambition.“
WATCH – Trent Reznor’s acceptance acceptance speech
At the end of his speech, Reznor said: “This journey’s far from over if I have any say in it, so let’s stop fucking around, patting ourselves on the back, and get to it. Hope to see you all in the flesh soon.”
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Read more about Nine Inch Nails in my book INTO THE NEVER
Ushering in a new era of confessional music that spoke openly about experiences of trauma, depression, and self-loathing, Nine Inch Nails’ seminal album, The Downward Spiral, changed popular music forever – bringing transgressive themes of heresy, S&M, and body horror to the masses and taking music technology to its limits. Released in 1994, the album resonated across a generation, combining elements of metal, industrial, synth-pop, and ambient electronica, and going on to sell over four million copies.