Nine Inch Nails is an Industrial Metal band who have been rolling around the musical scene since 1989, releasing music videos which have ranged from politically subversive to the sort of video which answers the question 'What if Hostel had been a set for music videos?'They're somewhat unusual in that it's essentially one man, Trent Reznor, who's done all of it. Most members have come and gone, occasionally contributing to albums but mostly staying for the live shows. (One such member, Richard Patrick, has struck out on his own and formed a little band you might've heard of, called Filter.) As of 2009, Reznor decided to retire from touring, though he's going to continue to release albums under the Nine Inch Nails name. And as of 2013, he changed his mind, launching the Tension tour.The music is surprisingly varied, from ear-destroying screaming guitar-death on Broken to beautiful, mellow piano pieces on Still and all kinds of twisted sounds in between; but most of it falls squarely under True Art Is Angsty.In contrast to his highly brutal Industrial Metal output, Reznor in person is more of a Mean Character, Nice Actor, being very active in his community and generally a pretty nice guy. Also in the same vein, he was friends with Tori Amos - he even sang backing vocals on one of her songs (the past tense is Courtney Love's fault).In the past few years, though, Reznor has taken a break from new Nine Inch Nails work and instead focused on a project with his wife, Mariqueen Maandig, called How To Destroy Angels, as well as on film soundtracks. Along with Atticus Ross, Reznor has composed the score for The Social Network, for which the duo won an Oscar for Best Original Music Score, and 2011's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. (Reznor also provided the soundtrack to Quake and recorded tracks for Doom 3 that didn't make it into the final game (although they can still be found in the game files)).Luckily for fans, though, Trent can't stay away, and he revealed in interviews that he would spend much of 2012 writing material for Nine Inch Nails, and in early 2013 it was announced that the group would begin touring again in the summer. Later in the year, it was announced that Reznor had been writing and recording music for a new NIN album, and on June 5, 2013 the first single of the Hesitation Marks album, Came Back Haunted, was released.
Broken Movie (1993) - essentially one long extended music video for the Broken EP, made to look (very convincingly) like a Snuff Film. Never officially released. VHS tapes of the film exist, torrents of the film were made by Trent in 2006, and the film was put up by download, also by Trent, in 2013. Directed by the late Peter Christopherson.
Closure (1997) - two-disk VHS/DVD set, one tape/disk chronicles the chaotic Self Destruct tour of '95-'96, the other is a collection of music videos that had been released thus far. (The DVD version got caught in red tape, so Trent got fed up and released torrents of that as well.)
And All That Could Have Been (2002) - included with the "deluxe" album of the same name, it's the live concert DVD of the 2000 Fragility 2.0 tour, and is littered with Easter Eggs.
Beside You In Time (2007) - live concert DVD of the 2005-2006 Live: With Teeth tour.
Another Version of the Truth (2009) - an entirely free fan-created live concert film assembled from over 400 GB of clips Reznor released on the Internet. In response to the finished product, Reznor responded, "Nine Inch Nails fans kick ass. Blown away."
Pretty Trope Machine:
Addiction Displacement: After finally getting clean of drugs and alcohol, Reznor became a weight-lifting enthusiast.
"Nothing can stop me now," used primarily to illustrate the protagonist's delusion in various Downward Spiral songs, reappears on The Fragile ("La Mer" and "We're in This Together") in a much more optimistic context, and again on one song on With Teeth, "Sunspots."
"Down In It" had the lyric "Just then a tiny little dot caught my eye, it was just about too small to see", which was referenced in "Only" with the line "The tiniest little dot caught my eye, and it turned out to be a scab".
A line in "With Teeth" calls back to the end of "Now I'm Nothing":
Wave goodbye / to what you were / The rules have changed / the lines begin to blur - "With Teeth"
All that I can do / Is break myself in two / I fucked it all away / Now I'm nothing / Wave goodbye - "Now I'm Nothing"
It is believed that the title of "The Line Begins to Blur" on the same album calls back to the very same line from "With Teeth".
The concept of the presence from Year Zero, being a call back to "The Wretched": "...the clouds will part and the sky cracks open and god himself will reach his fucking hand through, just to push you down, to hold you down..."
"The Wretched" from the album The Fragile contains the line "Back at the beginning/Sinking, spinning...," which may be a reference to the title of the previous album The Downward Spiral.
Came Back Wrong: Unsurprisingly, the song "Came Back Haunted" has shades of this, whether metaphorically or literally.
Canon Discontinuity: Any release without a Halo number. Most of these were forced by the record company. Reznor is very open about how he feels about that.
Digital Piracy Is Okay: Encouraged by Reznor himself, out of spite for the record industry. Reznor actually encouraged fans to steal his own music due to his loathing of how badly his record company was screwing his fans (he specifically used the word "steal" repeatedly, too). No doubt that because of Trent's preference for free downloading of his albums, the albums The Slip and Ghosts I-IV were released under a Creative Commons license that allows unlimited non-commercialnote that is, in contrast to the CC license Wikipedia uses that does not forbid commercial use sharing and modification as long as credit is given. These can be downloaded legally at no charge from archive.org, though physical copies are also available for a fee.
Trent has been exploring and exploiting the ways computers and samples can be used to make music from the beginning. The melody at the end of "Terrible Lie" was created by sampling a woodblock and then processing it with filters and distortion.
Used especially in the Ghosts series, which included, for instance, a cookie sheet with a chain laid across it being struck percussively.
Earn Your Happy Ending: Trent's sobriety and newly-founded family have seemingly made him a much happier individual compared to the Downward Spiral era. The angst factor has significantly dropped because of it. This however divides the fans of the group even to this day, with one side preferring the "old Trent" and the other preferring the "new Trent".
Trent had this kind of relationship with Chris Vrenna until 1997. They became friends as teenagers, owing to the fact that they grew up within fifty miles (90 km) of one another (Vrenna is originally from Erie, Pennsylvania; Reznor is from a town called Mercer, about forty minutes south).
Lately, he seems to be developing this type of relationship with Atticus Ross.
Important Haircut: Trent cut his trademark long, messy hair sometime after getting over his addiction problems and recording With Teeth. He's had a buzz cut ever since, with a transitional shorter cut seen in the photo at the top of the page.
Often Lampshaded when "The Only Time" is performed live; Trent often introduces it with "This song... is about... FUCKING."
Even more lampshading occurred during the Self-Destruct Tour. About to perform a cover of Queen's "Get Down Make Love" right after "Suck" and "The Only Time", both about sex, Trent commented: "It's all about the fucking."
Lighter and Softer: "Everything" off "Hesitation Marks" could be the most un-NIN song yet. It's an 80s-style rock song, with pop and power influences thrown in - and even with Lyrical Dissonance thrown in, the narrator's finally accepted the other "thing" inside him from the previous songs.
Limited Special Collector's Ultimate Edition: Ghosts I-IV got this treatment by its release in five different packages: a digital download of the full album in FLAC with digital extras; a 2CD format; a 4 LP format; a Deluxe Edition featuring the C Ds, a 24/48 blu-ray and a DVD-ROM with multitrack stems for the full album; and an Ultra-Deluxe Limited Edition, which paired the Deluxe Edition with the vinyl copy, a coffee table book of the artwork and two exclusive Giclée prints. A free torrent of the first 9 songs (Ghosts I) also existed.
Lyrical Dissonance: "Everyday is Exactly the Same" is one of NIN's softer and, quite frankly, more "mainstream" songs. It's also one of the most depressing.
"Everything" continues the dark lyrical theme of the previous "Hesitation Marks" song - it, at first, seems like the narrator is happy, but only because he's accepting whatever has been eating at him away inside and will wither away to die.
From "The Becoming": "It won't give up, it wants me dead, and goddamn this noise inside my head". Also counts as Nightmare Fuel.
The Arc Words of The Downward Spiral, "nothing can stop me now," are often utilized this way, with some variation ("nothing can stop me now 'cause I don't care" in "Piggy," "nothing can hurt me, nothing can stop me now" in "Ruiner," etc.).
Also, "Into the Void"... And more. Trent's very fond of this trope.
The gut-wrenching ending of I Do Not Want This: "I wanna know everything, I wanna be everywhere, I wanna fuck everyone in the world, I wanna do something that MATTERS..."
Minimalistic Cover Art: Broken, The Downward Spiral, With Teeth... ah hell, most every one of their albums has this.
Miniscule Rocking: "Big Man With A Gun," "The Frail," "HYPERPOWER!," and "999,999," plus one or two songs from Ghosts I-IV.
Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: All over the freaking place, from a 1 or 2 (Hurt, The Great Below, Right Where It Belongs, A Warm Place) to an 8 (Gave Up, Starfuckers Inc.) or even an arguable 9 (Big Man with a Gun, some of the stuff on Broken). Most of the heavy stuff`s around 6-7, though.
"March of the Pigs" and "Big Man With A Gun" are a 9, with the former being a borderline 10.
Mondegreen: In one interview Trent Reznor wanted to drive home the point that in "Head Like a Hole" he is saying "God/money" and not "Got money?", and in "Down in It", he is saying "I was up above it" and not "Eyes of a puppet."
There's a photo out there of one of guitarist Aaron North's setlists on the With_Teeth tour, that reads "Down In It, aka Eyes Of A Puppet", along with a few other jokes.
Mood Dissonance: "The Becoming" contrasts ominous industrial sounds and lyrics about dehumanization with surprisingly low-key vocals.
Song-to-song transition example: on The Downward Spiral, the noisy and hyper-aggressive "Big Man with a Gun" is followed by the calm ambient soundscapes of "A Warm Place," which is then followed by the slow-burning aggression of "Eraser."
Which is then followed by the pulsing, ripping sound of "Reptile."
Mr. Fanservice: Trent Pre-With Teeth: Somewhat waifish, long flowing black hair and at times bordering on outright Bishōnen. Post-With Teeth: Kicked his drug addictions and took up weigh lifting to compensate. The end results were... impressive, to say the least.
My God, What Have I Done?: Quite a few of Trent's songs are about regret; notable examples are "Gave Up" (After everything I've done / I hate myself for what I've become) and "Zero Sum" (Shame on us / After all we've done.)
New Sound Album: All of them, technically. Pretty Hate Machine had an evil synthpop sound to it, then while the Broken/TDS era came around, they switched to a more aggressive, industrial metal sound. The Fragile featured more industrial elements and it was a little less heavy, then years later, With Teeth was released, and it had a more straightforward rock sound. Year Zero was very electronically influenced, and following the instrumental ambient music of Ghosts I-IV, The Slip reverted back to the sound of With Teeth. Hesitation Marks was a somber, calm and soft departure from previous albums.
Quite frankly, Trent has many songs that seem like this unless you're following the continuity of the album they're in. "Meet Your Master" is a good example of this. Alternatively, you might not realize that songs like "Happiness in Slavery" or "Head Like a Hole" are actually about record labels unless you actually know about Trent's history with them. There's also "Sin," which sounds like a song about D/s, which really isn't helped by the ridiculously fetishistic Music Video...which is a lot like mostoftheir videos. So really, it's more like Obligatory Bondage Music Video...
Obsession Song: A few songs have themes of this, in particular "Closer to God," a remix of "Closer," and "Kinda I Want to."
Ominous Message from the Future: The entirety of the Year Zero ARG is this, with the earliest quantum computers suddenly receiving a bunch of websites from their future selves, depicting a dystopic future and the end of the world in 2025. Unfortunately, the messages sent back were partially corrupted by the future computers being damaged during the upload, either by government agents or The Presence. Nonetheless, the implication remains that having received the messages has changed the timeline and averted the events of Year Zero.
Piss-Take Rap: The weird, hybrid sing-rapping Trent does in "Down In It".
Also, "Where Is Everybody" and possibly "Capital G" might count.
"March of the Pigs" is one towards society as a whole, and "Ruiner" and "Terrible Lie" are ones about God.
Record Producer: Trent's personally produced every single NIN album, with help from various others at some points, like Adrian Sherwood and John Fryer (Pretty Hate Machine), Flood (Broken, The Downward Spiral) and Alan Moulder (The Fragile, With Teeth). All the NIN albums since Year Zero have been credited to Reznor, Moulder and Atticus Ross.
Refrain from Assuming: The song "Fuck You Like an Animal" is actually called "Closer". Not helped by the single release (as well as a remixed version or "Closer") being titled Closer to God.
Religion Rant Song: "Heresy" and "Ruiner" from The Downward Spiral, "Terrible Lie" from Pretty Hate Machine, and judging by Word of God, "Capital G" from Year Zero as well. "Find My Way" is a weird version, as the narrator begs the Lord to watch over him and take him back - even though he knows there's no Lord.
Not only from the obligatory old horror and sci-fi movies, but also occasionally from other artists. Pretty Hate Machine's liner notes thanked Prince, Public Enemy and Janes Addiction among others because Trent sampled them.
"Big Man with a Gun" from The Downward Spiral begins with a sample of what is apparently a porn star having an orgasm, heavily processed so as to be unrecognizable. The album booklet gives the sample the Non-Indicative Name of "Steakhouse".
The most prominent unprocessed sample is the "Goodnight, whoo!" and crowd noise featured in the single version of "Starfuckers, Inc."
An expansive list can be found here. The most unusual samples on the list include Saddam Hussein's trial verdict and a YouTube video of BioShock cosplay.
The Downward Spiral is 14 tracks of this, including "Piggy" (which sets the whole thing off, after the narrator gets dumped), "Ruiner" (which seemingly has the narrator convinced he's defeated God), and "Big Man With a Gun" (in which the narrator loses it completely and rapes someone).
"Echoplex", "Somewhat Damaged", and "Slipping Away"
Self-Backing Vocalist: Virtually all of the background vocals on Trent's songs are...well, Trent. The only songs with audibly non-Trent contributions from the band's entire career are "La Mer" (which is instrumental apart from Denise Milfrot's French mumbling) and "Pilgrimage" (which is instrumental with indistinct militaristic chanting in the background).
The "eat your heart out, Steve" whisper at the start of "Physical" is directed at Steve Gottlieb, the head of TVT Records who tried to interfere with the recording of Broken and prevent Trent from moving to Interscope. Further insults are in the "Gave Up" video, where one shot of a Macintosh running Pro Tools◊ has the sequence title "fuck you steve", and the Broken liner notes, which end with "no thanks: you know who you fucking are" and "the slave thinks he is released from bondage only to find a stronger set of chains."
"Starfuckers, Inc." to celebrities and fame in general, with Marilyn Manson in particular. Also see Take That in the video section.
"Ruiner" is an In-UniverseTake That for God. note In the context of the album, the narrator loses his soul and sense of morality and ends up a soulless machine in "The Becoming" and "I Do Not Want This," which then leads to him raping someone in "Big Man With a Gun."
"Big Man with a Gun" is this for cock rock.
During his feud with Manson, Trent mocked his cover of Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" in response to a fan letter, saying he'd love to record a cover that sounds exactly the same as the original.
Strobe Light is a piss-take at Chris Cornell's expense. Trent had previously mocked his badly-received Scream on Twitter, writing "You know that feeling you get when somebody embarrasses themselves so badly YOU feel uncomfortable? Heard Chris Cornell's record? Jesus."
Textless Album Cover: The Fragile (only a portion of the NIN logo is visible), Year Zero, and The Slip.
Title Only Chorus: "With Teeth," "Terrible Lie," "Starfuckers, Inc.," "That's What I Get."
Title Track: The Downward Spiral and With Teeth are straight examples. Ghosts I-IV takes this trope to its Logical Extreme: every single song on that album (yes, all 36 of them) are titled with their track number, the word "Ghost" and either I, II, III, or IV.
Uncommon Time: The verses of "March of the Pigs" are three bars of 7/8 followed by one bar of 8/8. Similarly, most of "The Becoming" takes the form of a bar of 7/4 followed by a bar of 6/4.
Understatement: The song "Somewhat Damaged" is about a guy who's really, really damaged. (It was apparently used by Tom Hiddleston as psychological preparation for playing Loki in The Avengers, if that says anything.)
The Downward Spiral chronicles the story of a man who simultaneously grows stronger by getting rid of pieces of himself that were holding him back, and self-destructs by going too far in that process.
The Fragile is Spiral's Spiritual Successor: this time, Trent cleans the skeletons out of his closet in an attempt to repair himself from past traumas, failing to reach a definitive fix but learning much about himself in the process.
Year Zero: In 2025, the excesses of the United States — aggressive religious fundamentalism, rampant consumerism and militarization — have run the country down into a fascist dystopia.
Theories exist among fans that The Slip is another Concept Album, following the aftermath of Year Zero.
Stop Motion: The video for "Only" features animation via one of those push-pin novelty toys generally found in Spencer Gifts or similar stores.
Take That: "Starfuckers, Inc." The video mocks Courtney Love, and depicts Trent throwing copies of his own album and Mechanical Animals in the trash at a carnival attraction, and smashing porcelain figures of Pamela Anderson, Fred Durst, Gene Simmons, and Trent himself, among others. Marilyn Manson (the person) realized the song was directed at him, and rather than getting pissed like most people would, appeared in the video as the girl.