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. As of 2009, Reznor's decided to retire from touring, though he's going to continue to release albums under the Nine Inch Nails name.The music is surprisingly varied, from ear-destroying screaming guitar-death on Broken to beautiful, mellow piano pieces on Still; 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 couple of years, though, Reznor has taken a break from new Nine Inch Nails work and instead focuses 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)). That said, he has revealed in interviews that he will spend much of 2012 writing material for Nine Inch Nails, so the project should return in some form in the near future, and in early 2013 it was announced that the group would begin touring again in the summer.There have been eight major Nine Inch Nails albums as of February 2012:
Pretty Hate Machine (1989) - Nine Inch Nails' debut, at points showing the way towards the Industrial Metal that they'd popularise and at other points sounding like evil Depeche Mode.
Broken (1992 EP) - this is where Reznor definitely adopted harsh Industrial Metal, updating his electronics, putting the guitars in the forefront and employing a more abrasive production.
Further Down the Spiral (1995) - the remix album of the above.
The Fragile (1999) - a double album (and possibly another Concept Album, albeit one with a less tightly structured narrative than The Downward Spiral) beloved by fans. Famously debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts, then dropped to #16 the next week, the only album ever to have dropped that low from #1.
Things Falling Apart (2000) - remix album
And All That Could Have Been (2002) - live album recorded during the Fragility 2.0 tour.
Still (2002) - acoustic, stripped-down companion piece to the above, including alternate versions of older songs as well as some new and thoroughly depressing tracks)
With Teeth (2005)
Year Zero (2007) - a futuristic-dystopia-type Concept Album; accompanied by an extensive ARG)
Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D (Year Zero Remixed) (2007) - after the clever names for the other remix albums, something of a let down, though it is a clever reference to the hackers and digital 1337-folk that discovered the Year Zero sites.
Ghosts I-IV (2008) - contains 36 instrumental tracks on four discs.. Notable for being obtainable in about twenty different ways, and all the tracks not having proper names and being called by names such as '2 Ghosts I' and '22 Ghosts III'
The Slip (2008) - released completely for free on the website as a "thank you" to fans. Theories exist among fans that this is another Concept Album, following the aftermath of Year Zero.
Broken Movie (1993) - essentially one long extended music video for the Broken EP, made to look (very convincingly) like a Snuff Film. Never got released, though a handful of VHS tapes exist, and torrents were released by Trent in late 2006. 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."
Call Back: "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."
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.
Concept Album: The Downward Spiral, which follows a man solipsistically shedding every aspect of his world from him until he commits suicide; The Fragile, which is loosely about depression and trying to re-assemble one's life, only to end up "where it starts – [with] the same emotion"; and Year Zero, which presents a dystopian version of 2022 in which nuclear war and bioterrorism has started to erupt and (at the very least) American civil liberties are eliminated.
Continuity Nod: "Only" is basically this to "Down in It": the latter is halo 1 while the former is halo 20, the vocal delivery is very similar, and "Only" even refers to a lyric from "Down in It":
Just then a tiny little dot / Caught my eye it was just about too small to see / But I watched it way too long / It was pulling me down - "Down in It"
Everything Is an Instrument: 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.
Exceptions: according to Trent, The Fragile is mostly guitars with a lot of the textural sounds being from instruments that he didn't know how to play properly.
This friendship spanned earlier than that; 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.
Humanoid Abomination: The Presence from the Year Zero universe (arguable as only an arm of it is ever visible), a massive four-fingered arm descending from the sky that strikes intense feelings of terror into anyone who sees it. It is eventually responsible for The End of the World as We Know It.
I Am Song: "Mr. Self Destruct" and its remixes, "Big Man with a Gun," and "Sanctified."
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.
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.
Minimalistic Cover Art: Pretty Hate Machine, Broken, The Downward Spiral... ah hell, every one of their albums has this.
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.
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.)
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.
Those songs only really count as this outside the context of the albums they're part of (with the exception of You Know What You Are?", which does not come from a concept album). Within the context of the albums to which they belong, they mostly just reinforce said concept and are (or seem) much less directed at any one person...
"Not So Pretty Now" is another exception.
"March of the Pigs" is one towards society as a whole, and "Ruiner" is one about God. For that matter, so is "Terrible Lie".
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.
Recurring Riff: There's a descending melodic line that appears in several songs on The Downward Spiral, albeit in different keys.
"La Mer" and "Into the Void" both share basslines, though on "La Mer", it's not the main riff.
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.
Sampling: 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 Jane's 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 Nonindicative 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 Bio Shock cosplay.
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).
Sanity Slippage Song: The Downward Spiral is 14 tracks of this, but notable examples include "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).
Single Stanza Song: "The Day The World Went Away," "The Way Out is Through," "Big Man With a Gun," "The Downward Spiral," and "Eraser."
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.
The video for "Starfuckers Inc." 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 other musicians. It's basically a giant middle figure at the entire music industry.
"March of the Pigs" is one for literally everyone. "Ruiner" also fits. It's a Take That for God, by the way.
It's a little more complicated than that, though, since after verbally ripping into God in "Ruiner" and metaphorically "killing" him, 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."
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 quite an obvious 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.)