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Music / Nine Inch Nails

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"I am home... I believe."note 

"When an instrument fails on stage, it mocks you and must be destroyed."
Trent Reznor

One of the most essential acts in industrial rock and metal, Nine Inch Nails is an American rock band that's been rolling around the musical scene since 1988.

NIN is somewhat unusual in that for nearly three decades, it was essentially one man, Trent Reznor, who was doing everything. The first official member to be added to the lineup since the project's inception was long-time collaborator Atticus Ross, who was inducted in late 2016. Most members have come and gone, occasionally contributing to albums but mostly staying for the live shows. (One such member, Richard Patrick, struck out on his own and formed a band you might've heard of called Filter.)

The NIN discography, once a noisy gauntlet of '90s industrial rock, has become exceedingly varied over the years, ranging from ear-destroying screaming guitar death on Broken to beautiful, mellow piano pieces on Still to the groovy sound of bass and saxophone that lines much of Hesitation Marks and all kinds of twisted sounds in between, but a general tone of angst, darkness and world-weariness has proven a strong through line. Their visuals are also known for being similarly free-spirited, with their music videos classifiable as everything from politically subversive to the sort of video which answers the question "What if Hostel had been a set for music videos?"

Reznor's also worked on different musical ventures, namely How to Destroy Angels (a supergroup with longtime NIN collaborator Rob Sheridan and Reznor's wife Mariqueen Maandig) as well as a now-cemented venture into score composition. Along with Atticus Ross, Reznor has handled scores for various films and TV series, becoming David Fincher's associated composers ever since their initial collaboration with The Social Network, as well as branching out to the unexpected with, of all things, a score for a Pixar film (Soul). They would follow this up soon after with a score for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem.

Reznor also provided the soundtrack to Quake and recorded tracks for Doom³ that didn't make it into the final game, although they can still be found in the game files, while the former bandmate Chris Vrenna has also struck out as a notable composer, aiding Reznor with the Quake soundtrack and making music for Doom 3, Quake IV, American McGee's Alice and Quake Champions.

In contrast to his at-times highly brutal output and intense stage persona (especially in the '90s), Reznor is generally a pretty nice guy in person (if not provoked) and very active in his community.


Studio Albums And EPs

  • Pretty Hate Machine (1989)
  • Broken (1992; EP)
  • The Downward Spiral (1994)
  • The Fragile (1999)
  • With Teeth (2005)
  • Year Zero (2007): A futuristic dystopia type concept album; accompanied by an extensive ARG.
  • Ghosts I-IV (2008)
  • The Slip (2008): Initially released for free on the website as a "thank you" to fans.
  • Hesitation Marks (2013)
  • Not the Actual Events (2016; EP)
  • Add Violence (2017; EP)
  • Bad Witch (2018)
  • Ghosts V: Together (2020): Initially released for free on the website.
  • Ghosts VI: Locusts (2020): Initially released for free on the website.

Other Releases

  • Purest Feeling (1988; bootleg of demo version of Pretty Hate Machine)
  • Fixed (1992): Remix Album of Broken.
  • "March of the Pigs" (1994): Single for "March of the Pigs" with remixes.
  • "Closer to God" (1994): Single for "Closer" with remixes and a cover.
  • Further Down the Spiral (1995): Remix Album of The Downward Spiral.
  • "The Perfect Drug" (1997; non-album single)
  • Things Falling Apart (2000): Remix Album of The Fragile.
  • And All That Could Have Been (2002): Live album recorded during the v2.0 leg of the Fragility tour.
    • Still (2002): A companion compilation album to And All That Could Have Been featuring a mix of brand new studio tracks and Lighter and Softer arrangements of old songs.
  • Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D (Year Zero Remixed) (2007): Remix Album of Year Zero.
  • The Fragile: Deviations 1 (2017): A massive album of instrumentals, alternate versions, and unreleased tracks from The Fragile sessions, released only as a four-LP set through the band's store.


  • 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 late Hipgnosis, Coil, and Throbbing Gristle member Peter Christopherson.
  • Closure (1997): Two-disc VHS/DVD set, one tape/disc 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:

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Music tropes

  • Album Title Drop:
    • Two songs on Broken feature the album's title by containing a reference to a broken machine.
      • "Happiness in Slavery" features the lyric "Just some flesh caught in this big broken machine".
      • "Gave Up" features the lyric "Still cannot fix this broken machine."
    • "Less Than" almost contains the title of the album it's on, Add Violence, via the lyric "Shut up, silence, add a little violence."
  • all lowercase letters: Most, if not all, of their liner notes lack capital letters.
  • Animal Motifs: Pigs. "Piggy", "March of The Pigs", "All The Pigs, All Lined Up", the Tate house being renamed to "Le Pig" and this lyric from "ISN'T EVERYONE":
    All the little piggies cannot help themselves
  • Anime Hair: Robin Finck is fond of very weird hairstyles, aside from this scraggly look when he played for Guns N' Roses.
  • Arc Words: The band's lyrics frequently contain the words "Nothing can stop me now" or a variation thereof, such as "We're in This Together" containing the lyrics "Now nothing can stop us now" instead due to a second party being addressed in that song.
  • Ate His Gun:
    • "1,000,000": "Put the gun... in my mouth! Close your eyes... blow my fuckin' brains out!"
    • Also "The Downward Spiral", though it's not clear if the protagonist is doing this for real or simply imagining it.
  • Audience Participation Song: Quite a bit, especially from The Downward Spiral:
    • The "and I control you" line in "Mr. Self Destruct."
    • At any given performance of "March of the Pigs," the audience is often at least as loud as the band.
    • The choruses of "Ruiner" and "Piggy."
    • "Don't you tell me how I feel" in "I Do Not Want This."
    • "Eraser."
    • "I wanna fuck you like an animal!" from "Closer."
  • The Backwards Я: The Cyrillic И is often used for the second N in the band's abbreviation, NIN, to make the initials symmetrical.
  • "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: From "Starfuckers, Inc.:"
    I sold my soul, but don't you dare call me a whore.
  • Bleached Underpants: The same man who won a Grammy for saying "fist fuck" and created two entire albums about Sanity Slippage composed the soundtrack for a Disney movie.
  • Boléro Effect: Used in various songs, notably "Somewhat Damaged" and "Just Like You Imagined". "Play the Goddamned Part" and "The Background World" are good latter-day examples. Arguably about half their instrumentals qualify, honestly.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The ending of the bridge of "Starfuckers, Inc.", as a Shout-Out to Carly Simon's "You're So Vain", has Trent directly addressing the listener:
    All our pain
    How did you think we'd get by without you?
    You're so vain
    I bet you think this song is about you
  • Broken Record: They have more than a few lyrics that fall under this, usually used as a Madness Mantra (See below).
  • Call-Back: Many of them.
    • "Nothing can stop me now," used primarily to illustrate the protagonist's delusion in various The Downward Spiral songs, re-appears 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."
    • "The Wretched" from The Fragile contains the line: "Back at the beginning / Sinking, spinning..." which may be a reference to the title of The Downward Spiral.
    • "The Big Come Down", also from The Fragile, contains a brief excerpt of off-key guitars and buzzing nearly identical to "The Downward Spiral." Fitting, given the former song's subject matter.
    • "Down in It" from Pretty Hate Machine 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" from With Teeth with the line "The tiniest little dot caught my eye, and it turned out to be a scab."
    • A line in the title track of 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"
    • 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 arm through, just to push you down, to hold you down..."
    • For tracks in Year Zero, "In This Twilight" calls back to "Survivalism":
      "...The world we set on fire..."
  • 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.
  • Careful with That Axe + Metal Scream: In spades prior to Trent's mid-40's.
    • For example, live performances of "March of the Pigs" end with Trent letting loose an impressive scream.
    • "Eraser" also ends with a particularly terrifying example.
    • The background of "The Downward Spiral" contains many of these as well (perhaps not surprising since the song depicts a suicide attempt).
    • At the end of "Down in It," after some time of progressively screaming the lyrics more intensely, Trent just lets out a few feral screams.
  • Changed for the Video: See Four More Measures below.
  • Cluster F-Bomb:
  • Concept Album:
    • The Downward Spiral, which follows a man solipsistically shedding every aspect of his world from him until he attempts 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." It may or may not be a sequel to The Downward Spiral as well.
    • Year Zero, which presents a dystopian version of 2022 in which nuclear war and bio terrorism has started to erupt and (at the very least) American civil liberties are eliminated.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • "Only" from With Teeth nods to "Down in It:" The latter is halo 1 while the former is halo 20, the vocal delivery is very similar, and "Only" 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"
      Well, the tiniest little dot caught my eye / And it turned out to be a scab / And I had this funny feeling / Like I just knew it's something bad — "Only"
    • "Adrift and at Peace" from Still is the conclusion to "La Mer" from The Fragile, according to Reznor.
    • "Nothing can stop me now," Arc Words in The Downward Spiral, re-appear in the songs "La Mer," "We're in This Together," and "Sunspots," which are from next two albums.
  • Control Freak:
    • Trent himself admits to being this, and it shows up in many songs.
    • The character in The Downward Spiral appeared to be this.
  • Cover Version: Quite a few — and (almost) all English musicians, to boot.
  • Cross-Referenced Titles: Broken and its companion remix EP, Fixed.
  • Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: "The Becoming," symbolically.
  • Darker and Edgier:
    • Broken is definitely darker (and angrier) than Pretty Hate Machine.
    • The Downward Spiral is even darker — what else can you say about a Concept Album about a descent into madness that may or may not end with suicide?
    • The Fragile zigzags this — it has more Lighter and Softer moments than The Downward Spiral, but with its cyclical nature and Downer Ending, it ultimately winds up being arguably just as dark overall as its predecessor.
    • Year Zero is also this compared to With Teeth.
    • The EP Not The Actual Events takes a very different turn from Hesitation Marks, exempting "Dear World". With a return of anger, tracks like "She's Gone Away" are genuinely riveting, and the EP also marks the limited return of Reznor's old vocal style on "The Idea of You" and "Burning Bright".
    • While Ghosts V: Together was dark with some hopeful sounding moments, Ghosts VI: Locusts is pretty much a solid wall of black, being filled of unsettling tones and an atmosphere best described as apocalyptic. Considering both releases were put out during the COVID pandemic of 2020, it's hard not to see why the album came out the way it did.
  • Dark Wave: Pretty Hate Machine is a bit more synth heavy than later releases and sounds very much like twisted Synth-Pop.
  • Declaration of Protection: "The Fragile" and "We're In This Together". The latter especially, as Trent has voiced dissatisfaction over the song's being labeled as a love song when he meant for it to more closely fall under this trope from the perspective of someone at the end of their rope.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Lots of publicity photos, as well as the music videos for "Happiness in Slavery", "Pinion", some parts in the Broken film version of “Gave Up”, and "We're In This Together".
  • Despair Event Horizon: The narrator of "Down in It" has fallen into one. Many of Trent's songs are about ending up in this.
  • Digital Piracy Is Okay: Encouraged by Reznor himself, out of spite for the record industry. Trent 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  sharing and modification as long as credit is given. These can be downloaded legally at no charge from, though physical copies are also available for a fee.
  • Downer Ending:
    • The Downward Spiral ends with the protagonist attempting suicide. Whether or not it went through is still left to open interpretation.
    • The Fragile is loosely about depression and trying to re-assemble one's life, only to end up "where it starts — [with] the same emotion."
    • Year Zero ends with The End of the World as We Know It.
  • Drugs Are Bad: "Sanctified", on the surface, sounds like an account of a dysfunctional relationship. Per Word of God, it is about a relationship: with cocaine.
  • Dystopia: Year Zero is a depiction of Bush-era America taken to its logical extreme in the near future; the government is controlled by Christian theofascists, the military is engaged in perpetual war overseas, people are given mind control drugs through the water supply to keep them docile, and dissidents are rounded up and executed by the Secret Police. That's before the Eldritch Abomination shows up.
  • Eagleland: The future United States depicted in Year Zero is a hardcore Type 2.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • Pretty Hate Machine is at its heart an Alternative Dance album in the vein of Depeche Mode (being especially comparable to a more aggressive Music for the Masses), in contrast to the rawer sound of Broken and The Downward Spiral.
    • The bootleg Purest Feeling is made up of Pretty Hate Machine demos, and they sound even more poppy, with "Maybe Just Once" outright sounding like a lost Depeche Mode track. As some fans commented on, Trent sounds happy. No, really. Keep in mind, this was before NIN was a big serious thing.
  • Electronic Speech Impediment: A variant; "Starfuckers, Inc.", a song based around the shallow and vapid natures of celebrity culture, intentionally makes Trent's vocals sound as non-organic as possible, cutting up individual words to sound like they're from different takes, and throwing in the occasional stuttering glitch on top of it.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: How Year Zero ends.
  • Epic Rocking: "Closer" (6:13), "Reptile" (6:52), "Hurt" (6:14), "We're in This Together" (7:15), "Ripe (With Decay)" (6:34; Deviations 1 version is 7:36), "Zero-Sum" (6:14), "Corona Radiata" (7:33), "All Time Low" (6:18), "She's Gone Away" (6:00), "I'm Not from This World" (6:42), "Over and Out" (7:50), and "The Background World" (11:44, though more than half of that runtime is an instrumental loop).
    • While not especially rocking, 2020's Ghosts VI: Locusts and Ghosts V: Together both contain Nine Inch Nails' longest songs yet: "Turn This Off Please" (13:08) and "Apart" (13:35, their longest so far). "Letting Go While Holding On" (9:39), "Together" (10:04), "With Faith" (9:41), "Still Right Here" (10:12), "Around Every Corner" (10:35), and "The Worriment Waltz" (9:26) also bear particular mention, and that's not even an exhaustive list.
  • 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.
    • Taken to very creative extremes. Composing the soundtrack to The Social Network, Trent and Atticus Ross bought up cheap upright pianos and selectively and semi-randomly altered or damaged strings to create new sounds they could sample.
  • Everything Sounds Sexier in French: "La Mer" is in Creole French, which may be because the album was recorded in New Orleans.
  • Fading into the Next Song / Siamese Twin Songs: Nearly all albums use both of these tropes extensively.
  • Fanvid: For a while, "Closer" was the cliched choice for any Foe Yay Shipping vid.
  • Four More Measures: "Came Back Haunted". The album version has 4 bars of instrumental after Trent's Lyrical Cold Open and before the first verse begins, but the version used in the music video — something of a radio edit that truncates the song by a little over a minute — starts the verse directly after the opening.
  • Freud Was Right: The "Closer" video was purposefully filled with plenty of references to this trope.
    Mark Romanek, the director: "I like how the front of [the microphone] looks like a little nipple."
  • Funk Rock: Pops up on occasion in the NIN oeuvre — due, no doubt, to his admiration for Prince. Includes "Closer," "All Time Low," and "Satellite" among others.
  • God Is Dead: Invoked by name in "Heresy."
  • Happiness in Slavery: The song is the Trope Namer!
  • Hates Everyone Equally: From "Wish:"
    "Don't think you're having all the fun
    You know me, I hate everyone"
  • Hell Is That Noise: "Hurt" is riddled with fuzz, distortion, and choppy sounds in the background, seemingly with the sole purpose of making listeners feel more and more nauseous as the song goes on.
  • Here We Go Again!: The "Happiness in Slavery" video features a man going through a ritual before sitting in a machine that rips him apart, kills him, and engulfs him, and it ends with Trent entering the room and beginning the same ritual.
  • Hidden Track: "37 Ghosts" and "38 Ghosts" are only officially available in the Deluxe Edition of Ghosts I-IV... but they're not even in the main track listing. The pieces, however, are available along with the other songs' multitracks, and the tracks can be found by the listener putting the multitracks together.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Presence from the Year Zero universe, 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," "Big Man with a Gun," and "Sanctified."
  • "I Am Becoming" Song: "The Becoming," natch. Invoked in the lyrics.
  • Icarus Allusion: In "Somewhat Damaged:"
    Flew too high and burnt the wing
  • 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 shorter cut seen in the photo at the top of the page.
  • Incredibly Long Note: At the end of "Hurt." Also counts as a Last Note Nightmare.
  • Industrial: Songs like "Heresy" and "The Becoming" off of The Downward Spiral show that Trent still (back then, at least) could make genuine industrial music.
    • Year Zero is also very close to old-school industrial, owing to its experimental, electronic-focused sound.
  • Industrial Metal: The Trope Codifier for industrial rock. Broken and certain parts of The Downward Spiral are heavy enough to be industrial metal.
  • Insistent Terminology: Bad Witch is the final installment of a trilogy in which the first two parts were EPs; despite it being similarly short in length, Trent was adamant on releasing it as an album. He described this as a response to EPs often being overlooked on places like music streaming websites.
  • Instrumentals: Most albums have at least one instrumental track. Ghosts I-IV is a double album of 36 instrumentals.
  • Intentionally Awkward Title: Despite various apocryphal origin stories, Trent's basic story on how he came to "Nine Inch Nails" as the band name is simple: It sounded cool and abbreviated easily.
    • Defied; With Teeth was originally named Bleedthrough, but due to unintentional connotations of blood and tampon commercials that Reznor thought of, he changed the name.
  • Intercourse with You: So many of their songs:
    • "Closer", to nobody's surprise, although Reznor in interviews denied its inclusion of sexual lyrics and instead suggested it to be an Anti-Love Song.
    • "Reptile" and "Sin" are more about the destructive impact of a relationship than actual sex.
    • 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."
  • Jump Scare:
    • A lot of instances where songs get quiet and then suddenly burst right back into the noisiness come off as this. Examples include "March of the Pigs," "The Day the World Went Away," "With Teeth," and especially the climax of "Hurt."
    • The calm yet brooding "Help Me I Am In Hell" leading directly into Trent screaming on "Happiness in Slavery".
    • The Broken movie ends with one: after we see the resolution of the hanging that starts the movie, the movie seemingly ends after that, with the displaying of several logos. After 30 seconds of nothing, the film treats us to the image of the hanged man's head flying across the screen with a burst of noise.
  • Large Ham:
    • Another stupendously notable one:
  • Last Note Nightmare:
    • The chaotic, climactic ending of "Wish" abruptly cuts into an eerie, wispy noise.
    • "Hurt" is a relatively calm song, albeit still filthily fuzzy and distorted, but as Trent sings the final line, a loud series of distorted guitar notes burst in out of nowhere, with the last note holding and dissolving into the offsetting "ambience."
    • "Right Where It Belongs" is another inversion, though it's a bit of a Bittersweet Ending to what was certainly the happiest album Trent had made up to that point.
    • "Black Noise", which is essentially an extended outro to "While I'm Still Here", ends not only that song but the whole of Hesitation Marks on an incredibly grim note, functioning as a slowly intensifying cacophony of wordless vocals (sometimes taking the form of pained moaning) buried underneath layers of noise, getting louder and louder until abruptly cutting off.
    • "The Background World". See Uncommon Time below and further discussion under Fridge Brilliance on the YMMV page for a further exegesis of why this ending is so unsettling (beyond the simple matter of the almost Merzbow-level of distortion Trent and Atticus pile on by the end).
    • "Over and Out" qualifies as an inversion. Most of Bad Witch is quite unsettling, but you could probably sleep to "Over and Out", though there's still a bit of Lyrical Dissonance involved.
  • Laughing Mad: In "She's Gone Away".
  • Lighter and Softer:
    • His post-The Fragile work is this to his older work, with the obvious exception of Year Zero.
    • Hesitation Marks is the lightest album he's ever released.
      • "Everything" off "Hesitation Marks" could be the most un-NIN song yet. It's an '80s style rock song, with Power Pop and New Wave influences thrown in — and even with Lyrical Dissonance, the narrator's finally accepted the other "thing" inside him from the previous songs.
  • Literary Allusion Title:
    • A quote from Al Jourgensen from a 1987 Ministry concert saying that "listening to Ministry is like having a nine inch nail hammered into your head like a hole" inspired not only the band name but also the name of "Head Like a Hole."
    • The title "Burning Bright (Field on Fire)" is very likely a reference to the poem "The Tyger" from Songs of Innocence and of Experience by William Blake ("Tyger, tyger, burning bright/In the forests of the night").
  • Lonely Piano Piece: Many of them.
    • "Something I Can Never Have", "La Mer," "The Frail," the list goes on. He's also recently taken to perform a stripped down version of "Hurt" this way.
    • It appears further in the score for The Social Network with Mark's leitmotif, "Hand Covers Bruise."
  • Long-Haired Pretty Boy: With his elegant features, rail-thin physique, razor-sharp cheekbones and long black hair, Trent absolutely epitomized this look in the '90s. This changed in the 2000s when he adopted a shorter hairstyle and took up bodybuilding.
  • Loudness War:
    • Zig-zagged. Most NIN albums have sections with significant amounts of dynamics, but Reznor also likes to boost the levels on the loudest parts to the extent that they clip (and, like many artists who do this, it has gotten progressively more pronounced on later releases — for instance, compare the mastering on Broken to that on The Downward Spiral, or the latter to that on The Fragile). This is usually the case even on the vinyl editions.
    • Hesitation Marks was released in an "audiophile edition" which turned out not to be much more dynamic than the CD version, though the vinyl had a decent range in comparison.
  • Lyrical Cold Open: "Came Back Haunted".
  • 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.
  • Lyrical Tic: Quite a few.
  • Madness Mantra:
    • From "The Becoming:" "It won't give up, it wants me dead, and goddamn this noise inside my head."
    • 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 anymore" in "Piggy," "you didn't hurt me, nothing can hurt me, nothing can hurt me, nothing can stop me now" in "Ruiner," etc.)
    • The 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..." Doubles as the most blunt and powerful instance of nihilism on the record.
    • "Last" has "I wish I could put the blame on you" and "I want you to take me / I want you to take me / I want you to break me / And I want you throw me away."
    • From "Gave Up": "It took you to make me realize", and "I tried, I gave up"
  • Middle Name Basis: Trent's full name is Michael Trent Reznor; he was called by his middle name to distinguish from his father, who was also named Michael Reznor.
  • Minimalistic Cover Art: Broken, The Downward Spiral, With Teeth... Ah hell, most every one of their albums has this.
  • Miniscule Rocking:
    • "Pinion," "Big Man with a Gun," "The Frail," "HYPERPOWER!," and "999,999," plus one or two songs from Ghosts I-IV.
    • Technically speaking, the shortest NIN track isn't even a song at all; the final track on the Head Like a Hole single is only four seconds long and consists of a sound clip taken from their performance on Dance Party USA of host Heather Day saying "Let's hear it for Nine Inch Nails! Woo! They're good!"
  • Misogyny Song:
    • Satirized in "Big Man with a Gun" according to Word of God, inspired by its prevalence in Gangsta Rap. Unfortunately, it was misinterpreted as an example itself.
    • "Closer" is another example of a song that was misinterpreted as being a serious example of this trope (mostly because the general public generally failed to pay attention to anything but the song's most famous line); if anything, the intended meaning puts it closer to being a Misandry Song, as it implies that the only way the protagonist finds self-worth is through sex.
  • Money Song: Inverted with "Head Like a Hole", which is an attack on greed.
  • Mood Dissonance: "The Becoming" contrasts ominous industrial sounds and lyrics about dehumanization with surprisingly low-key vocals.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • "March of the Pigs," and "With Teeth."
    • "I Do Not Want This," especially if you agree with the popular theory that it's two different sides of the character speaking.
    • 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 sounds 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 weight lifting to compensate. The end results were... impressive, to say the least.
  • My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting: Multiple works were made to this effect during the Bush administration.
    • Year Zero as a whole is a criticism of the American government policies of the late 2000s presented as their logical conclusion, including a fusion of church and state, an assumption of totalitarian governmental power out of terrorism paranoia, and an assortment of placating drugs administered to the people — sometimes without their knowledge of their true natures.
    • "The Hand That Feeds", a song challenging the listener to question and combat abusive authority, was going to be performed by the band at the 2005 MTV Movie Awards, but on the condition that a large image of Bush would be behind them. MTV denied this request, and NIN opted out of the ceremony, being replaced by Foo Fighters.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Quite a few of Trent's songs are about regret.
    • "Gave Up":
      After everything I've done
      I hate myself for what I've become.
    • "Zero Sum":
      Shame on us
      After all we've done.
  • Mythology Gag: Trent references How to Destroy Angels' first album Welcome Oblivion in "Less Than".
    Go and look what you gone done
    Welcome oblivion
    Did it fix what was wrong with you?
    Are you less than?
  • New Sound Album: All of them, technically.
    • Pretty Hate Machine had an evil Synth-Pop sound to it, with some obvious overtones and clear influences from Skinny Puppy.
    • Then while the Broken / The Downward Spiral 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 straight forward rock sound with only hints here and there of what he'd done in years past.
    • Year Zero was very electronically influenced, with much of it composed on Reznor's laptop.
    • Ghosts I-IV is instrumental dark ambient music.
    • The Slip had the rawest sound yet as it's been recorded in just three weeks, described by Trent Reznor as "Garage Electronics" while also having a couple of quieter and more ambient tracks inspired by Ghosts I-IV.
    • Hesitation Marks was a somber, calm, and soft departure from previous albums.
    • Not the Actual Events returns to some of the aggression of earlier albums and also has been noted to have a bit of shoegaze influence.
    • Add Violence dials back on the aggression, but in turn incorporates more soundscapes and textures.
    • Bad Witch meanwhile jumps in a completely different direction, featuring a jazz fusion sound influenced by David Bowie's .
  • No Ending: Happens a few times throughout their discography, with "Ruiner", "Big Man with a Gun", and "Black Noise" being good examples.
  • Non-Appearing Title: There's several examples actually. "Heresy", "I'm Looking Forward To Joining You, Finally" and "Somewhat Damaged" are the most notable cases.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The Textless Album Cover for Year Zero, depicting a blurry photo of the massive hand of an Eldritch Abomination reaching down from the clear blue sky. Even though nothing outright violent or disturbing is presented, the image alone is uncanny enough to be fairly disturbing.
  • Obligatory Bondage Song: 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 isn't helped by the ridiculously fetishistic Music Video... Which is a lot like most of their videos. It's more like Obligatory Bondage Music Video...
  • Obsession Song: A few songs have themes of this, in particular "Kinda I Want To" and "Closer to God" (a remix of "Closer").
    • Played With in "Sanctified", which sounds like it's about an obsession with a woman. The song is about an obsession with cocaine.
  • 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 2022. 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.
  • Oppressive States of America: The United States in 'Year Zero'' is a totalitarian quasi-theocracy.

  • The Plan: The entire game leading up to the release (and beyond) of Year Zero. It's complicated.
  • Please, Don't Leave Me: Directly lampshaded in "Please."
  • Poe's Law: "Big Man With a Gun" was written as a Take That! to Gangsta Rap and Misogyny Songs in general, only to be misinterpreted as a straight, serious example.
  • Product Placement:
    • Could easily be a coincidence, but in a film that Reznor worked on the soundtrack for a character is seen wearing a Nine Inch Nails T-shirt.
    • Trent Reznor and then NIN engineer Sean Beaven created the soundtrack for the game Quake. The NIN logo was used in-game on all of the ammo boxes for the nailgun.
  • Progressive Instrumentation: "Somewhat Damaged" begins with just an acoustic guitar, then comes in with synths and drums, then introduces the vocals, and then explodes with several layers of distorted electric guitar.
  • Protest Song:
    • "Head Like a Hole" (which protests greed).
    • Year Zero is, to an extent, a whole album of this.
    • "The Hand That Feeds" is a more nonspecific anti-authoritarian anthem.
  • Pun: This gem from "The Only Time:"
    "My moral standing is lying down."
  • Rap Rock: "Capital G," "Down in It," "Where is Everybody?" (the latter is also pretty much a Piss-Take Rap).
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: note 
  • Rearrange the Song:
    • Still is partly made up of Lighter and Softer rearrangements of songs from previous albums.
    • "All the Pigs, All Lined Up" rearranges the famously oddly-timed "March of the Pigs" fully in 4/4.
  • 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.
    • "Even Deeper" from The Fragile has some guest production work by Dr. Dre, of all people.
  • Recurring Riff:
    • There's a descending melodic line that appears in several songs on The Downward Spiral, albeit in different keys.
    • "The Frail" and the chorus of "The Fragile" share a melody.
    • "La Mer" and "Into the Void" share similar percussion-based intros and basslines, though on "La Mer," the latter's not the main riff.
    • The intro of "Down In It" sounds uncannily similar to the post-fakeout intro of producer Keith Le Blanc's "Mechanical Movements". Fitting, as Pretty Hate Machine was the one NIN album produced by LeBlanc, and he reuses melodies in most of his other projects.
  • Recycled Trailer Music: Quite a few action movies use NIN songs in their trailers nowadays.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Atticus Ross is a very quiet, laid back person, while Trent is, uh... Trent.
  • Religion Rant Song:
    • "Terrible Lie" from Pretty Hate Machine, "Heresy" and "Ruiner" from The Downward Spiral, and judging by Word of God, "Capital G" from Year Zero.
    • "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.
  • Remix Album:
    • Fixed, a remix album of the Broken EP.
    • Further Down the Spiral, a remix album of The Downward Spiral featuring numerous guest contributors.
    • Things Falling Apart, a remix album of The Fragile.
    • Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D (Year Zero Remixed), a remix album of Year Zero.
  • Revolving Door Band: Prior to the current incarnation (since 2017), no incarnation of the live band lasted more than two years. This was largely due to the long breaks between tours, though mid-tour personnel changes were not unheard of. Trent eventually settled on a fixed live band (the 2014 incarnation) despite multiple extended breaks, with the only change being the addition of producer Atticus Ross after Ross was promoted to official member in 2016.
  • Rockers Smash Guitars: Live NIN shows in The '90s could give The Who a run for their money when it comes to on-stage destruction. Guitars, keyboards, and sound equipment alike have all gone faulty numerous times during NIN shows, and have been subsequently obliterated. Reznor was fond of using the heel of his boot to strip keys off of keyboards. During a Lollapalooza show, Trent had a particularly infamous outburst:
    Trent: Every single thing was fucking up; monitors weren't on, guitars were out of tune, the mic stand was nowhere to be seen. Every fuck up that could happen happened. Also the crowd were a little weird, and I just snapped... I just went totally violent, really scared a lot of people. I picked up my out-of-tune guitar, and smashed the fuckin' thing on the keyboard. Then I turned around and went about my business of the next song. [...] A couple of songs later our road manager ran by and said "It's OK, the medics are finally here." I just looked at him and said "Medics? What fuckin' medics? What for?" Then I turned around and saw James scowling at me, with all this blood trickling down his face. Seems a piece of guitar busted off and hit him in the head. Oh well, that's showbiz."
  • Running Gag: "Hurt" constantly getting interrupted during shows seems to be this. Multiple examples have occurred, but a famous example occurred where a fan kept shouting during the song, pissing Trent off to the point where he threw the keyboard off the stage and instead performed "The Hand That Feeds" out of spite.
  • 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 BioShock cosplay.
  • Sanity Slippage Song:
    • The Downward Spiral is 14 tracks of this, including "Piggy" (which is commonly seen as setting the whole thing off, after the protagonist gets dumped), "Ruiner" (which seemingly has the protagonist convinced he's defeated God), and "Big Man with a Gun" (in which the protagonist loses it completely and goes on a rampage).
    • "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 Day the World Went Away" and "Starfuckers, Inc." also contain aversions of this.
  • Shout-Out: The symmetrical NIN logo is based on the typography on the cover of the Talking Heads album Remain in Light.
  • Single Stanza Song: "The Day the World Went Away," "The Way Out Is Through," "Big Man with a Gun," "The Downward Spiral," and "Eraser."
  • Snuff Film: The Broken movie was filmed (very convincingly) to look like one in its wraparound story.
  • Spoken Word in Music: Used in "Clo ser," "The Downward Spiral," "I Do Not Want This," "The Becoming,", "Zero-Sum", "Dear World,", "The Idea of You" and "The Lovers".
  • Stop and Go: "God Given."
  • Straw Nihilist: The character in The Downward Spiral, to the point of actually quoting Nietzsche. Trent himself had moments like these in earlier interviews. The album's lyrics themselves seem to indicate that Trent may have actually read Nietzsche, so it's really just the character in question and not Trent himself.
  • Subdued Section: Practically the king of this trope. Songs from The Downward Spiral were especially prone to this.
  • Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: "All the Love in the World:"
    "It looks as though the past is here to stay
    I've become a million miles a..."
  • Surprisingly Gentle Song:
    • "A Warm Place."
    • "Zero Sum," the last track on Year Zero.
    • "Lights in the Sky," from The Slip.
    • Most of his piano pieces fall under this.
    • Still and Ghosts I-IV are entire albums of these.
  • Take That!: Many.
    • Trent put out many towards Steve Gottlieb, the head of TVT Records who tried to interfere with the recording of Broken and prevent him from moving to Interscope.
      • Considering its production was a direct result of TVT's domineering attitude, Broken contains the crux of the barbs.
      • "Physical" opens with Trent whispering "Eat your heart out, Steve."
      • In the "Gave Up" video, one shot of a Macintosh running Pro Tools has the sequence title "fuck you steve".
      • 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."
    • Heck, when Trent finally was able to get the rights of Pretty Hate Machine and reissue the album once again (this time a remaster of it), under the "thank you" credits, there was a "fuck you" under it with Steve Gottlieb and TVT next to it.
    • "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-Universe Take That! for God. note 
    • "Big Man with a Gun" was written as this towards Gangsta Rap (it ended up being criticized since people thought it was serious) but could be seen as a shot at cock rock as well.
    • 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."
  • Testosterone Poisoning: "Big Man with a Gun", which was deliberately made in a tongue-in-cheek Take That! towards misogynistic Gangsta Rap...only for it to be taken seriously.
  • Textless Album Cover:
    • Year Zero, The Slip, and Bad Witch.
    • The Fragile also sorta counts (only a portion of the NIN logo is visible).
    • Some versions of The Downward Spiral lack text.
  • Title-Only Chorus: "With Teeth," "Terrible Lie," "Starfuckers, Inc.," and "That's What I Get."
  • Title Track:
    • "The Downward Spiral", "The Fragile", 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) is titled with its 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.
    • "Somewhat Damaged" is in 9/4. It's only an arguable example though, as it's divided into three segments of three, which isn't a particularly unusual rhythm in many genres of music, but is quite uncommon in industrial metal.
    • Most of "Just Like You Imagined" is in 10/4.
    • "And All That Could Have Been" is one of their most complex arrangements, with 7/4 verses, 4/4 choruses, and part of the bridge in 6/8.
    • The verses of "The Collector" have a bar of 6/4 followed by a bar of 7/4.
    • The "imperfect loop" that closes out "The Background World" is a variant of this. The pattern almost comes out to three bars of 4/4, but there's a pause after each third bar that lasts for a tenth of a second, which, due to the tempo of the segment, comes out to almost exactly an eighth of a beat. This is immediately unsettling even to non-musicians, as it feels like there's something missing from the recording, and on top of the increasing distortion applied to each iteration of the loop, this generates a spectacular sense of unease.
    • "Ahead of Ourselves" contains a recurring segment in 5/4. It's arguably the chorus, if one argues that the segment where Trent repeats the title isn't actually the chorus. (Given that the latter segment only occurs once, at the end of the song, this is actually a defensible argument. The song structure is... strange.)
  • Understatement: The song "Somewhat Damaged" is about a guy who's a lot more damaged than "somewhat".note 
  • Vocal Evolution: Trent's voice and style has changed a lot from the beginning, particularly in how deep it's gotten. This is most evident in Year Zero. Somewhat reverted in recent years.

Video tropes

    Video tropes 
  • Amusement Park of Doom: "Starfuckers, Inc." involves Trent and a girl (later revealed to be Marilyn Manson) going to a run-down carnival that has games that include throwing albums into a toilet, smashing porcelain figures of famous rock stars, and a dunk tank that replaces the water with toxic waste.
  • And I Must Scream: "Pinion" shows a person in a tight bondage suit that has a network of pipes end with an attachment to the mouth portion of the suit with water (or waste) gushing in.
  • Bound and Gagged:
    • Trent in "Closer."
    • Trent in "Sin," though only for the bound part.
    • The character in "Help Me I Am in Hell" appears in bondage gear at select points in the video.
  • Bowdlerise: In the music video and radio edit versions, "Starfuckers, Inc." became "Starsuckers, Inc." In this new song, "bitch," "fucking," and "suck you" were censored as well as "taste" (due to its connection to the "suck you" line), although "whore" was left intact. The non-explicit bridge is also completely rewritten, although this is less "censorship" and more "the original bridge heavily interpolated from another song without permission".
    • Sadly, the only music video of the song available online is the radio edit.
  • The Cameo: Marilyn Manson appears as the guitarist in the video for "Gave Up." And as the girl in the "Starfuckers, Inc." video.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Pretty much all of the Broken movie is this.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: "Pinion", "Help Me I Am in Hell", "Happiness in Slavery", "Survivalism", and "We're in This Together."
  • Epileptic Flashing Lights: "Came Back Haunted," courtesy of none other than David Lynch. Even has a seizure warning at the beginning of the video...which is promptly followed by abrasive red-white strobe lights.
  • Fan Disservice: The music videos for "Closer" and "Happiness in Slavery".
  • Gainax Ending: "Down in It" has an ending that's very unclear explicitly, only showing what happens before and after a significant event; all it shows is Trent climbing to the roof of a building and then his dead body on the ground, presumably having fallen from the building.
  • Gorn: The Broken movie. "Happiness in Slavery" takes it to extremes.
  • Groin Attack:
    • The killer in the Broken movie chops off his victim's genitals, and apparently begins to ... fuck ... the hole left behind.
    • "Happiness in Slavery" also has this, by way of a machine.
  • Hell-Bent for Leather: Many music videos include someone wearing leather. Trent himself, appears in latex in the video for "Wish."
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: "Deep."
  • Jitter Cam: Used artistically to eerie effect in "Came Back Haunted", directed by David Lynch. A majority of the visuals during the choruses are intensely shaken to the point where you can only just make out what you're seeing; in the case of the effect being used on Trent's face, it gives him a rather ghostly presence.
  • Last Note Nightmare: "Hurt."
  • Mind Screw: "The Perfect Drug" and "Help Me I Am in Hell."
  • The Oner: The music video for "March of the Pigs," said to be the only recorded take that "didn't suck."
  • Performance Video: "March of the Pigs," "Gave Up," "The Hand That Feeds," "Wish," and "Survivalism."
  • Rule of Symbolism: Both "Closer" and "The Perfect Drug," directed by Mark Romanek, hold symbolic imagery that mostly have to do with famous photos.
  • Shout-Out: "Closer" directly invokes the imagery of George Tooker's "Government Bureaucracy."
  • Snuff Film:
    • Broken is played as this. Not only are most of the music videos of the EP tracks playing this straight, but there's a whole short eponymous film based around the music videos that also contains an overarching plot that's a snuff film in itself.
    • Footage from "Down in It" was also investigated, by the American Law Enforcement, as one of the weather balloons a camera was attached to drifted off, was later found some 200 miles away, and got reported to them.
  • Spit-Trail Kiss: "Deep," though it's technically a spit trail lick.
  • 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, 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, 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.