Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails
Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails performing at 2009's Virgin Festival Toronto
Background information
Origin Cleveland, Ohio, United States
Genres Industrial rock, alternative rock, industrial metal
Years active 1988–present (hiatus)
Labels The Null Corporation, Interscope, Nothing, TVT, Atlantic, Bicycle, Island, Rykodisc
Associated acts Marilyn Manson, Tapeworm, Exotic Birds, Filter, Pigface, Saul Williams, Zack de la Rocha, How to Destroy Angels, Modwheelmood, SONOIO, Error, Tool, A Perfect Circle, Puscifer, Ministry, Revolting Cocks, Tweaker, Skrew, Guns N' Roses, The Damning Well, Lead Into Gold, Black Light Burns, Jubilee, Josh Freese, Pantera, Gary Numan, Foo Fighters, David Bowie, Coil, Jakalope, Prick, Lucky Pierre, El-P
Trent Reznor
Past members
Former live members

Nine Inch Nails is an American industrial rock project, founded in 1988 by Trent Reznor in Cleveland, Ohio. As its main producer, singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist, Reznor is the only official member of Nine Inch Nails and remains solely responsible for its direction.[1] Nine Inch Nails' music straddles a wide range of genres, while retaining a characteristic sound using electronic instruments and processing. After recording a new album, Reznor (until the 2009 Wave Goodbye Tour) usually assembles a live band to perform with him. The touring band features a revolving lineup that often rearranges songs to fit a live setting. On stage, Nine Inch Nails often employs visual elements to accompany performances, which frequently include light shows.[2]

Underground music audiences warmly received Nine Inch Nails in its early years. Reznor produced several highly influential records in the 1990s that achieved widespread popularity: many Nine Inch Nails songs became radio hits;[3] two Nine Inch Nails recordings have won Grammy Awards; and their entire catalog has reached record sales exceeding over 30 million albums worldwide,[4] with 11 million sales certified in the United States alone.[5] In 1997, Reznor appeared in Time magazine's list of the year's most influential people, and Spin magazine described him as "the most vital artist in music."[6] In 2004, Rolling Stone placed Nine Inch Nails at 94 on its list of the 100 greatest artists of all time.[7] Despite this acclaim, the band has had several feuds with the corporate side of the recording industry. In 2007, these corporate entanglements resulted in Reznor announcing that Nine Inch Nails would split from its label and release future material independently.[8]

Since 1989, Nine Inch Nails has made eight major studio releases. The most recent releases, Ghosts I–IV and The Slip, both released in 2008, were released under Creative Commons licenses (BY-NC-SA). Both were initially released digitally, with physical releases coming later. The digital release of The Slip was made available completely free of charge. Nine Inch Nails has been nominated for twelve Grammy Awards and won twice for the songs "Wish" and "Happiness in Slavery", in 1992 and 1995 respectively.



Formation (1988–1989)

The letters N, I, and a backwards N set in a strong typeface within a simple black boarder.
The Nine Inch Nails "NIN" logo designed by Reznor and Gary Talpas

In 1987, Trent Reznor played keyboards with a Cleveland band called the Exotic Birds, then managed by John Malm, Jr.[9] Reznor and Malm became friends,[10] and when Reznor left the Exotic Birds to work on music of his own, Malm informally became his manager.[11] At the time, Reznor was employed as an assistant engineer and janitor at Right Track Studios;[1] he asked studio owner Bart Koster for permission to record some demos of his own material for free during unused studio time.[12] Koster agreed, commenting that it cost him "just a little wear on [his] tape heads".[13] While assembling these, the earliest Nine Inch Nails recordings, Reznor was unable to find a band that could articulate the material as he desired. Instead, inspired by Prince, Reznor played all the instruments except drums himself.[14] This role remains Reznor's on most of the band's studio recordings, though he has occasionally involved other musicians and assistants.[15] In 1988, after playing its first shows supporting Skinny Puppy (which were widely panned by concert critics), Reznor's ambitions for Nine Inch Nails were to release one 12-inch single on a small European label.[16] Several labels responded favorably to the demo material and Reznor signed with TVT Records.[1] Nine selections from the Right Track demos recorded live in November 1988, collectively known as Purest Feeling, were later released in revised form on the band's first full-length studio release, Pretty Hate Machine (1989).[9]

Reznor said in 1994 that he coined the name "Nine Inch Nails" because it "abbreviated easily", rather than for "any literal meaning".[17] Other rumored explanations have circulated, alleging that Reznor chose to reference Jesus' crucifixion with nine-inch spikes,[18] or Freddy Krueger's nine-inch fingernails.[19] The Nine Inch Nails' logo, which consists of the letters [NIИ] set inside a border, was designed by Reznor and Gary Talpas.[20] The logo first appeared on the music video for Nine Inch Nails' debut single, "Down in It", and was inspired by Tibor Kalman's typography on the Talking Heads album Remain in Light.[21] Talpas, a native of Cleveland, would continue to design Nine Inch Nails packaging art until 1997.[22]

Pretty Hate Machine (1989–1991)

Reznor during the 1991 Lollapalooza festival

Written, arranged, and performed by Reznor,[23] Nine Inch Nails' first album Pretty Hate Machine debuted in 1989.[24] It marked his first collaboration with Adrian Sherwood (who produced the lead single "Down in It" in London, England without having met Reznor face-to-face)[16] and Mark "Flood" Ellis.[9] Flood's production would appear on each major Nine Inch Nails release until 1994, and Sherwood has made remixes for the band as recently as 2000.[25] Reznor and his co-producers expanded upon the Right Track Studio demos by adding singles "Head Like a Hole" and "Sin".[26] Rolling Stone's Michael Azerrad described the album as "industrial-strength noise over a pop framework" and "harrowing but catchy music";[27] Reznor proclaimed this combination "a sincere statement" of "what was in [his] head at the time".[28] Although the album failed to break into the Top 70, after spending 113 weeks on the Billboard 200,[29] Pretty Hate Machine became one of the first independently released records to attain platinum certification.[1]

Reznor asked Sean Beavan to mix the demos of Pretty Hate Machine, which had received multiple offers for record deals.[30] He mixed sound during Nine Inch Nails' live concerts for many years, eventually becoming an unofficial member of the live band, even singing live backup vocals from his place at the mixing console.[31] Reznor later invited Beavan to work on The Downward Spiral as well as mix several songs on Marilyn Manson's debut album Portrait of an American Family, both released in 1994.[9] After contributing to several Nine Inch Nails remix releases (including the "Closer to God" single), he mixed and co-produced Marilyn Manson's Antichrist Superstar in 1996.[32]

Three music videos were created in promotion of the album. MTV aired the videos for "Down in It" and "Head Like a Hole", but an explicit video for "Sin" was only released in partial form on the 1997 home video Closure.[33] The original version of the "Down in It" video ended with the implication that Reznor's character had fallen off a building and died in the street. This footage attracted the attention of the FBI. As Reznor explains in an interview with Convulsion Magazine:

There was a scene were I was lying on the ground, appearing to be dead, in a Lodger-esque pose and we had a camera with a big weather balloon filled with helium hooked up to it... the first one we did, we started the film, I was laying [sic] on the ground and the ropes that were holding the balloon snapped, the camera just took off into the atmosphere... the camera landed two hundred miles away in a farmer's field somewhere. He finds it and takes it to the police, thinking that it's a surveillance camera for marijuana, they develop the film and think that it's some sort of snuff film of a murder, give it to the FBI and have pathologists looking at the body saying, 'yeah, he's rotting,' (I had corn starch on me, right) 'he's been decomposing for 3 weeks.' You could see the other members of the band walking away and they had these weird outfits on, and they thought it was some kind of gang slaying.[34]

In 1990, Nine Inch Nails began the Pretty Hate Machine Tour Series, in which they toured North America as an opening act for alternative rock artists such as Peter Murphy and The Jesus and Mary Chain.[1][35] At some point, Reznor began smashing his equipment while on stage; Rockbeat interviewer Mike Gitter attributed the live band's early success in front of rock oriented audiences to this aggressive attitude.[36] Nine Inch Nails then embarked on a world tour that continued through the first Lollapalooza festival in 1991.[9]

Broken (1992–1993)

Bob Flanagan being tortured in the music video for "Happiness in Slavery"

After a poor European reception opening for Guns N' Roses, the band returned to America amid pressure from TVT to produce a follow-up to Pretty Hate Machine.[37] After finding out they were taking hindering control over his project, Reznor eventually dismissed their classification of Nine Inch Nails as a synthpop band.[38] He also demanded his label terminate his contract, but they ignored his plea.[39] In response, Reznor secretly began recording under various pseudonyms to avoid record company interference.[40] The frontman later said that he hated TVT, and reached a deal with the record label that he'd sign to Interscope Records, while recording an extended play named Broken (1992):

We made it very clear we were not doing another record for TVT. But they made it pretty clear they weren't ready to sell. So I felt like, well, I've finally got this thing going but it's dead. Flood and I had to record Broken under a different band name, because if TVT found out we were recording, they could confiscate all our shit and release it. Jimmy Iovine got involved with Interscope, and we kind of got slave-traded. It wasn't my doing. I didn't know anything about Interscope. And I was real pissed off at him at first because it was going from one bad situation to potentially another one. But Interscope went into it like they really wanted to know what I wanted. It was good, after I put my raving lunatic act on.[9]

In 1992 Nine Inch Nails released Broken (Nothing Records' first album ever),[41] an EP featuring six songs and two bonus tracks, providing the act's first charting appearance in the Top 10.[9] In the liner notes, Reznor credited the 1991 Nine Inch Nails touring band as an influence on the EP's sound.[42] Reznor characterized Broken as a guitar-based "blast of destruction", and as "a lot harder [...] than Pretty Hate Machine".[18] Songs from Broken earned Nine Inch Nails both of its two Grammy Awards: a performance of the EP's first single "Happiness in Slavery" from Woodstock '94,[43] and the second single "Wish".[43] Reznor later joked that his epitaph should read: "REZNOR: Died. Said 'fist fuck', won a Grammy."[44]

Peter Christopherson of the bands Coil and Throbbing Gristle directed a performance video for "Wish",[45] but the EP's most infamous video accompanied "Happiness in Slavery".[46] The video was almost universally banned[47] for its graphic depiction of performance artist Bob Flanagan disrobed and lying on a machine that pleasures, tortures, then kills him.[48] A third video for "Pinion", partially incorporated into MTV's Alternative Nation opening sequence, showed a toilet that apparently flushes into the mouth of a person in bondage.[49] Reznor and Christopherson compiled these three clips along with footage for "Help Me I Am in Hell" and "Gave Up" into a longform music video also called Broken.[50] It depicts the murder of a young man who is kidnapped and tortured while forced to watch the videos.[51] This footage was never officially released, but instead appeared covertly among tape trading circles.[48][52]

A separate performance video for "Gave Up" featuring Richard Patrick and Marilyn Manson was filmed at 10050 Cielo Drive, Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles (then renamed "Le Pig studios" by Reznor), site of the Tate murders;[1] a live recording of "Wish" was also filmed, and both videos appeared on the Closure video compilation in 1997.[53]

Broken was followed by its companion remix EP Fixed in late 1992.[54] The only track that was left off the final version of the release is Butch Vig's remix of "Last" (the outro of the "Last" remix is heard in "Throw This Away", which also includes Vig's remix of "Suck").[55] The unedited version appeared on the internet as an 8-bit mono 11 kHz file, "NIN_LAST.AIFF", available by FTP from in 1993; it has been removed from the website, but can still be found on p2p networks (Reznor subsequently made it available in higher quality (256kbit/s mp3) at[56] Vig later spoke about his remix while answering questions on a music production forum, saying "I started recording a lot of new parts, and took it in a much different direction. When it was finished, Trent thought the front part of the mix didn't fit the EP, so he just used the ending. I'm glad it's on his website. Duke and Steve worked with me on the remix, in the very early days of Garbage."[57]

Rather than tour in support of the new material, Reznor began living and recording full-time at Le Pig, working on a follow-up free of restrictions from his record label.[9]

The Downward Spiral (1994–1997)

An image from the music video for "Closer"

Early ideas for The Downward Spiral were conceived after the Lollapalooza 1991 festival concerts ended in September of that year.[58] Though production on 1992's Broken extended play had begun in late 1991, the writing process for the act's second album did not start until 1992.[58] He created several poems after his stay at there, and penned the themes he will explore on the album in his journals.[9][59] Initially, Reznor was to record the album in New Orleans, but due to financial duties, he changed his mind.[60] He often checked out 15 houses in a day, settling to stay at a building that was constructed at a residential area in Los Angeles. 10050 Cielo Drive was his final choice to record the album, though he entered the house for the first time on July 4, 1992.[61]

Nine Inch Nails' second full-length album, The Downward Spiral, entered the Billboard 200 in 1994 at number two (ahead of Soundgarden's Superunknown, released the same day as The Downward Spiral),[62] and remains the highest-selling Nine Inch Nails release in the United States for shipments of over four million copies, in addition to selling five million copies worldwide.[63] Influenced by late-1970s rock albums The Wall by Pink Floyd and Low by David Bowie,[64] The Downward Spiral features a wide range of textures and moods to illustrate the mental progress of a central character.[65] Flood once again co-produced several tracks on the album, though it proved to be his last collaboration with Nine Inch Nails.[66] Longtime Flood-collaborator Alan Moulder mixed most of The Downward Spiral and subsequently took on more extensive production duties for future album releases.[67] It was recorded at Le Pig Studios (a reincarnation of the living room of 10050 Cielo Drive), Beverly Hills – built by Reznor in the house where Charles Manson's "family" murdered Sharon Tate,[68] wife of noted film director Roman Polanski, and four of her friends.[9]

The album was anchored by two singles, "March of the Pigs" and "Closer", along with "Hurt" and "Piggy" which were issued to radio without a commercial single release.[69] All singles did not top any charts, only to have "Closer" peak at number 41 at the Billboard Hot 100.[70] The music video for "Closer" was directed by Mark Romanek and received frequent rotation on MTV, though the network made extensive edits to the original version, which they perceived to be too graphic.[71] A radio edit that partially mutes the song's explicit lyrics also received extensive airtime.[9] The Closure video documented highlights from the band's Self Destruct tour, including full live videos of "Eraser", "Hurt" and a one-take "March of the Pigs" clip made for MTV.[72]

Critical response to The Downward Spiral has generally been favorable: in 2005 the album was ranked 25th in Spin's list of the "100 Greatest Albums, 1985–2005",[73] and in 2003 Rolling Stone ranked the album number 200 on their "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time" list.[74] Blender named it the 80th Greatest American Album. It was ranked #488 in the book The Top 500 Heavy Metal Albums of All Time by Martin Popoff. In 2001 Q named The Downward Spiral as one of the 50 Heaviest Albums of All Time;[75] in 2010 the album was ranked #102 on their 250 Best Albums of Q's Lifetime (1986-2011) list.[76] After The Downward Spiral's release, Reznor produced an accompanying remix album entitled Further Down the Spiral, the only non-major Nine Inch Nails release to be certified gold in the United States.[63] It featured contributions from Coil with Danny Hyde, electronic musician Aphex Twin, producer Rick Rubin, and Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro, among others.[77]

The Self Destruct tour in support of the album reached its widest mainstream audience with a mud-drenched performance at Woodstock '94 that was broadcast on Pay-Per-View and seen in as many as 24 million homes.[78][79] Nine Inch Nails received considerable mainstream success thereafter, performing with significantly higher production values and adding theatrical visual elements to the live show.[9][80] Around this time, Reznor's studio perfectionism,[81] struggles with addiction, and bouts of writer's block prolonged the production of a follow-up record.[82]

During preparation for the 1995 Grammy Awards (where "Hurt" was nominated for but did not win the 1995 Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance), after the album slowly fell to number 192 (its lowest ranking in the United States),[83] sales of The Downward Spiral sped up. The album reached number 139 in February 1996,[84] then finally exited the Billboard 200 on June 16, 1996, after it dropped to number 190.[85]

Whilst on tour, Reznor produced the soundtrack to the Oliver Stone film Natural Born Killers using a portable Pro Tools in his hotel room.[86][87] The compilation featured a new Nine Inch Nails track "Burn" written exclusively for the film.[88] Throughout early 1996 Reznor collaborated with id Software to help create the music and sound effects to the first-person shooter video game Quake.[9][77] In homage to him, the entire Quake series features the Nine Inch Nails band logo on ammo crates that supply ammunition for the in-game nail gun weapon.[89] In 1997, Reznor produced the soundtrack to the David Lynch film Lost Highway.[90] The release spawned the single "The Perfect Drug", the music video for which was again directed by Mark Romanek.[91] A tenth anniversary deluxe reissue of The Downward Spiral was released on November 23, 2004.[92]

The Fragile (1999–2002)

Reznor and Marilyn Manson in the "Starfuckers, Inc." music video

Five years elapsed between The Downward Spiral and Nine Inch Nails' next studio album, The Fragile, which arrived as a double album in September 1999.[93] On the heels of the band's previous successes, media anticipation surrounded The Fragile more than a year before its release,[94] when it was already described as "oft-delayed".[95] When the album was finally released, it debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 (Nine Inch Nails' first appearance at the top spot for an album), selling 228,000 copies in its first week and receiving mixed to positive reviews.[93] Spin hailed The Fragile as the "album of the year", whereas Pitchfork Media panned it for the inclusion of overly melodramatic lyrics.[96][97] Several songs from the album became regular features on alternative rock radio stations, however the album dropped to number 16 and slipped out of the Billboard Top 10 only a week after its release, resulting in the band setting a record for the biggest drop from number one, a record that has since been broken.[98] Reznor funded the subsequent North American tour out of his own pocket.[93]

According to Reznor, The Fragile was conceived by making "songwriting and arranging and production and sound design [...] the same thing. A song would start with a drum loop or a visual and eventually a song would emerge out of it and that was the song."[99] Canadian rock producer Bob Ezrin was consulted on the album's track listing; the liner notes state that he "provided final continuity and flow."

Before the album's release, the song "Starfuckers, Inc." provoked media speculation about whom Reznor had intended its acerbic lyrics to satirize.[100] Cinesexuality critic Patricia MacCormack interprets the song as a "scathing attack on the alternative music scene", particularly Reznor's former friend and protégé Marilyn Manson.[101] The two artists put aside their differences when Manson appeared in the song's music video, retitled "Starsuckers, Inc." and performed on stage with Nine Inch Nails at Madison Square Garden in 2000.[102] Nine Inch Nails released three commercial singles from the album in different territories: "The Day the World Went Away" (the act's first successful attempt at reaching the number one position for a singles chart) in North America; "We're in This Together" in the EU and Japan (on three separate discs); and "Into the Void" in Australia.

Reznor followed The Fragile with another remix album, Things Falling Apart, released in November 2000 to critically panning reviews, a few months after the 2000 Fragility tour, which itself was recorded and released on CD, DVD, and VHS in 2002 as And All That Could Have Been. A deluxe edition of the live CD came with the companion disc Still, featuring stripped-down versions of songs from the Nine Inch Nails catalog along with several new pieces of music.

With Teeth (2005–2006)

Live performance during the Live: With Teeth tour in 2006

A further six years elapsed before Nine Inch Nails' fourth full-length album, With Teeth, was released in 2005, though it was leaked prior to its official release date. The album was written and recorded following Reznor's battle with alcoholism and substance abuse.[103] Like The Fragile, With Teeth debuted on top of the Billboard 200.[3] The album's package lacks typical liner notes; instead it simply lists the names of songs and co-producers, and the URL for an online PDF poster with lyrics and full credits.[104] The entire album was made available in streaming audio on the band's official MySpace page in advance of its release date.[105] Critical reception of the album was mostly positive:[106] Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield described the album as "vintage Nine Inch Nails".[107] On the other hand, PopMatters critically slammed the album by simply saying that he "ran out of ideas."[108]

A promotional video for the song "The Hand That Feeds" premiered on Reznor's official website in March 2005, rather than the traditional music channels. Reznor also released the source files for the song in GarageBand format a month later, allowing fans to remix the song.[109] Reznor similarly released files for the album's second single "Only" in a wider range of formats, including Pro Tools and ACID Pro. David Fincher directed a video for "Only" using primarily computer-generated imagery. The third single, "Every Day Is Exactly the Same", was released in April 2006, but a planned Francis Lawrence-directed music video was reportedly scrapped in the post-production stage.[110] The song topped Billboard's Alternative Songs charts, like "Only" and "The Hand That Feeds".[111]

Nine Inch Nails launched a North American arena tour in Autumn 2005, supported by Queens of the Stone Age, Autolux and Death from Above 1979.[112] Another opening act on this tour, hip-hop artist Saul Williams, performed on stage with Nine Inch Nails at the Voodoo Music Experience festival during a headlining appearance in hurricane-stricken New Orleans, Reznor's former home.[113] To conclude the With Teeth era of the band, the Nine Inch Nails live band completed a tour of North American amphitheaters in the summer of 2006, joined by Bauhaus, TV on the Radio, and Peaches.[1] A tour documentary entitled Beside You in Time was released in February 2007 via three formats: DVD, High Definition DVD and Blu-ray Disc.[114] The home video release debuted at number one on both the Billboard Top Music Videos and Billboard Comprehensive Music Videos charts in the United States.[115]

Year Zero (2007)

Nine Inch Nails' fifth studio album, Year Zero, was released only two years after With Teeth, a marked change in pace from the release of previous albums, and did not top any charts, thus beginning the act's diminishing returns. With lyrics written from the perspective of multiple fictitious characters, Year Zero is a concept album that criticizes the United States government's current policies and how they will impact the world 15 years in the future.[116]

The story takes place in the United States in the year 2022, which has been termed "Year 0", by the American government, being the year that America was reborn.[117] The United States had suffered several major terrorist attacks, apparently by Islamic fundamentalists, including attacks on Los Angeles and Seattle, and in response, the government seized absolute control on the country. The Government of the United States is now a Christian fundamentalist theocracy, maintaining control of the populace through institutions like the Bureau of Morality and the First Evangelical Church of Plano.[118] The government corporation Cedocore distributes the drug Parepin through the water supply, making Americans who drink the water apathetic and carefree.[119] There are several underground rebel groups, mainly operating online, most notably Art is Resistance and Solutions Backwards Initiative.[116] In response to the increasing oppression of the government, several corporate, government, and subversive websites were transported back in time to the present by a group of scientists working clandestinely against the authoritarian government. The websites-from-the-future were sent to the year 2007 to warn the American people of the impending dystopian future and to prevent it from ever forming in the first place.[120]

Critical response to the album was generally favorable, with an average rating of 76% on MetaCritic, a better aggregate rating than With Teeth.[121]

An alternate reality game emerged parallel to the Year Zero concept, expanding upon its storyline. Clues hidden on tour merchandise initially led fans to discover a network of fictitious, in-game websites that describe an "Orwellian picture of the United States circa the year 2022".[122] Before Year Zero's release, unreleased songs from the album were found on USB drives hidden at Nine Inch Nails concert venues in Lisbon and Barcelona, as part of the alternate reality game.[123] Fan participation in the alternate reality game caught the attention of media outlets such as USA Today and Billboard, who have cited fan-site The NIN Hotline, forum Echoing the Sound, fan club The Spiral, and NinWiki as sources for new discoveries.[124][125]

The album's first single, "Survivalism" (which became the final time a Nine Inch Nails single topped a chart), and other tracks from Year Zero were released as multitrack audio files for fans to remix.[126] A remix album titled Year Zero Remixed was later released, featuring remixes from Year Zero from other artists.[127] The remix album proved to be Nine Inch Nails' final new release on a major record label, as the act had completed its contractual obligation to Interscope Records and did not renew its contract.[128] The remix album was accompanied by an interactive remix site with multitrack downloads and the ability to post remixes,[129] after legal issues delayed its debut.

Reznor was planning to create a movie adaption of the album.[130] He had earlier noted Year Zero as "part of a bigger picture of a number of things I'm working on. Essentially, I wrote the soundtrack to a movie that doesn't exist."[118] Having thought a film project would be too expensive for him, he revamped it into a television project. He has stated that he has a producer and has met with writers.[131] On August 10, 2007, Reznor announced that they would soon be taking the concept to television networks in an attempt to secure a deal: "We're about to pitch it to the network, so we're a couple of weeks away from meeting all of the main people, and we'll see what happens."[132] Since first announcing his plans for a television series, progress has slowed, reportedly due to the 2007–2008 Writer's Guild strike. Despite this, Reznor has reported that the project is "still churning along",[133] and that he has begun working with American film producer Lawrence Bender.[117] The resultant miniseries, also named Year Zero, is currently in development with HBO and BBC Worldwide Productions, with the screenplay and script being written by Reznor and Carnivàle writer Daniel Knauf.[134]

Ghosts I–IV and The Slip (2008)

Reznor in 2008

In February 2008, Reznor posted a news update on the Nine Inch Nails website entitled "2 weeks." On March 2, Ghosts I–IV (The Null Corporation's first album ever), a 36-track instrumental album, became available via the band's official website. Ghosts I–IV was made available in a number of different formats and forms, ranging from a free download of the first volume, to a $300 Ultra-Deluxe limited edition package. All 2,500 copies of the $300 package sold out in three days, while each edition of the album did not top the charts.[135] The album is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike licence.[136][137] The album was created improvisationally over a 10-week period and contributors included Atticus Ross, Alan Moulder, Alessandro Cortini, Adrian Belew, and Brian Viglione.[115]

Similar to the announcement that ultimately led to the release of Ghosts I–IV, a post on the band's website in April 2008 read "2 weeks!"[138] On May 5, Nine Inch Nails released The Slip (which failed to reach the Top 10 outside Australia) via their website without any advertisement or promotion.[139] The album was made available for download free of charge with a message from Reznor, "this one's on me,"[140] protected under the same Creative Commons licence as Ghosts, and has seen individual downloads surpassing 1.4 million.[141] The Slip has since been released on CD as a limited edition set of 250,000.

Since the release of Ghosts I–IV and The Slip, a 25-date tour titled Lights in the Sky, was announced in several North American cities,[142] and was later expanded to include several more North American dates as well as dates in South America. Cortini and Freese returned as members from the previous tour, while Robin Finck rejoined the band and Justin Meldal-Johnsen was added on bass guitar.[143] Overshadowed by Finck and Medal-Johnsen, Freese and Cortini decided to quit the live band, but with the addition of Ilan Rubin on drums, the band became a four-piece lineup.[144][145]

On January 7, 2009, Reznor uploaded unedited HD-quality footage from three shows as a download of over 400 GB via BitTorrent.[146] In an immediate response, a fan organization known as This One Is On Us quickly downloaded the data and had begun to assemble the footage alongside their own video recordings to create a professional 3-part digital film, followed by a physical release created "by fans for fans".[147][148] This tour documentary became collectively known as Another Version of the Truth and was released throughout late December 2009 to February 2010 via three formats: DVD, Blu-ray Disc and BitTorrent. To date, the group and the project has received significant attention from media outlets such as USA Today, Rolling Stone, Techdirt and Pitchfork TV, and holds the support of both Reznor and the fan community with theatrical screenings being held all over the world.[149] Nine Inch Nails art director and webmaster Rob Sheridan noted on the band's official website:

This is yet another example of a devoted fanbase and a policy of openness combining to fill in blanks left by old media barriers. The entire NIN camp is absolutely thrilled that treating our fans with respect and nurturing their creativity has led to such an overwhelming outpour of incredible content, and that we now have such a high quality souvenir from our most ambitious tour ever.[150]

Nine Inch Nails Revenge, a iPhone/iPod touch-exclusive rhythm game developed by Tapulous, was released on March 8, 2009 (five months after the company announced the development of the game). This installment in the Tap Tap video game franchise was themed after Nine Inch Nails, and included tracks from Ghosts I–IV and The Slip.[151][152]

End of touring, and subsequent events (2009–present)

Reznor performing at the Music Box in Hollywood, California, on September 8, 2009

In February 2009, Reznor posted his thoughts about the future of Nine Inch Nails on his official website, stating that "I've been thinking for some time now it's time to make NIN disappear for a while."[153] Since then he has said outright in another interview that he "isn't done creating music under the moniker, but that Nine Inch Nails is done touring for the foreseeable future."[154][155] Nine Inch Nails' final live performance in Europe was located at the Metallica-curated Sonisphere Festival, while on September 10, 2009, they played their final show at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles.[156] The following month, the band started selling excess touring equipment on eBay.[157]

In an interview with The Quietus following the Wave Goodbye tour, Gary Numan said that he expected to begin collaborating with Reznor. Discussing the form that this new material might take, Numan was quoted as saying, "probably just a few songs to start with and see how it goes on. It'll be cool."[158]

Although the live band ended its lifespan, Reznor is continuing work on Nine Inch Nails and other projects after the Wave Goodbye tour,[159] with plans to release a new album in the first half of the 2010s decade.[160] The theme song for the film Tetsuo: The Bullet Man was released, making it the first new track since the live band was disbanded,[161] and an entry on the Nine Inch Nails official Twitter page hinted at a deluxe reissue of The Fragile scheduled for 2011.[162] Beginning February 9, 2010, Reznor started posting images of studio recording equipment, including a synthesizer and Reznor singing into a recording microphone, on the front page of accompanied by a "?".[163]

Reznor married Mariqueen Maandig and formed a project with Atticus Ross dubbed How to Destroy Angels. Their first release, a six-track self titled EP, was made available for free download on June 1, 2010. Reznor's next collaboration with Ross was co-writing and producing the official score for David Fincher's 2010 film, The Social Network. Fincher was previously involved in directing the music video for "Only", released in June 2005, and used both "Mr. Self-Destruct" in a 1996 Levi's television advertisement and the Precursor remix of "Closer" during the opening credits of his 1995 film Se7en. A five-track downloadable sampler was released on September 17, 2010 and the entire album became available digitally on September 28.[164][165] Various physical formats of the album were released in October. The soundtrack won two trophies, a 2010 Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score for a Motion Picture,[166] and a 2010 Oscar for Best Original Score.[167]

Following the film was a remastered reissue of the band's debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, released on November 22, 2010.[168]

After rejecting a minor acting role as a protagonist in the film adaptation of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and a job to compose its soundtrack, Reznor focused on collaborating with Ross again to compose the soundtrack for another Fincher-directed film, the American adaptation of the novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels.[169] The song appearing on the film's trailer, a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song", was Reznor's collaboration with Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O.[170][171][172] A Nine Inch Nails cover of U2's "Zoo Station" was included in an Achtung Baby tribute album entitled, AHK-toong BAY-bi Covered. The tribute album was released by Q on October 25, 2011 as a celebration of the 20th anniversary of Achtung Baby.[173]

Reznor indicated on Twitter that there would be new material released in the future. On October 27, 2011, he tweeted: "OK, back to work. LOTS of new music coming your way very soon..."[174]

Musical characteristics and lyrics

Allmusic's Steve Huey states that "Nine Inch Nails were the most popular industrial group ever and were largely responsible for bringing the music to a mass audience."[1] Reznor has never referred to his own work as industrial music, but admits to borrowing techniques from such early industrial bands as Throbbing Gristle and Test Dept.[17] Despite the disparity between those artists initially operating under the term "industrial" and Nine Inch Nails, it has become common in journalistic descriptions of Reznor's body of work to describe it as such. Reznor acknowledged in Spin magazine that "Down in It" was influenced by early Skinny Puppy, particularly their song "Dig It"; other songs from Pretty Hate Machine were described in the same interview as synthpop.[175] Reviewing The Fragile, critic Steve Cooper noted that the album juxtaposes widely varied genres, such as solo piano in "The Frail" and drum and bass elements in "Starfuckers, Inc."[176]

Certain techniques and styles can be found throughout Nine Inch Nails' catalog.[177] Songs such as "Wish", and "The Day the World Went Away" exhibit terraced dynamics. Reznor's singing follows a similar pattern, frequently moving from whispers to screams. He also has used software to alter his voice in several songs, as evident in "Starfuckers, Inc." and "Burn". The band's music also occasionally features complex time signatures, notably in "The Collector", from With Teeth,[108] and concert favorite "March of the Pigs".[178] Reznor regularly uses noise and distortion in his song arrangements, and incorporates dissonance with chromatic melody and/or harmony.[179] These techniques are all used in the song "Hurt", which features a highly dissonant tritone played on guitar during the verses, a B5#11, emphasized when Reznor sings the eleventh note on the word "I" every time the B/E# dyad is played.[180] "Closer" concludes with a chromatic piano motif: The melody is debuted during the second verse of "Piggy" on organ, then reappears in power chords at Drop D tuning throughout the chorus of "Heresy", whilst an inverted (ascending) version is used throughout "A Warm Place", and then recurs in its original state for the final time on "The Downward Spiral".[108] On The Fragile, Reznor revisits this technique of repeating a motif multiple times throughout different songs, either on a different musical instrument, with a transposed harmony, or in an altered tempo.[181] Many of the songs on Year Zero feature an extended instrumental ending, which encompasses the entire second half of the three-minute long "The Great Destroyer". Allmusic's review described the album's laptop-mixed sound: "guitars squall against glitches, beeps, pops, and blotches of blurry sonic attacks. Percussion looms large, distorted, organic, looped, screwed, spindled and broken."[182]

Lyrical themes found in Nine Inch Nails songs are largely concerned with dark explorations of the self ranging from personal issues, society, religion, existentialism, deconstruction, and occasionally politics,[183] with the latter topic often being scrutinized in Year Zero.[119][184] Three of Nine Inch Nails' recordings are concept albums: The Downward Spiral, follow-up The Fragile, and the aforementioned Year Zero. With Teeth was to be a concept album about a never-ending dream occurring in reality, but Reznor stung this idea out of the record.[185] There are also multiple recurring lyrics that are thematically similar across albums, particularly "you're going to get what you deserve" (from "Head Like a Hole"), "nothing can stop me now" (from "Piggy"), and "a million miles away" (from "Hurt"). The most recent appearances of these three lines are located in "Meet Your Master", "Sunspots", and "1,000,000" respectively.[186][187][188]

Influence and legacy

Nine Inch Nails has influenced many newer artists, which according to Reznor range from "generic imitations" dating from his initial success to younger bands echoing his style in a "truer, less imitative way".[189] Following the release of The Downward Spiral, mainstream artists began to take notice of Nine Inch Nails' influence: David Bowie compared Reznor's impact to that of The Velvet Underground.[7] Bob Ezrin, producer for Pink Floyd, Kiss, Alice Cooper, and Peter Gabriel, described Reznor in 2007 as a "true visionary" and advised aspiring artists to take note of his no-compromise attitude.[190]

The act has received four awards from 25 nominations, including two Grammy Awards for the songs "Wish" and "Happiness in Slavery" in 1993 and 1996 respectively.[191] Nine Inch Nails have received two Kerrang! Awards; one of these being the Kerrang! Icon in 2006, honoring the band's overall contributions since 1988 and long-standing influence on rock music.[192][193][194] The band has also received nine nominations from the MTV Video Music Awards for several of its videos, including two nominations for the "Closer" music video and five nominations for "The Perfect Drug" music video, including Video of the Year.[191]

In 1997, Reznor appeared in Time magazine's list of the year's most influential people, and Spin magazine described him as "the most vital artist in music".[6] The Recording Industry Association of America certified sales for 10.5 million units of the band's albums in the United States,[5] which accounted for roughly half of the band's reported sales worldwide at that time.[4] In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine placed The Downward Spiral at #200 in a 2003 list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time,[74] and by the following year ranked Nine Inch Nails at #94 in their The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time list.[7]

Notable parodies

"Weird Al" Yankovic did an obvious parody of his style of music entitled "Germs", though it was not acknowledged as a parody of his songs because it did not parody one of his songs in particular, but rather what Yankovic referred to as a "style parody". The song is likely based on the sound of "Terrible Lie" (general melody), "Mr. Self Destruct" (in the pre-chorus) and "Closer" (drum beat).[195] Another parody of Nine Inch Nails is showcased in the 206th episode of Muppets Tonight (aired November 2, 1997), where a spoof band called Nine Inch Snails (whose lineup consisted of four snails dressed in a gothic clothing attire) performed "This Living Shell".[196] The fictitious Windows Media Player-compatible Strobe Light album (portrayed as being produced by Timbaland requiring about US$18.98 to download) was a 2009 April Fools' Day joke.[197] Upon users confirming their e-mail addresses, they receive a page parodying the infamous Blue Screen of Death, with the phrase "Aprl_Fls" substituted for the word "error".[198]

Live performances

Nine Inch Nails live on tour in 2005

Reznor is the sole official member of Nine Inch Nails. However, he has typically formed a backing group of musicians to perform the songs in a live setting. This live band, also known as Nine Inch Nails, rearranges the band's studio catalog and creates a different sound than that of Reznor's studio recordings.[199] Band members have occasionally been invited to participate in the recording process, but creative control within the studio has always been exclusively with Reznor.[91]

The Tapeworm project was created in 1995 as a Nine Inch Nails side-project between Reznor and various live-band members as a more "democratic" creative environment.[200][201] The band initially included live band members Danny Lohner and Charlie Clouser, but eventually expanded to feature other frequent Nine Inch Nails contributors Josh Freese, Atticus Ross, and Alan Moulder.[202][203] However, after 9 years of studio sessions, no material was ever officially released from the group, and it was confirmed to be no longer active in 2005.[204]

The lineup of the live band had a tendency to change drastically between major tours: aside from Reznor remaining on lead vocals, keyboards and guitar, no member of the live band had remained constant since its inception. Reznor cited the long gestation period between studio albums as part of the reason for these frequent personnel changes,[205] as well as his desire for fresh interpretations of his music. In 2009, the final incarnation of the live band featured Reznor with Robin Finck (besides Reznor, Finck has played on the most tours), Justin Meldal-Johnsen, and Ilan Rubin.[206][207]

Corporate entanglements

Reznor is an outspoken critic of the music industry, particularly corporate influence on his artistic freedom. As a result, Nine Inch Nails has clashed with several corporations, culminating in a decision to proceed as a free agent without any recording label contracts.[208]

Disputes with TVT Records

In the early 1990s, Nine Inch Nails was involved in a much-publicized feud with TVT Records, the first record label to sign the band. Reznor objected to the label's attempted interference with his intellectual property.[18] Ultimately, they entered into a joint venture with Interscope Records in which Reznor forfeited a portion of his publishing rights to TVT Music in exchange for the freedom of having his own Nothing Records imprint.[209] In 2005, Reznor sued his former friend and manager John Malm, co-founder of Nothing, for fraud, breach of contract and fiduciary duty, and other claims.[210] Their relationship was formally severed in a New York courtroom, with damages awarded to Reznor in excess of three million US dollars.[211]

At the behest of Prudential Securities bankruptcy proceedings, TVT put the rights to Reznor's recordings for the label on auction in 2005. This offer included the whole TVT catalog, including Pretty Hate Machine and a percentage of royalties from Reznor's song publishing company, Leaving Hope Music/TVT Music. Rykodisc, which did not win the auction but was able to license the rights from Prudential, reissued the out-of-print Pretty Hate Machine CD on November 22, 2005.[212] Ryko also reissued the "Head Like a Hole" CD and a vinyl edition of Pretty Hate Machine in 2006. The label considered releasing a deluxe edition, just as Interscope had done for The Downward Spiral. They were influenced by Reznor and liked the idea, but did not want to pay him for the album and the idea was scrapped.[213]

Disputes with Universal Music Group

In May 2007, Reznor made a post on the official Nine Inch Nails website, which was skeptical of Universal Music Group (parent company of Nine Inch Nails' record label, Interscope Records) for their pricing and distribution plans for Year Zero.[214] He criticized (and parodied) the company's retail pricing of Year Zero in Australia as "ABSURD", concluding that "as a reward for being a 'true fan' you get ripped off." Reznor went on to say that he hated Interscope, and in later years the "climate" of record labels may have an increasingly ambivalent impact on consumers who buy music.[215] Reznor's post, specifically his criticism of the recording industry at large, elicited considerable media attention.[216] In September 2007, Reznor continued his attack on UMG at a concert in Australia, urging fans there to "steal" his music online instead of purchasing it legally.[217] Reznor went on to encourage the crowd to "steal and steal and steal some more and give it to all your friends and keep on stealin'."[218]

Reznor announced on October 8, 2007 that Nine Inch Nails had fulfilled its contractual commitments to Interscope Records and was now free to proceed as a "totally free agent, free of any recording contract with any label".[8] Reznor also speculated that he would release the next Nine Inch Nails album online in a similar fashion to The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!, which he produced.[219] Reznor later released the first nine tracks of Ghosts I–IV and the entirety of The Slip in 2008 for free download.

In another post on his website, Reznor again openly criticized Universal Music Group for preventing him from launching an official interactive fan remix website. Universal declined to host the site just days before its scheduled launch, citing the potential "accusation", in Reznor's words, "that they are sponsoring the same technical violation of copyright they are suing [other media companies] for".[220] Reznor wrote in response that he was "challenged at the last second to find a way of bringing this idea to life without getting splashed by the urine as these media companies piss all over each other's feet".[221] Despite these obstacles, the remix website was launched in November 2007.

Disputes with other corporations

Nine Inch Nails was scheduled to perform at the 2005 MTV Movie Awards, but withdrew from the show due to a disagreement with the network over the use of an unaltered image of George W. Bush as a backdrop to the band's performance of "The Hand that Feeds". Soon afterwards, Reznor wrote on his official website: "apparently, the image of our president is as offensive to MTV as it is to me."[211] MTV replied that it respected Reznor's point of view, but was "uncomfortable" with the performance being "built around partisan political statements." A performance by Foo Fighters replaced Nine Inch Nails' time slot on the show.[222] During the Lights in the Sky tour in 2008, some performances of "The Hand that Feeds" had the image of Bush on a video screen behind the band. At some gigs leading up to the election, the face of Bush slowly morphed during the song into the face of John McCain.

In 2006, after being alerted by a fan website, Reznor issued a cease and desist to Fox News Channel for using three songs from The Fragile on air without permission. The songs "La Mer", "The Great Below", and "The Mark Has Been Made" appeared in an episode of War Stories with Oliver North detailing the battle of Iwo Jima.[223] A post appeared on Reznor's blog, which read: "Thanks for the Fox News heads-up. A cease and desist has been issued. FUCK Fox Fucking News."[224]

As part of the alternate reality game which accompanied the release of Year Zero, three tracks from the album were intentionally "leaked" prior to their official release at a number of Nine Inch Nails concerts on USB flash drives.[123] The high-quality audio files quickly circulated the internet, and owners of websites hosting the files soon received cease and desist orders from the Recording Industry Association of America, despite the fact that the viral campaign, and the use of USB drives, was sanctioned by Nine Inch Nails' record label.[225] The source that broke the story was quoted as saying, "These fucking idiots are going after a campaign that the label signed off on."[225] Reznor also objected to the company's request that he alter tracks on Year Zero in order to make them as accessible as possible; in particular the label wanted to get them played in clubs. Reznor saw this as an infringement of his artistic freedom.

The music of Nine Inch Nails has reportedly been used by the U.S. military as music torture to break down the resolve of detainees.[226] Reznor objected to the use of his music in this way with the following message on the front page of the Nine Inch Nails website: "It's difficult for me to imagine anything more profoundly insulting, demeaning and enraging than discovering music you've put your heart and soul into creating has been used for purposes of torture. If there are any legal options that can be realistically taken they will be aggressively pursued, with any potential monetary gains donated to human rights charities. Thank GOD this country has appeared to side with reason and we can put the Bush administration's reign of power, greed, lawlessness and madness behind us."[227]

In 2009, Apple rejected an update to Nine Inch Nails' iPhone application, NIN: Access, because it found the contents of The Downward Spiral to be "offensive, obscene and/or objectionable."[228][229]


Studio releases


Nine Inch Nails has been nominated for twelve Grammy Awards and has won twice. Winning nominations are listed below in bold.


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