#7: NINE INCH NAILS
There are a handful of bands that I can say changed my fucking life. Nine Inch Nails are one such band. As a prematurely jaded adolescent, I’d been introduced to the violent industrial metal of the Broken EP and was intrigued. I bought the CD-single for “March Of The Pigs” the week it came out, and played it on repeat on my all-in-one stereo as well as in my Discman. The Downward Spiral hit stores the following month, and I eagerly snatched it up. Then fascinated with serial killers and true crime legends like Charles Manson, reports that the album was recorded in Sharon Tate’s house immediately grabbed me. But the music was more than mere gimmickry. I heard sounds I’d never encountered before, abrasive metal that didn’t come across as chauvinistic or boneheaded. Poring over Trent Reznor’s lyrics with the type of passionate attention only a teenager can, I connected with his rage, depression, and lust. Moreso than any other band before, I felt that I had found in Nine Inch Nails a band that I could get behind in a big way. Little did I know that their imminent success would spawn some of the most pathetic imitators, wannabes, and clowns ever to “grace” hard rock and metal with their presence.
Nine Inch Nails was not the first band to make industrial metal. Indeed, industrial musicians had been playing with rock and metal elements throughout the 1980s. Records from acts like KMFDM and Godflesh are prime examples of the sound, though Ministry’s 1988 LP The Land Of Rape And Honey is considered by many to be a landmark album for this type of music. (Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine, released the following year, was really a dark synthpop record, influenced more by Adam Ant than Dave Mustaine.) But 1994’s The Downward Spiral took industrial out of the clubs and bedrooms and into the arenas. The first time I saw the band, post-TDM, they were playing a sold out Madison Square Garden with a little-known band from Florida known as Marilyn Manson.
Of course, with such extraordinary exposure on a national and international scale, record labels and the music industry establishment were eager to find the next Nine Inch Nails. Some of the initial offerings had moments of greatness, at least in single form (Filter’s Short Bus springs to mind). But it wasn’t long before every talentless metal band was adding a keyboardist to their lineup and trying to figure out how to work a drum machine. Do I even need to list the despicable cash-ins and hardly one-hit wonders that followed? Okay, here goes: Orgy, Gravity Kills, Rammstein, Static-X, The Union Underground, Dope, Godhead, American Head Charge. (The 2000s haven’t exactly helped either, with bands like Black Light Burns and Julien-K.) True, we can also blame Manson’s electroshock rock for some of these sonic abortions, but Nine Inch Nails begat Manson, who begat Orgy, who begat Death By FUCKING Sunrise. A sound that was once vibrant and edgy became carbon-copy and ripe for mockery. Industrial became the disco of the 1990s, generic and laughable.
To make matters worse, metal pioneers like Geezer Butler and Rob Halford opportunistically attempted to stay hip with “industrial” albums of their own. (Halford’s 2wo project, released through Reznor’s own imprint, was particularly poorly-received.) This bandwagon-jumping was transparent, as it was with legends who recorded “nu metal” albums in the 90s and beyond.
It wasn’t all bad, though. Then-formidable indie TVT Records had saved Chicago’s pioneering Wax Trax! Records from bankruptcy in the early 90s, a case of perfect timing that brought great industrial rock bands like Sister Machine Gun and the aforementioned KMFDM into chain record stores across America. Front Line Assembly, a former Wax Trax! act, signed on to Roadrunner for 1994’s industrial metal masterpiece Millennium. The underground still managed to produce incredible music from groups such as the astoundingly underrated Cubanate. Oh yeah, and Fear Factory had that one good album — produced by Rhys Fulber of Front Line Assembly, I might add.
THE LIST SO FAR: