The 25 Most Important Metal Bands of the ’90s: #12, Nine Inch Nails

  • Axl Rosenberg

The ’90s: they were the bomb! That’s why MetalSucks will spend the month of March giving snaps to the decade that was all that and a bag of chips by counting down The 25 Most Important Metal Bands of the ’90s. These aren’t bands that necessarily formed in the ’90s, nor are they bands that would turn out to be influential somewhere down the road; these are bands that a) were doing their best work in the ’90s, and b) amassed a devout following during the ’90s. These are the bands that we feel truly defined the decade for extreme music. These are the bands that we feel truly defined the decade for yo mama.

Hype around Nine Inch Nails had been building steadily when Trent Reznor unveiled the project’s second full-length album, The Downward Spiral, in 1994 — but it’s unlikely anyone knew the size of the crater the record would create. Reznor certainly didn’t: he has said in the past that upon turning in Spiral to Interscope, he apologized for not including a radio-friendly single along the lines of 1989’s “Head Like a Hole.” It was the label, not Reznor, who pushed for “Closer” to be a single.

Released in tandem with a brilliantly strange and disturbing video directed by Mark Romanek, “Closer” became a cultural phenomenon, the kind of song that seems to be everywhere all at once. People purchased The Downward Spiral in droves.

That same year, Nine Inch Nails appeared at Woodstock ’94, and their now-notorious, mud-soaked performance became one of the festival’s defining moments, a centerpiece on all news reports about the event, and a litmus test for fans’ ability to “get it” (as opposed to wondering about the band’s laundry bills).

Nine Inch Nails meteoric rise was definitely due in part to Reznor’s skills as a songwriter, but it’s important not to discount what NIN meant culturally: no less than Black Sabbath twenty-six years earlier, Nine Inch Nails was very much a reflection of their time and place. The “Dawn Again in America” ’80s brought us brightly-colored bands singing happily about sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll; the disappointment of getting to the end of that decade and seeing how much of its philosophy turned out to be total bullshit led to a kid dressed all in black using computers to make furious music while proclaiming himself too damaged to be worth saving.

Nine Inch Nails felt timely and new; Reznor didn’t create industrial, but his pop sensibilities certainly made the genre a household name. Reznor did such a good job of popularizing industrial and goth, in fact, that suddenly there were scores of imitators, the two most successful of which — Marilyn Manson and Filter — were both descended directly from the Nine Inch Nails family tree (Reznor discovered, signed, produced, and co-wrote for Manson; Filter’s Richard Patrick was NIN’s original live guitarist). Granted, a lot of these bands were mediocre (e.g., Stabbing Westward) or outright fucking terrible (e.g., Orgy), but it’s not really fair to blame the trendsetter for the trend.

Reznor was openly opposed to nu-metal and would probably hate this assertion, but I’m gonna make it anyway: he was definitely one of the reasons that genre exploded. Making it cool to mix electronica with hard rock while being in desperate need of a Paxil prescription paved the way for Korn, Static-X, Slipknot, American Head Charge, and every other metal band that made a career pouting about their shitty parents and espousing Blue Velvet-esque views about suburbia’s seedy underbelly.

Put more simply: Nine Inch Nails were mad important, yo.

#25: Morbid Angel
#24: Melvins

#23: Meshuggah
#22: Emperor

#21: Cave In
#20: Botch
#19: Cradle of Filth
#18: Sepultura
#17: Napalm Death

#16: Rage Against the Machine
#15: Type O Negative

#14: Dream Theater
#13: Alice in Chains

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