Q Magazine

February 2000

Primal Screaming : Trent Reznor wants to let it all out.

Nine Inch Nails
013, Tilburg, Holland
November 28, 1999

"It's like beating your head open and unzipping you chest cavity and saying, Here are my guts -- everything I've felt, including a lot of stuff I'm not proud of. It's hard. It uses you up. I walk off stage sometimes and I feel like I've just slept with everybody in the audience."

Trent Reznor, Mr Nine Inch Nails himself, purveyor of pathological disgust and self-hatred to the masses, is quietly explaining what his evening holds in store. This is the man who, in 1997, was said by Time magazine to be one of America's Top 25 most influential citizens; the man who helped make Marilyn Manson what he is today ("vengeful, spiteful - he lives his life, I live min", being Reznor's current assessment). One of nature's sunbeams he is not, but seeing how he's about to shortly put himself through the performance mincer, Trent Reznor is looking and sounding comparatively chipper.

Could it be that after the infamous excesses of his last touring experience with Manson and the Jim Rose Circus (enemas, trepanning and mountains of cocaine, go the stories) which took him right to the brink, he's calmed down?

"I'm a different person from last time around - older and, I hope, wiser. It may be the maturity creeping in, although I'd hate to admit it."

That growing up, he reckons, is reflected in The Fragile, Nine Inch Nails' first offering since 1994's prophetic The Downward Spiral, the album that took Reznor and crew to US star status with over four million units shifted.

A 100-minutes plus double set, it's demonstrably more textured than anything previously bearing the NIN logo, with even some dark grey variations to the hithertohomogeneous black, black, black. For fans and sceptics alike, though, it's still reassuringly grim.

"It's not exactly uplifting, I know. Yet I would say there's a thread of optimism that wasn't present before. I think of The Downward Spiral as a straight line down. This one starts at the bottom and doesn't exactly arrive at the top, but at least it's attempting repair; looking for answers rather than me just trying to cut all my limbs off." Then a strang thing happens: Trent Reznor laughs.

Alone at home with Nine Inch Nails' albums (nearest aural equivalent: root canal surgery) is not everbody's cup of tea. Odd then, that live they should offer such a mesmeric, theatrical rock experience. Odd that is, until you remember Reznor's earlier claim: "We don't really have the radio on our side or MTV in our pocket. The only real avenue to get word out is touring. It's something we've always put a lot of time and effort into, the reason we've got to where we are now." Back on the road after a four-year gap, that shows.

The whole room shudders like it's being stalked by something particularly nasty from the darkest corners of HP Lovecraft's imagination. There's an unlimited supply of dry ice and the lights strobe and flicker with merciless abandon as, over a staccato machine gun rattle, a shadowy, back-lit Reznor gets stuck into the opener, Somewhat Damaged. The piquant chorus goes, "Broken bruised forgetten sore /Too fucked up to care anymore." Obviously hitting the spot, the crowd mouth along. Despite the regulation funeral garb, it seems they've come to celebrate, not contemplate their own putrefaction. All quite healthy, really.

Coupled with the brutal machine-driving collision of metal, hardcore, industrial clanging and '80s synth-pop, it's retina burning stuff; the band flogging themselves senseless for 90 minutes of choreographed anger and frustration, not forggetting guitarist Robin Finck's impressive six-out-of-six vault into the finger-jabbing throng.

The only respite comes when, briefly, the music takes an ambient turn with La Mer and The Great Below and the five get to hide behind a dropped canvas while projected images of fishy shoals and pellucid pools provide appropriate visual distraction.

Come the bile-driven Head Like a Hole and Starfuckers, Inc., however, such restraint has long been forgotten. A polite "thank you" and battery of white light trained directly on the moshed-to-bits crowd signals when it's all over. Rarely can the black-walled 013 have experienced anything quite like it. Then again, what has?

Taken too seriously (as if), you'd never want anything to do with the rest of humanity again. Yet viewed as a sort of tribal exorcism - better out than in, as they say - NIN deliver exhilarating, confrontational entertainment of the highest order. What that says about the modern world is best left to another day. Tonight, judging by the sated bodies afterwards, it's just what the doctor ordered. **** (out of five)

Peter Kane

Transcribed for The NIN Hotline by Leviathant.

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Nine Inch Nails
Nine Inch Nails
This article is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously located at SUS.