Nine Inch Nails

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Nine Inch Nails circa 1994. Photo courtesy of www.rollingstone.com.

Nine Inch Nails circa 1994. Photo courtesy of www.rollingstone.com.

By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

By 1994, a paradigm shift took place in popular music, particularly that of rock and roll. Alternative music went mainstream, and Gen X music was at the forefront. Where acts like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and AC/DC that once reigned supreme had now fallen into parents’ record collections. New acts like Nirvana, R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam were among the crop of new “rock heroes,” all containing the same punk rock ethos and anti-establishment philosophies. And at head of this movement in 1994 was none other that industrial crossover act, Nine Inch Nails.

Lead primarily by the project’s mastermind, Trent Reznor, Nine Inch Nails had firmly established themselves within the alternative scene by the early 90’s. Taking influence from industrial pioneers Ministry and Skinny Puppy, and infiltrating alt-rock audiences like that of Jane’s Addiction and The Cure, NIN had carved out a very particular niche in the scene. Their debut, 1989’s Pretty Hate Machine, along with show-stopping performances at the inaugural Lollapalooza Festival tour, had landed them a large crossover audience between the industrial and alternative scenes. However, it would only prove to a glimpse of what was to come.

After the release of the Broken EP in 92, NIN clearly proved to be the darkest and heaviest of their peers with still a glimmer of commercial appeal. After breaking from their former label, TVT Records, Reznor and co. landed on the relatively new Interscope Records. Their new found freedom would prove productive, as the music had taken a turn in a much darker, menacing, and ultimately more satisfying direction for Reznor.

Relocating to Los Angeles and renting the infamous house where the Manson family had murder Sharon Tate and her entourage nearly two decades prior as a recording studio, NIN’s follow-up was shrouded in darkness and mystery from the get-go. From these sessions, The Downward Spiral was conceived and birthed. Where Pretty Hate Machine was still minor key yet up tempo and laid with pop hooks, The Downward Spiral was bleaker and far more experimental in sound.

The Downward Spiral is one of the heaviest albums ever made, yet has little to do with metal in a traditional sense. Sure, grinding distorted guitars are present and strung throughout. But the overall sound, the wailing atmospherics and layers of indefinable samples, only add to the noise, creating a mood that is often heavier than metal itself.

Opening with a sample from George Lucas’ THX 1138, the album kicks off with the industrial-metal slammer, “Mr. Self Destruct,” setting the angst-ridden and nihilistic tone of the album. After descending into pure noise, the drum and bass lead “Piggy” creeps a bit slower but equally effectively into the psyche of the listener. Reznor lifts the “God is dead”  mantra of Nietzche as a line in his bleak railing against Christianity and organized religion on “Heresy,” and offers one of the most memorial slamming percussive assults ever recorded on the punk-ish “March of the Pigs.”

The album then takes its first of two dynamic left turns, going into the danceable Goth anthem, “Closer.” One of the only songs on The Downward Spiral to feature a notable hook, “Closer” may have had the naughtiest one of all time: “I want to fuck you like an animal, I want to feel you from the inside.” Despite this, the song became an unexpected hit, and the highest charting single for the band for the next 11 years. A very artistic video was directed by Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) and featured heavy overtones of the juxtaposition of sex and religion in various manners. An edited version became a hit and went into regular rotation on MTV.

The album continues the angst and nihilism, painting the picture of an individual who is strung out, finished with love and religion, and in the throws of madness and addiction. Tracks like “Ruiner” (featuring one of the best guitar solos of the era), “The Becoming” and “I Do Not Want This,” indicate the character’s transformation, slipping further away from who they once were. The controversial “Big Man with a Gun,” pokes fun at male misogynist portrayals in pop-culture while reaching a new extreme of sonic and lyrical torment. The quieter and peaceful instrumental, “A Warm Place,” breaks the wall of noise only briefly before leading into the creeping “Eraser.” The sludgy Godflesh-like “Reptile” best portrays the anguish in Reznor’s voice before leading into the title track, leaving the listener to question whether the album’s character had actually committed suicide or just slipped completely,

Finally, it concludes with the second and final left turn, the relatively quiet and folk-sounding “Hurt.” Somber and gentle, yet painful and confessional, “Hurt” provides a look through the eyes of an addict, who as Reznor had explained is “left with only themselves at the end of the day.” The song would prove to be a popular hit among NIN fans, but would even see a far broader and unexpected audience when it was covered by Johnny Cash in 2003 as one of the last recordings he chose to make before passing away.

Despite its overall intensity and austerity, The Downward Spiral had helped break Nine Inch Nails into the mainstream. A few months following it’s release, the band took part in the 25th anniversary of the Woodstock festival, playing live to an estimated 5 million viewers and 100,000 in attendance. Their popularity soared, and the following Self Destruct tour, as well as the Outside tour with David Bowie only expanded their reach. By the end of the decade, The Downward Spiral would go on to sell over 5 million copies.

The pressure for a follow up proved to be a bit overwhelming for Reznor at the time. As he succumbed to the demons he addressed on The Downward Spiral, Reznor spent the most of the latter half of the 90’s battling depression and addiction. It would be 5 long years before The Fragile was released, and the music scene had drastically changed. The core audience was there, but the mainstream attention had mostly disappeared. By 2005, Reznor had kicked his demons once and for all and released the mega successful With Teeth, bringing the band back as one of the most important acts of the alternative and industrial genres. Their success would continue as the release of three more albums followed through the end of the 00’s. In 2013, Nine Inch Nails released their eighth album, Hesitation Marks, to positive reviews. The band, now 25 years into their career, still remains relevant and powerful despite entering into what’s quickly being considered classic rock.

20 years after its release, The Downward Spiral still holds up, and will still ruin your day if listened to in its entirety, almost like the Dark Side of the Moon for Gen Xers. It’s influence has stood the test of time, and it still remains a key gem of the band’s now massive discography. Tracks like “March of the Pigs” and “Reptile” are still staples at live shows, and it’s hard to find a “Greatest Albums of the 90’s” list without seeing it in a relatively high position. The underground appeal is still in tact as well, with an array of new post-hardcore, post-industrial, metal and Goth acts citing it as a key influence. And at the rate NIN are going these days, more of their records are bound to reach the level of iconography The Downward Spiral has.

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The Replacements performing at Riot Fest 2013.

By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

As another year comes to pass, we again reflect on all that was in music. 2013 was a year that saw many music legends return and sadly, a few of them check out. Heavy hitters like Arcade Fire, Arctic Monkeys and Queens of the Stone Age dropped exceptional high-energy rockers, while relative new-comers Deafheaven, Savages and Disclosure continued to push the limits of artistic integrity. And not to mention there was a slew of colossal comebacks from some of the biggest and most influential forces in music.

Early in 2013, the iconic David Bowie announced a new album, his first of new original material in over a decade. The result was The Next Day. Released in March, The Next Day is a quiet yet moving record that perfectly showcases how gracefully Bowie has aged and how sharp his musical wit still remains.

February saw the release of the highly anticipated third album from Shoegaze/Dream-Pop pioneers My Bloody Valentine. In late 2012, guitarist and mastermind Kevin Shields teased fans saying that an album was being mixed and will be released timely. This was a huge deal for fans, considering that it hade been 22 years since the release of their seminal classic, Loveless. The band followed through, and m b v was released just a little over a month into the year. Not only was it worth the wait, but it proved My Bloody Valentine was still capable of creating really good music as it held up perfectly next to Loveless, and proved itself to be one of the best records of the year.

One of the biggest comebacks of 2013 was certainly the return of Black Sabbath, and for many reasons. It was to be the first new record with original singer Ozzy Osbourne in 35 years. Shortly after the band officially announced their reunion plans in late 2011, guitarist Tony Iommi was diagnosed with cancer. After a year of undergoing treatments, and surviving the unfortunate resignation of original drummer Bill Ward, Black Sabbath released 13 this summer and made the entire spectrum of Heavy Metal drop to its knees. 13 was a crushing, bluesy, heavy-riffing affair that reminded everyone again just why this band was so important to not only Heavy Metal, but Rock and Roll as a whole.

Alternative Rock saw the return of two of its most influential and important figures: Queens of the Stone Age and Nine Inch Nails. QOTSA’s …Like Clockwork, their first record in six years, was a swinging, groove-heavy Rock and Roll party with an all-star cast of guest musicians (Dave Grohl, Julian Casablancas, Trent Reznor, Elton John). Cuts like “My God is the Sun” and “I Appear Missing” hadn’t hit as hard since 2002’s Songs For the Deaf. NIN’s electro-funky Hesitation Marks harked back to 1994’s The Downward Spiral, with an older and more bitter Reznor at the helm. Although not quite as abrasive as their earlier records, new cuts like “Copy of A,” “Came Back Haunted” and “In Two,” as well as the highly visual and conceptual Tension 2013 North American Tour, still hold Nine Inch Nails to their standard of crushing electronic heaviness and dark prowess.

Don’t call it a comeback, they’ve been here for years… Industrial-tinged Alt-Metalers Filter delivered The Sun Comes Out Tonight, their most concise and impactful record since their 1999 hit, Title of Record. Led by the singles “What Do You Say” and “Surprise,” the band are seeing a career renaissance, as fans continue to discover and rediscover their severely underrated and under-the-radar releases, 2008’s Anthems For the Damned and 2011’s The Trouble with Angels.

Indie Rock pioneers Neutral Milk Hotel and The Replacements also had quite the eventful summer in 2013, both returning from decade-long hiatuses. Neutral Milk Hotel returned for a handful of festival dates and small venue affairs, hinting at the possibility of new material in 2014. Elliott Smith resurrected the legendary Replacements for a handful of performances as well as a covers EP. New material hasn’t been confirmed, but fans remain hopeful entering the new year that The Replacements haven’t quite said everything that they need to just yet.

Finally, with 2014 looming, Art-Rockers Failure and Hip-Hop titans Outkast have announced reunion performances throughout 2014, leaving fans ecstatic for the possibility of extensive tours and new material.

Unfortunately, 2013 had it’s share of major losses in the world of music. Country music legends George Jones and Ray Price bid farewell, passing away of natural causes after leading long and wonderful careers. Deftones bassist Chi Cheng, who was placed in a semi-conscious coma following a motorcycle crash in 2008, passed away on April 13. Thrash Metal experienced a major loss when one of its key players, Slayer guitarist Jeff Henneman, passed away on May 2 due to complications following a spider bite. The Doors’ iconic composer and keyboardist, Ray Manzarek, succumbed to cancer at age 71 on May 20. In many ways, Manzarek remains the father Psychedelic music, as his signature atmospheric organ tones provided the perfect backdrop to Jim Morrison’s gothic poetry and soulful swagger. And last but certainly not least, Oct. 27 saw the passing of the legendary Lou Reed. Reed was the founder of 60’s Art-Rock trailblazers The Velvet Underground and enjoyed an extremely successful and influential solo career that continued right up until his death.

Although 2013 saw the loss of a major chunk of diverse and influential musicians, there is no doubt their work will love on in the years and generations to come!

By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

Gary-Numan-Splinter

Artist: Gary Numan

Album: Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind)

Release Date: 10/15/13

Rating: 4.8/5

For some, Gary Numan was a mere one-hit wonder amongst a vast crop of early 80’s synth-pop nostalgia. His lone pop hit, “Cars,” has become a staple of 80’s compilations albums, and rightfully so! He kicked the door open for a whole slew of new wave and synth-pop acts in the early days of MTV. However, not as many are aware that he’s been consistently making influential and groundbreaking music for 30 years and counting.

What Numan lacks in chart toppers, he more than makes up for in a strong discography and a prominent presence amongst underground electronic and alternative music. Originally a punk rocker, Numan went solo in the early 80’s and took his love for Kraftwerk and Berlin-era Bowie to the next level, inventing his own brand of electronic, synth-heavy proto-industrial. After the success of “Cars,” Numan continuing making challenging electronic music. His influence has spread far a wide, being covered by the likes of Hole, Smashing Pumpkins and Foo Fighters, as well as acts like Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson and Fear Factory citing Numan as a key influence.

Over the years, Numan’s music had grown darker and moodier. By the 90’s he was keeping in touch with the industrial scene, as well as making a splash among the Goth and darkwave scenes. In recent years, Numan’s music has grown increasing aggressive, adapting heavily distorted guitars to compliment the equally distorted pulsing synths.

This sound is most notable on his latest release, Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind). It kicks off with the heavy riffing “I Am Dust” featuring Nine Inch Nails axeman Robin Finck. The industrial rock powerhouse continues on “Here in the Black” and “Everything Comes Down to This,” creating a wall of noise, laden with driving beats, throbbing synths and mean riffs. The title track “Splinter” stops for a more atmospheric and brooding vibe, while the piano-driven “Lost” provides a dark and moody, heavy NIN-like build. Unsurprisingly, this track also features Finck on guitar.

More head bumping and booty shaking noise takes control from there with the KMFDM-like “Love Hurt Bleed” where Numan growls “everything bleeds” repeatedly. Dance club banger Goth anthems “A Shadow Falls on Me” and “We’re the Unforgiven” continue the assault, finally climaxing with the melancholy closing track, “My Last Day.”

Splinter is, in many ways, the album industrial fans have been waiting for. It’s dark, moody and heavy, but not in the bland and redundant detuned, double-bass metal attack that dominates most so-called industrial. It harks back to golden age of industrial, from 1988-95, before the genre splint into either more metal or techno directions.

Most of the tracks on Splinter are key listens, with hardly a falter throughout the album. Certainly the tracks “I Am Dust,” “Everything Comes Down to This” and “A Shadow Falls on Me” will catch the listener by storm. But it would be foolish to count out the more atmospheric tracks like “Lost,” “Splinter” and “My Last Day,” where although the aggression is more subtle, it’s a slower yet ultimately harder punch.

If Numan continues to make music this hard-hitting and this good, hits or not, he’ll continue to remain relevant for another 30 years.

Scar the Martyr. Photo courtesy of roadrunnerrecords.com.

Scar the Martyr. Photo courtesy of roadrunnerrecords.com.

By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

Slipknot drum virtuoso Joey Jordison is no stranger to exploring unfamiliar territory. Aside from the multi-platinum nine-piece unit, Jordison serves as the guitarists and co-songwriter for horror-glam outfit Murderdolls, and has filled in behind the kit for the likes of KoRn, Satyricon, Ministry, and Rob Zombie to name a few. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that during his down time from the Knot he’s getting his hands dirty again.

Earlier this year, Joridson decided to test the waters of the industrial-metal that influenced his formative years, thus forming his new band, Scar the Martyr. Handling the duties of drums, bass and rhythm guitar for the project, Jordison recruited ex-Stapping Young Lad guitarist Jed Simon, ex-Nine Inch Nails drummer Chris Vrenna for programming and relatively unknown vocalist, Henry Derek Bonner for the studio sessions. The result is Scar the Martyr’s self-titled debut, due Oct. 1 via Roadrunner Records, which fuses metalcore and death metal with elements of industrial metal.

2013 has been a good year for industrial, seeing releases from genre pioneers like Skinny Puppy, Ministry and Nine Inch Nails as well as a successful side-project of Disturbed’s David Dramain called Device. With that being said, the timing couldn’t be more perfect for Jordison to capitalize on. Although Scar the Martyr has it’s share of bleeps and bloops and ambient textures, it certainly has more of a modern metal sound than that of straightforward industrial.

Scar the Martyr begins with an instrumental album opener consisting of frightening samples, setting the tone for the album and project, leading into the track “Dark Ages.” “Dark Ages” is a slamming good time, with grinding guitars and Jordison’s signature machine gun drumming. A good introduction to the band, seeing all of its key elements at full throttle on one track.

From there, the combination of industrial-influenced riffing and slamming percussion continues over the next couple tracks, leading into the lead single, “Blood Host.” “Blood Host,” most likely alluding to some sort of parasitic nature, serves as the perfect single, with a crushing yet dissonant drone similar to Fear Factory. “Anatomy of Erinyes”  and “Prayer for Prey” give off a darker aura, with more descending riffs and tribal drumming. The album closes with the droning and brutal opus, “Last Night on Earth.”

Fans of Slipknot and/or run-of-the-mill industrial metal may be slightly put off by Scar the Martyr, typically because of the abundance of soaring vocals found in more modern styles like metalcore. However, they work in good contrast to the hints of Stapping Young Lad, Fear Factory and Ministry that also ooze throughout the album.

Overall, the album, and band, can see as yet another victory for Jordison. Not only has he futher reached into unknown territory, but he has succeed with an original take on a highly influential genre of extreme and underground metal.

Audiences have agreed, as proven on Scar the Matyr’s initial tour opening for Danzig and strong hype surrounding the album’s release. Die-hard fans of the failing industrial metal can also revel in the fact that new and interesting bands are waving the flag for the genre and taking it to new and interesting places. Without a doubt, it is with great hope that Jordison continues this project between jaunts with Slipknot and that it doesn’t fall into the vast abyss of one-off projects.