There is something unbelievably haunting about the sound of Nine Inch Nails. There is a deep sense of loss with a level of angst that flirts with the rage, joy and beauty of our existence. The music acts as a soundtrack to a life stalked by the very real silent spook that is death. When you slip into the bands many different sonic landscapes you are swallowed up and depending on your mood you either achieve an extreme level of resurrection or you dwindle into a black pool of sunshine, either way you experience a silent rapture that both heals and protects allowing you to ask more questions of the world you despise.
The music of Nine Inch Nails helps you escape and gives you the freedom to indulge the dark in order to reach the light. The music can be a warm hug for those true aliens who feel misunderstood by society but it is not music for victims or for those willing to consistently feel sorry for themselves. This is music that is designed to empower you and so that you can use all of that sadness, all of that loss and all of that anger to express your disappointment. Through using a band like Nine Inch Nails to express all of these negative emotions you surge forward and see the energy and rush of all this rage transform into something beautiful, the caterpillar to butterfly or maggot to fly analogy, so that you can soar and achieve some kind of happiness.
Through being a fan of Nine Inch Nails I’ve always felt that what I’m acknowledging to the world is that yes it does get dark but all darkness must pass to give way to the light and that death helps us gain an intense thirst for living. As I’ve learnt through the years, Nine Inch Nails are instruments of good and provide a divine sound for those with god shaped holes in their souls.
There have been many moments in my life when I have had a crisis in faith due to a breakdown in my relationship with the outside world. In these moments I’ve felt so disconnected and so numb that I push myself into the ultimate state of cowardice where I don’t want to live but I’m too scared of death to invest in ceasing my existence. It is in these moments that you desperately search for someone or something to act as a saviour.
In my darkest hours of retreat I’ve always found that the only music that resonates has been Nine Inch Nails. This resonance occurs not because it is some clichéd exercise in fashion but because the sound of the music accurately represents this breakdown of trust with the outside illusions known as the real world. When you question the very reality of your outside existence you don’t want to be distracted by the meaningless, you want to be dragged deeper into yourself so you can find that spark and in the process cause that explosion that will get you back to a healthy state of love and light. You want to find the meaning and you want satisfaction and on a basic level you want the face of love to stare back at you. When I think about the three moments in my life where I experienced this intense disconnection, it’s hard not feel blessed that it was music made by Nine Inch Nails that brought me out of my sadness slumber.
I could talk about each Nine Inch Nails album and its role in helping me reach my inner peace but when I muse on the truth of this situation it’s quite clear that the album by Nine Inch Nails that has been responsible for my redemption, time and time again, is “The Fragile” which is a masterpiece of sound and emotion. From start to finish “The Fragile” offers a journey through darkness and numbness and beautifully soundtracks our need to sometimes disconnect from the world in order for us to plug back into it.
The very first song on the album “Somewhat Damaged” is the perfect introduction to that feeling, the feeling of knowing you’ve hit rock bottom and that darkness has once again framed your existence and that the sadness has caused you to lose hope. It isn’t about the ache, the ache is shattered – this is a sigh that wails deep inside of you after you’ve swallowed a lifetime of heartbreak and loss which has now left you damaged.
This perfectly segues into the second track “The Day the World Went Away” which now gives a full setting to your escape and your hopelessness.
From here, the remaining tracks on the “left” portion of the album illustrate the descent and the weight of your hurt. There is a beautiful way in which this portion of the album drags you down with an almost sinking feeling that trades your anxiety for relaxation. Being dragged so deep into the darkness is allowing for calm to introduce itself back into your repertoire, as if you’ve accepted your fate and you’ve glimpsed peace.
Your retreat into the cocoon of darkness is sealed shut with the final track on the “left” side which is called “The Great Below” – a spooky but very apt title for your final moments trapped inside the weight of your existence and the prefect final goodbye.
What the “left” side of “The Fragile” teaches us is that sometimes you have to die a little bit in order to reignite that thrill for life. It reminds us that it is okay to dwell in a period of sadness and to collect all of your hurt providing it is leading you to some kind of redemption. If through this collecting of darkness you don’t find the way out then you have become an instrument of fear and that is a heavy thing to succumb to, that is a lifelong burden that has no joy or love or beauty attached to it.
After years of studying the “left” side of the album and having it soundtrack my own darkness I can safely say that Nine Inch Nails were indeed illustrating the power of the breakdown is to use it to rise up and to break through the fear, pain and weight of this existence.
This brings me to the second component to “The Fragile” – the “right” side of the album.
After the darkness of the albums “left” side the “right” side of the album opens with the glorious resurrection song “The Way Out Is Through” which is a wonderful collection of spooks and swoons that climax with a crescendo that strikes like a divine hit of fresh sunshine. It truly is the moment where you feel reborn and refreshed and willing to see the beauty of breathing once again. It is one of the most overwhelming songs on this record and like all good moments framed by rapture there are equal parts surrender and joy attached to the way the song is communicated.
Whilst the “right” side opens up with this hit of redemption, there is still a great deal of confusion running through the songs that follow. There is a rage inside each song but it is a rage that is coming from a renewed strength rather than the woe of it all. You have been propelled forward by the darkness and you can taste the light but the distance you have to travel to reach it is still a great many kilometres. This is when your anger turns into frustration and instead of fearing the world you want to take it on and express your disappointment. This is the moment where you start destroying the world around you to build it back up again. When I listen to the “right” side of “The Fragile” that is what the music communicates to me, that you have found your place and your peace but you are still not satisfied. You want to hunt down the darkness, building your strength to a point where the fear will no longer consume you. It is about getting the strength to move forward and to remain focussed.
The final moment of the “right” side is the beautiful “Ripe (with decay)” which puts the perfect full stop to the journey. This song allows for a moment of reflection on all of that hurt, all of that sadness, all of that loss and all of that darkness and how finally this brief glimpse of peace allows you to become one with the darkness. The power of what “Ripe (with decay)” communicates as a piece of music is that you learn that there is no dark without light and no light without dark and in order to have happiness you must have sadness and that all of that hurt is a reflection of the joy. Ultimately – in the end – Love and Pain are one in the same.
The eerie moodiness of “Ripe (with decay)” brings your thoughts to the one truth, that we all die and that everything both inside of us and outside of us is a coping mechanism for dealing with the great unknown. Normally, in your more fragile state, this kind of thought would cause an anxious storm to erupt but as you’ve now navigated the darkness you begin to realise the calming nature of such a thought. That for all the truth we can obtain that there is still so many unknowns and that it all ties into our fascination to what happens after we die. As you watch the sun rise you start to realise that there is good air to breathe and that death remains to be the greatest mystery but also the greatest adventure for you yet.
The heaviness of the music on “The Fragile” extends to each album released by the band but when I listen to Nine Inch Nails discography there feels like a clear divide between the albums that came before “The Fragile” and the albums that came after “The Fragile.” The albums that came before the “The Fragile” – Pretty Hate Machine, Broken (EP) and The Downward Spiral – illustrate the struggle, the darkness and the pain giving context to the complicated emotional world of the band and in particular Trent Reznor. All of this pain, hurt, sadness and loss climaxes to a beautiful crescendo of black sunshine on “The Fragile” as the pain finally gives way to joy and redemption.
After “The Fragile” Reznor took the sound into new territories and evolved how the pain and the hurt felt, giving it a more external world context as opposed to the internal. On “With Teeth,” “Year Zero,” “Ghosts I-IV“ and “The Slip” Trent did a wonderful job at using the sonic landscape to illustrate his complicated emotions and how life does still manage to crush your heart but by using anger as an energy and as a form of self-expression you are allowing a degree of positive light into the world. That whole, it is all one in the same deal (as mentioned above) which helps give context to a continued discipline to the rage.
When Trent Reznor decided to leave the Nine Inch Nails moniker behind I was not upset at all because I knew that he’d find his way back to his main vehicle of self-expression. As David Bowie once sang, it only took five years and within a matter of days we’ll have the brand new Nine Inch Nails album “Hesitation Marks” available to us all.
From the brief glimpses that I’ve heard I’m proud and quite excited about the direction Reznor has taken the music. It shows an intense growth that puts a spotlight on how he has managed to survive that darkness whilst still being stalked by it. Even though the music has matured it has not lost its rage or its ache, it is simply communicated with middle-age hindsight and understanding allowing room for some joy to poke out through the moodiness and darkness and rage of it all. I’m expecting a journey with “Hesitation Marks” and as a soon to be 30 year old human I’m looking forward to Reznor speaking about what pain feels like once it evolves and grows up. I’m so glad that Trent has decided to resurrect Nine Inch Nails because they are a beautifully unique creative enterprise.
Although I didn’t want to speak directly about my favourite Nine Inch Nails songs I thought that I’d leave this little article by sharing with you one of my favourite songs from the Nine Inch Nails discography. The song I’ve chosen is “Something I Can Never Have” which originally comes from the band’s debut album “Pretty Hate Machine” however the version I’ve chosen is from an EP that was released with the bands live album “All that Could Have Been” – the name of that EP is “Still” and it contains re-workings of old songs and some brand new tracks. It is one of the most beautiful pieces of the Nine Inch Nails discography and the version of “Something I Can Never Have” from this EP really steals the show.
I believe that this version of the song accurately captures what is so special about Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails and why they remain to be one of the most important bands in the history of music.
Plug in the headphones, turn it up loud and bliss the fuck out to this song and witness the power of Nine Inch Nails:
If she ever wanted to know or if she ever wanted to understand how you sometimes feel about her world, then I’d tell her to press play on this song again – it says everything and it leaves open a window for her to observe the disintegration of your yearning and how all of this desire and silent sighing is transforming into an ache that will leave multiple invisible scars. This song will always taste like her name and stands as the best sonic representation of how overwhelming the unrequited can sometimes be.
It is absolutely beautiful stuff and a prime example of why so many of us believe in the healing power of Nine Inch Nails and Trent Reznor.
By: Dan Newton