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Music DVD Review: Metal Machine Music: Nine Inch Nails And The Industrial Uprising

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Industrial music has been underground for most of its three decades of existence. And the artists who inhabit it would love for it to stay that way. But sometimes a musical genre contains a break out artist who can simultaneously reinvent, revitalize and reel in hundreds of thousands of new fans into it. For industrial music, that artist was Trent Reznor and his Nine Inch Nails.

The important history of industrial rock before Nine Inch Nails, the artists who influenced Nine Inch Nails, along with a verbal biography of NIN’s leader Trent Reznor is the main focus of this long but extraordinary DVD entitled: Metal Machine Music: Nine Inch Nails And The Industrial Uprising.

It features numerous rare live clips of premier industrial artists including Einsturzende Neubauten, Ministry, Throbbing Gristle, Skinny Puppy, NIN and pre-NIN Trent Reznor as well as extensive interviews about their impact on industrial music with NIN biographer Tommy Udo, ex-NIN member Richard Patrick (1989-1993), ex-NIN drummer Chris Vrenna (1989-1997), Genesis P-Orridge of Throbbing Gristle, and journalists from Metal Edge and Revolver magazine, among others.

In the DVD, you learn from Throbbing Gristle’s P-Orridge that a depressed economy in England, construction outside its surroundings and a desire to create a type of original music that incorporated disturbing art was what inspired his group’s sound and performance in the mid-‘70s, the same period punk rock came into being. In fact, true to punk rock/DIY form, TG made it a point to play without a drummer, which was an unoriginal instrument to P-Orridge and instead used special effects and homemade tape-based samplers to create much of its sound, which the group called “industrial” via its own label (Industrial Records).

TG’s self-created sound proved inspirational to later industrial acts and its label, along with Mute Records, finally gave a home to similar experimental industrial acts (Fad Gadget, Cabaret Voltaire, Einsturzende Neubauten), according to the narrator. A black-and-white photo of the latter group in the DVD standing in front of machinery further illustrates its true industrial creations.

One of the key expert points on the formation of industrial music in this DVD comes from Ned Raggett of Metal Edge, who states that not only can it not be defined as a particular set of sounds, but that it has roots in everything from disco and avant garde (i.e. Fad Gadget), and jazz to Kraftwerk and other early electronic experimentalists.

After going through the history of early Industrial Records and Mute Records acts and the more aggressive, bludgeoning music of early ‘80s industrial acts that followed, including Skinny Puppy and Ministry/Revolting Cocks, you realize the purpose of this narration was to explain how most of these aforementioned groups had a profound influence on the early Nine Inch Nails sound, on its debut record Pretty Hate Machine in particular.

After all, as Richard Patrick (Filter, ex-NIN) recounts, Reznor once told him during a Revolting Cocks concert that its (and Ministry’s) lead singer Al Jourgensen was his “f-ing idol.” Interestingly, music experts in the DVD say David Bowie is also considered an influence on Reznor. The fact that the two toured together in 1995 and recorded together in 1997 provides further evidence this is not a far-fetched claim in the least.

Speaking of 1995, by this time period NIN went from being a theater-touring big name to an arena-level power player in rock and roll, thanks not only to the rough and raunchy Downward Spiral hits “March of the Pigs” and “Closer” but to an unforgettable, mud-and-rain-soaked show at Woodstock 1994 in front of 300,000 fans in New York, according to Vrenna.

This is when industrial rock started to go mainstream (for a short period of time). NIN’s success helped open the doors for other industrial metal acts including Marilyn Manson, Stabbing Westward and Richard Patrick’s post-NIN band Filter, though they are only briefly mentioned here. Perhaps more about those bands’ impact on industrial music could have been explored on this DVD.

The rest of this film explores the importance, meaning and circumstances regarding later Trent Reznor/NIN albums, including what critics, including those at Metal Edge consider the most “revolutionary” release in any kind of music, the Ghosts I-IV album. With Reznor’s decision to self-release it in many forms, some limited (and sold-out), others more inexpensive, it was a successful album that netted more than $1 million, even if it was also the quietest, least abrasive release of his career. Even if the critics on the DVD don’t think Reznor’s recent output is his best, they all praise his creative marketing skills and ponder the influence it will have on the music industry in general.

Another highlight, and an unexpected one at that occurs when Chris Vrenna, looking into the camera, nearly gets emotional talking about Johnny Cash’s stunning cover of the drugs-and-pain-themed NIN hit “Hurt,” recorded in 2002. Cash knew he didn’t have long to live at the time, and Vrenna knew that as well. But that Grammy-winning cover not only “one-upped” Trent’s original version according to him but actually brought the musician to tears knowing Cash’s condition. At this point you wish Reznor himself would make an appearance and comment about this cover, but such is not the case since the DVD is technically not “authorized” by him.

About Charlie Doherty

Copy editor/content writer for Penn Multimedia; print/web journalist/freelancer, formerly for Boston Examiner, EMSI, Demand Media, Brookline TAB, Suite 101 and Helium.com; co-head sports editor & asst. music editor at Blogcritics Magazine; Media Nation independent newspaper staff writer, printed/published by the Boston Globe at 2004 DNC (Boston, MA); Featured in Guitar World May 2014. See me on twitter.com/chucko33, myspace.com/charlied, & Facebook.
  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Nice review Charlie. On a side note, your picture kinda reminds me of what El Bicho might look like if I was on psychedelic drugs….

    -Glen

  • http://www.ninremixes.com Them Or Me

    Good in-depth review. Nice work Charlie!
    I am one of those who missed out on the earlier influences so I imagine this will be an entertaining and informative.
    Trent Reznor knows better than anyone how to connect with fans. He is in my opinion the entertainer of the year, perhaps the decade.
    Look forward to your review of NIN live!