December 9, 2021

New Fury Media

Music. Film. Media.

On Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Pretty Hate Machine’, Trent Reznor brought industrial music to the mainstream

Pretty Hate Machine, the debut album from Nine Inch Nails, is a stroke of genius. While it’s not necessarily NIN mastermind Trent Reznor’s best work (that would come later), the album established Reznor as a true visionary early on. Unlike most industrial music of the era, Pretty Hate Machine subverted the cold, mechanical predilections of their peers for a more accessible, verse-chorus-verse song structure. A triple Platinum success and one of the first indie label releases to attain such album sales, the anger and despondency within influenced many genres that hadn’t even existed yet – the rage and inner turmoil influenced nu-metal specifically.

Just like almost every record that came after, Trent Reznor played pretty much everything on the album himself. A harbinger of things to come, the move toward a more accessible song structure was particularly prescient because of how it influenced bands to come. Filter, Gravity Kills, and Rammstein (just to name a few) carried on what the early industrial rock and metal bands started. Its release date of October 20th, 1989 was even significant because the record, in many ways, bridges the gap between ’80s synthpop and the wave of industrial bands that were starting to emerge.

While the overt synthpop sound of PHM didn’t really continue on subsequent albums (this was an album that arrived between The Cure’s Disintegration and Depeche Mode’s Violator, after all), the lyrical themes did. Whether it’s the railing against worshipping the “god of money” on album opener “Head Like A Hole” (incredibly relevant even today) or the introspection and despondency of broken relationships on “Something I Can Never Have”, Pretty Hate Machine was more or less the first album in the genre that gave a human voice to industrial music – usually known as a cold, calculated, and repetitive subsect of music that had minimal mainstream appeal. The record is most importantly honest when it comes to raw emotion and lyrics, and there’s nothing more obvious in that respect than when you hear the somber “Something I Can Never Have”, a song about lost love that’s instantly relatable for many.

Instead, Reznor helped give the genre more accessibility than any musician before. Whether it’s the loss of self-confidence on “That’s What I Get” or the hip-hop and dance influence on “Down In It” (the first NIN song Reznor ever wrote), the record is multi-faceted in many ways. At its core, though, is the synthpop sound that dominated the ’80s – but you could also feel a palpable tension and honesty in the lyrics that would translate to 1992’s Broken EP, and pretty much everything Reznor would write in the years to come.

Pretty Hate Machine is a landmark album in industrial music, influencing the alternative rock and metal boom of the ’90s as well as nu-metal bands in the years to come. Notably, the unexpected success of PHM would result in Reznor turning toward a more aggressive sound on Broken and The Downward Spiral in 1992 and 1994, resulting in even more success. But it was PHM that did more than anyone for bringing industrial music to a wider audience, and still remains quite relevant even today.

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