I downloaded the new Nine Inch Nails album a week or two ago (for free!). This was my introduction to NIN who are known as “industrial metal”, but as with other labels, I’m not really sure what that means. Similarly, what does it mean for a band to say they are “alternative”? Alternative to what? R.E.M. was the quintessential alternative band for a while, then they sold zillions of CDs and had #1 hits and stuff, so are they still “alternative”? The best description I’ve heard for “alternative” was “Any band that I like that you’ve never heard of”, which fits as well as any other description.
Anyway, back to industrial metal. Those readers familiar with NIN might be shaking their head, but I really have never heard any of their music, so I’m a NIN virgin, please be gentle. I have a couple of Rammstein albums (Feuer Frei! is such a great song), and a few Tool albums as well. NIN has a fair number of time signature changes, moreso than Rammstein though not as much as Tool, and both NIN and Rammstein have songs that have some electronica aspects while definitely having a basic metal sound. Both Rammstein and NIN have a couple of these type of upbeat almost-danceable songs (Discipline, Echoplex, Demon Seed), while the thought of dancing to a Tool song is just laughable.
One similarity among all three bands is that the vocals are frequently hard to decipher. I can safely say that I have no idea what any Tool or NIN songs are about — or Rammstein either for that matter, but that’s because they sing in German. NIN and Tool also have songs with long instrumental stretches. With Tool, the instrumentals are mostly done with actual instruments, while the NIN songs 999,999, Lights In The Sky, Corona Radiata and The Four of Us Are Dying are mostly ambient sounds and minimal actual music. (Then again, the Tool songs Eon Blue Apocalypse and Faaip de Oiad (WTF?) are pretty much just noise too.)
One thing that differentiates NIN is the guitar sound. The guitar in NIN is much “fuzzier”, while Tool and Rammstein use your standard distorted metal guitar. One album by The Tea Party, Transmission, has some songs that feature the same fuzzy distorted guitar sound as NIN, though I wouldn’t generally call The Tea Party industrial or even metal. If you took Tool, swapped out the guitarist’s distortion pedal for a more fuzzy one (or maybe added a few distortion pedals in series), mixed in some of the keyboard fills of Rammstein, and then somehow got the lead singer to cheer the fuck up a little, you’d get NIN.
To confirm what I said before about why free music is a good thing, I bought the older NIN album The Downward Spiral a few days ago, and I’m looking forward to receiving it this week. I just love listening to new music!
I just realized something else though — I bought The Downward Spiral used on eBay, so Trent won’t actually be getting any money from me. But I can’t confirm that the guy I bought it from didn’t rip it and keep a copy on his computer or iPod. So why isn’t Lars Ulrich fighting against the used CD industry?