Trent Reznor – the voice, brains and jet-black heart of Nine Inch Nails – is also the one-man AC/DC of industrial rock. And that is meant as the highest compliment. Reznor takes way too long between studio releases: With Teeth, his latest, is Reznor’s first record of new songs in six years and only his third album since NIN’s 1989 debut, Pretty Hate Machine. But he is rigorously consistent in the conception and detonation of his agonies: the no-frills drilling of the guitars; the devil’s cannonball density of the power chords; the elementary, ironclad math of the rhythms. Tonight, when Reznor’s new quintet edition of NIN (with ex-Marilyn Manson sideman Twiggy Ramirez on bass) hit the elephant-time stomp of “No, You Don’t,” from The Fragile, it was not hard to hear the teenage Black Sabbath freak underneath the executioner’s mask. And “Terrible Lie,” exhumed from Pretty Hate Machine and bulked up with raw-sewage guitars, was a lot closer to “Back in Black” than anything in the Bauhaus or Joy Division songbooks. Cut through the crushing despair and scorched-earth revenge, the transgressive sexual fantasies and emotional self-mutilation, and you find a heavy-metal classicist punching his way to ecstasy.
In this second of NIN’s two sold-out New York shows, Reznor juxtaposed vintage violence and fresh distemper in a nearly uniform roar – opening with the avalanche drumming and massed-jackhammer riffing of “You Know What You Are?,” from With Teeth, then doing a split-second U-turn all the way back to the ’89 groveling and wah-wah growl of “Sin.” And when that seamlessness started to feel like sameness, the details in the blitz jumped up like spikes: the runaway-railroad drums in “Gave Up,” the unexpected pop of Reznor’s pleading chorus in “The Big Come Down.”
Reznor saved the only cover, so to speak, for late in the show: “Hurt,” which Reznor wrote, of course, but which now belongs in perpetuity to the late Johnny Cash. Unable to beat the original Man in Black for dark gravity, Reznor went the other way, dynamiting the song with big piano and gothic-Las Vegas lighting – like Elton John from hell.
This story is from the June 16th, 2005 issue of Rolling Stone.