Nine Inch Nails - Further Down the Spiral

Nine Inch Nails - The Fragile
(Nothing Records)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)

By Tony Bonyata

After a 5 year hiatus from their last studio album, The Downward Spiral , industrial alchemists Nine Inch Nails, led by mastermind Trent Reznor, have unleased their latest arsenal of pillaging music entitled The Fragile, an album that has all the soothing therapeutic value and subtly of electroshock therapy.
On the band's first double CD set, which has also became their first number one selling album on the Billboard charts despite the heftier price tag, The Fragile pulls us deeper into Reznor's downward descent as he exorcises his personal demons and inner turmoil.
In the early 90s Reznor popularized the industrial, techno music that bands from Chicago's Wax Trax label like Ministry, Front 242 and KMFDM had pioneered before him. He latched onto their cold electronics, dark pounding rhythms and sinister subject matter and became the voice for the then burgeoning industrial music movement. Ever since the release of Nine Inch Nails' debut album Pretty Hate Machine Reznor has incorporated state-of-the-art electronics and scathing synthesizers to create intelligent metal, a term which before him seemed an oxymoron. But just as Ministry incorporated heavy guitar riffs and power chords to their aggressive, synthed-up music on their powerful 1987 masterpiece The Land of Rape and Honey, Reznor and company have added a wall-of-sound of their own on their latest album with the addition of an orchestra of treated-guitar effects without losing any of the power and the gory of the Nails' trademark sound.
What Reznor has delivered on The Fragile is a deep, disturbing album that, although difficult to digest all at once, unfolds through a cacophony of highly textured sonic soundscapes, begging to be played at dangerously loud levels.
The beauty of The Fragile is that it teeters between right and wrong, calm and stormy, sanity and madness and heaven and hell. On some of the more angelic, introspective instrumental pieces lurks a demon waiting to pounce, while on some of the most hardcore, in-your-face numbers lies, buried beneath the knee-deep muck, some absolutely sumptuous melodies.
The album opens with bent notes from a poorly strung guitar on "Somewhat Damaged" as it slowly turns into a screaming angst-ridden chunk of heavy metal. The barrage then continues on "The Day The World Went Away", with its raging orchestra of guitars and odd but effective placement of The Beatles "Hey Jude" 'na na nahs', "The Wretched", an angry industrial assault, the metal bump-and-grind of "No, You Don't" and "Into The Void" with a flatulent synth-line that relieves itself over Reznor's cool vocal rantings and heavily treated guitar solo that sounds like a buzzsaw thrown in the middle of sparring felines.
Calmer numbers like "The Frail", "La Mer" and "Ripe (With Decay)" ebb and flow throughout the album giving a fuller texture and continuity to the entire body of work.
Joining Reznor and fellow Nine Inch Nails alumni Charlie Clouser (keyboards) and Danny Lohner (bass) on The Fragile are pianist extraordinaire Mike Garson, Ministry's drummer Bill Rieflin, rapper Dr. Dre, Steve Albini (both of who mixed tracks for the album) and one-time Walworth County resident Adrian Belew, who added some subtle yet highly effective guitar treatments to a few numbers.
"As a fan," admits Reznor, "I want to listen to an album, not just singles. I want something I can sink my teeth into, something I can listen to a million times, trying to get more out of it with each spin. That's the record I tried to make here. That is The Fragile."
Reznor not only created a brutal work of art that you can sink your teeth into over time, but one that also bites back just as hard.

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