Resonance: Pretty Hate Machine by Nine Inch Nails

Of the songs that stand out, “Head Like a Hole” and “Terrible Lie” are probably the two songs I was familiar with before I knew the name Nine Inch Nails. My musical coming of age not until I was in my adolescence, there are vague memories of a muffled rendition of “Head Like a Hole” playing on my sister’s stereo behind closed doors. I didn’t know what it was, I would have been about six, but what I did know is it was different from other things, the things I usually heard my sister play on the radio. Flash forward to my burgeoning hormonal teenage years. Bored homeschooling dNine-Inch-Nails-Pretty-Hate-Machine-Album-Coverays of music catalogue perusals led me to the discovery of band called Nine Inch Nails. I didn’t know who they were, there was no internet back then, at least not one readily accessible to a middle class citizen in the mid 1990s. The album I acquired then, some of you will remember was called Broken, an E.P that forever changed the way I saw music, and realized its intense power over emotion and influence. It was at this time that I connected “Head Like a Hole” to Nine Inch Nails. The problem was, for a boy of 13, in the era of the compact disc and accessibility to music only available through purchase or radio and cable music television, the album Pretty Hate Machine was scarce (available in cassette tape at the time, but who bought cassette tapes then?! They were as passe as compact discs are today, however, back then, CD was the way of the future). When I finally got my hands on Pretty Hate Machine we were somewhere in limbo between Downward Spiral and The Fragile. It was much needed to fill the void of material. Retrospective to 1989, here we see another musical act before its time, creating a mix of rock and metal elements with electronic and dance. But wait! you say, what about industrial rock? A look back to such acts as Front 242, Ministry,  Throbbing Gristle, Nitzer Ebb, Laibach, and Skinny Puppy, to name very few. Still, Trent Reznor and his Nine Inch Nails assisted in jarring open the door of this unique mix of electronic and metal to a larger public in an era that was geared towards darkness and Armageddon. This aural plea from the soul of this madman pleased the environment as it trudged toward the new millinium, and it began with “Head Like a Hole,” a song all at once rebellious and angry as musical and catchy. I always tend to look at they lyrics of things and could only imagine what or who he sang about. Was it just the concept of money and those either ensnared in its greed or its influence of power? Either way, the song was a protest by its own right. “Terrible Lie” is another song noteworthy for its timelessness, and the song I admired for its depth and texture, its tangible angst, an element not easy to wield. The song aims of betrayal and self-doubt, lack of control and lack of forgiveness. Its mechanical open a wretched alarm to the listener, brandished throughout. The gothic gray and gossamer white synths that wine in the back, the chatter of electronic buzz and banter, Trent’s distinct vocal pate shredding and moaning against they raucous but acute music. Another hit to come off the album, a single also hip and recognizable, “Down It.” This song began to show how versatile the band could be, not secluding its anger to the dark of night, but also in the light of day, chipper to a point, still with no recourse but to trick the listener. A classic industrial track, it became one of their most popular songs early on. The album carries on this way presenting something I find somewhat more ‘marketable,’ or user friendly for what it was. The language of the album, minimal inferences socio-analytic commentary as one bears in “Head Like a Hole,” as much the expression aggressive diatribe offers and sex. Many songs are riddled with innuendo and requiem, explorative to orgasmic ends, some laden with shame and others curiosity. It was enough to keep this gay boy wondering and smitten by the thought of Trent Reznor.  Another personal fave, on the album is “Sin,” a track tucked sonically away at the back end of the album, and a song I feel laid a path to where their next musical exploits would go. A nice hallmark of some tracks on this album, also I think laudable, are the many tracks accessible to a dancefloor: “That’s What I Get,” “Down In It,” “Kinda I Want To,” “The Only Time,” a caviatte seen scarcely as the bands catalogue expands. The conclusion, the post-industrial, retro electronic jam, “Ringfinger” completes Pretty Hate Machine on a high note, listeners eager for what’s to come, and for those just learning of Nine Inch Nails, an oasis of sustenance and dynamic origin. Twenty years on this classic still timeless as I put it on repeat.

Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine
1989, Interscope Records


  1. Head Like A Hole
  2. Terrible Lie
  3. Down In It
  4. Sanctified
  5. Something I Can Never Have
  6. Kinda I Want To
  7. Sin
  8. That’s What I Get
  9. The Only Time
  10. Ringfinger


This review of Pretty Hate Machine by Nine Inch Nails is written by Michael Aaron Casares. All rights reserved. 


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