Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Nine Inch Nails: Glorious Rage in the Garden of Eden

After a four-year break, Nine Inch Nails have returned to the UK. After their first show at the O2 Academy in Glasgow, they decided their next venue would be somewhere truly special: The Eden Project

Being an audience member here is honestly a pretty unique experience. With a pint in hand, you're welcome to wander the biomes and marvel at nature's majesty, all blossoming in a reclaimed clay pit. A gig that doubles as education, a source of inspiration in the face of hard truths. More of these please! 

 First on - Nitzer Ebb. Frontman Bon Harris, clad all in black, strode across the stage like your favourite pantomime villain. Behind him was Douglas McCarthy, wielding laptop and DJ rig, in charge of thumping four-on-the-floor mixed with sizzling yet dark synth leads. acted as a perfect set-up for the main course. Pioneers of the EBM movement in the late 80s', this set had lost none of its bite. Whilst both artists could be comfortably described as industrial, Nitzer Ebb swapped out the hard rock colours to instead fully embrace trance. 'Join In The Chant' was a crowd favourite and an impressive feat to sing live, especially given the mad vocal delivery this song has on record. Mostly brooding in colour as techno goes, but my favourite moment was a bright melodic synth part emerging out of the hypnotic textures.  


Between these guys and the headliners, it was truly a clash of worlds. Picture this: industrial music best suited to the sweaty halls of a Berlin techno club I'm assuming exists, all being recreated in the middle of the most varied ecosystem in the country. And this is all before Trent Reznor had even planted his feet on the stage. Speaking of which... 


No warning, no preamble. If there was ever a set of 'all killer, no filler' this is it. An unsettling, chromatic riff begins, pounding floor toms and industrial noises. Sharp synths locked in machine-like rhythms accompanied by half-growled, half-yelled vocals. The crowd cheers to the realisation that 'Somewhat Damaged' is their opening tune. After getting well and truly moshed by some very enthusiastic Italians, it's straight into ‘The Day The World Went Away’. Chugging guitars keep you on edge, as Trent Reznor's almost angelic gravelly vocals carry you through this anthem of angst. For a band that takes so much influence from metal, they dodge the usual pitfall of staying at the same intensity the whole show with well-earned, well-needed moments of short-lived silence, or light foreboding ambience that culminated in one of my personal favourites of the show 'Love Is Not Enough’, which hadn't been played live since 2008. Followed by 'Wish', where the usual hardcore drumbeats were replaced with an almost bluegrass feel, like if 'The Devil Went Down To Georgia' was corrupted by Trent Reznor's teenage robot angst. Add this to ‘Ace Of Spades' by Motorhead (a clear inspiration) - these references are beautifully channelled through their grungy, industrial style.  


From where I stood, the set had two main modes: mosh-pit-friendly thrashes, and aggressive anti-stadium anthemic singalongs - 'God Is Dead' being a prime example. Having said that, there were two David Bowie songs played, which is not exactly what you'd expect from a Nine Inch Nails gig. The standout of these covers was 'Fashion'. Hearing offbeat hi-hats in an almost disco style mixed with traditional major vocal harmonies from the same band that wrote 'Copy Of A' (which they also played) was bizarre, but in a good way! 


'Perfect Drug' was another set highlight - fierce, angry and drenched in catharsis. Whilst every song showcased drummer Ilan Rubin's technical wizardry, this song allowed him the loved-by-some, feared-by-many drum break. He did not disappoint. Quoting rock drumming legends such as Joey Jordison from Slipknot and Taylor Hawkins from Foo Fighters whilst infusing his personal brand of hard rock, industrial, part nu-metal, part drum-and-bass chaos. May they both rest in peace. 


This is not to discredit any other Nine Inch Nail member. Every musician on stage is a master of their craft; effortlessly contributing to Trent Reznor's angst-filled vision. Be it Robin Finck's screaming, thrash metal guitar parts, Alessandro Cortini's chugging, locked-in bass riffs, or Atticus Ross' synth-ridden, electronic concoctions, all add to the spectacle. Not to mention the lighting and sound techs, that would have been no joke of a gig for them. Particularly the lighting; in fact at one point it's so involved one of them is on stage with a spotlight following Trent Reznor around to light his face in a not too dissimilar way to Nirvana's 'Smells like Teen Spirit’ music video. 


As if powered by a steam engine conducted by the damned, they tore through song after song, launching into fan favourite 'Closer' from 'God Break Down The Door'. The crowd sang along with the most quintessentially Nine Inch Nail lyric - alas, it's one I'm unable to repeat here. As they always do, the band ended the night on the emotional 'Hurt'. No face-melting riff or thrashing double-bass-drum-fuelled drum fill was needed to unify the crowd in a beautiful emo singalong. With the bio-domes in the background flashing different colours, and me feeling surprisingly emotional, the gig was done, the stage lit up in slowly fading blinding golden lights. 


So, what is being at a Nine Inch Nail concert like? It's being part of a sea of coloured outfits (mostly black), people of all ages, metal fans, electronic fans, and people who have come all the way from Italy. Connecting, not just over Nine Inch Nails but over other bands, T-shirts, festivals and common ideals. That was my experience, and it was an unforgettable one. Having only known a couple of songs going into this, I left a die-hard fan. Truly a performance worthy of being called a tour de force. 


Ashley Garrod


Image: Andra Veraart

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