Nine Inch Nails’ debut came out in 1989. The late 1980s wasn’t a great time for guitar based ‘rock’, so some of the sounds on this album have that kind of processed ‘rawwwkk’ guitar which was doing the rounds then.
Opening track Head Like A Hole sets the tone, like an angry, rocky version of Depeche Mode. Trent Reznor spits out lines like “bow down before the one you serve” over pounding beats and a great bassline. The lyrics are sort of text-book angst but just as well the songs are strong. Terrible Lie (terrible title!) features some great oppressive synths driving the song forward.
The fretless bass and processed guitar of Sanctified roots it in the late 1980s, but Something I Can Never Have, is an early Reznor dark ballad. It’s almost entirely keyboard based and features a great vocal and the occasional dodgy lyric (“grey would be the colour if I had a heart”).
The next two tracks are best described as fairly full-on, Kinda I Want To is like a dancey Depeche Mode on steroids, while Sin is almost like an assault through beats. You’ll want to invade somewhere after listening to it.
Final track Ringfinger could almost be a Hacienda-style Madchester dance track but for the angsty singing and guitars. Things would get a lot more ‘industrial’ from here on.