Today, How to Destroy Angels releases their first full-length album, Welcome oblivion, on Columbia Records. HTDA—the collaboration of Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, his wife Mariqueen Maandig, composer Atticus Ross and art director Rob Sheridan—has already sold out their April show at New York’s Apollo Theatre. But it sounds like Reznor fans will have many more opportunities to see him live, since it was announced last week that Nine Inch Nails will end their four-year hiatus later in 2013, with tour dates in the US and abroad beginning this fall.
“The band is reinventing itself from scratch,” said Reznor in a recent statement to Pitchfork.
This should come as no surprise. Throughout his more than 20-year career, Reznor has proven himself a master of rebirth. He is constantly revising and expanding, transitioning from the throbbing pop-metal of The Downward Spiral to the piano-based orchestrations of The Fragile, from the leathered industrial hero of mid-90s MTV to the polished, sober soundtrack composer who won an Oscar for 2010′s The Social Network. Each time Reznor emerges from his studio he seems to have a newly conceived sound and vision (and usually enough material for two or three new albums). His music videos, which have always seemed more like short films, contain all the violence and beauty of each rebirth.
Now, with another long-awaited reinvention on the horizon, we look back at some highlights of Reznor’s career in music and film.
“Closer” | Nine Inch Nails, from The Downward Spiral (1994)
Directed by Mark Romanek
America was horrified. Not only was there a song on the radio with “fuck” in the chorus…it was a hit. Mark Romanek’s iconic video for “Closer” was equally scandalous. It had the strangeness of a pornographic 1890s freak show—monkeys, mealworms, a mechanical heart and Freudian psychoanalysts spying on a grungy sado-masochist suspended in a meat locker. “Closer” was proof that a music video could be more than a music video—it was art.
“The Perfect Drug” | Nine Inch Nails, from the Lost Highway soundtrack (1997)
Directed by Mark Romanek
NIN’s second collaboration with Romanek proved just as potent as the first, though slightly more over the top in its gothic nightmarishness. The song, released on the soundtrack for David Lynch’s film Lost Highway, has never been performed live. The video is steeped in glowing absinthe, Edwardian overcoats and props that would make Edgar Allan Poe proud.
“We’re in This Together” | Nine Inch Nails, from The Fragile (1999)
Directed by Mark Pellington
No music video more eerily predicted our looming 21st century obsession with dystopia than “We’re In This Together,” from the double album The Fragile. Pellington’s video shows Reznor in a pack of men, all dressed in modern, militaristic uniforms, escaping through a desolate world of concrete and chain link. Though it’s never clear what they’re escaping from, it is clear that Reznor’s vision has expanded—it is no longer about the destruction of self, but rather the destruction of all.
“Only” | Nine Inch Nails, from With Teeth (2005)
Directed by David Fincher
“Only” is just one in a series of collaborations between Reznor and Fincher, who later worked together on feature films The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The video, done almost entirely with CGI, shows Reznor’s face singing through a Pin Art toy. Fincher picks up where “Only” left off in the opening sequence of TGWTDT (or as I call it, the best Nine Inch Nails video that wasn’t), set to a Reznor and Karen O (of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) version of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.”
“Ice Age” | How to Destroy Angels, from An omen EP (2012)
Directed by John Hillcoat
The video for this track from HTDA’s An omen EP looks like a living painting. Maandig sits at a window, facing the ocean, while Reznor, Ross and Sheridan remain shadows in the darkened room behind her. “Ice Age” feels like a folk song for the post-industrial age; a plunky, stripped-down melody played on instruments that seem to be built out of other instruments.
“How Long?” | How to Destroy Angels, from Welcome oblivion (2013)
Directed by Shynola
Survival has always been a theme of Reznor’s (see “Survivalism” from Year Zero) and this vision of our grim future brings it full-circle. The video for Welcome oblivion‘s first single is a narrative, apocalyptic fantasy directed by the UK visual arts collective Shynola. We’re excited (and a little terrified) to see where Reznor will take us next.