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Friday, April 15, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Nine Inch Nails -- Industrial Rock Of Trent Reznor Show Fascination With Dark Side

Concert preview Nine Inch Nails, 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, Moore Theatre; sold out. -----------------------------------------------------------------

It's difficult to think about any other rock music besides Kurt Cobain's right now. But, then again, Nine Inch Nail's gratingly intense synthesis of industrial and alternative rock fits right in with the whole postsuicide atmosphere around here. Eerily so.

Trent Reznor, who is Nine Inch Nails - he fashions the whole NIN recorded sound mostly by himself, although he tours with a band - deals with many of the same things Cobain did in his music (and, apparently, in his life) but with even more intensity and unblinking honesty.

Reznor creates grating, visceral, full-immersion music that throbs with human rhythms even while it seems to come from some otherworldly robotic future.

A few of his songs are rhythmic enough to be dance music - hearing it over one of those powerful dance-club sound systems renders it palpable, almost tangible, and virtually forces you to dance - but most of it is so thick, so overdubbed with electronic, industrial, synthesized, manipulated sounds that you can't really find its essential beat.

What makes the music relevant to the Cobain tragedy is the subject matter. Angst is a word that's been thrown about a lot over the past few days, but it's essentially what Reznor is all about. He is totally fascinated with the dark side, with the free-floating

anxiety that seems to infect the young generation.

There is a cold, chilling quality to his work. That which is stomach-turning to most is playtime for Reznor.

For instance, he lived in the Benedict Canyon house where the Tate murders were committed by Charles Manson's zombies. Reznor created much of NIN's latest album, "The Downward Spiral," there. His video for one of his earlier songs, "Happiness in Slavery," was so bloody that even MTV wouldn't play it. It shows a naked man being disembowled and castrated (and it's available at your local video store!).

Mainstream appeal

Despite its inhuman, antisocial, sick-making subject matter, NIN's music is not limited to being a cult favorite. It is mainstream.

"The Downward Spiral," only the second full-length NIN album, debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard album chart three weeks ago (it has since dropped to No. 30.) The first NIN album, "Pretty Hate Machine," went platinum.

NIN is popular on alternative radio stations. Locally, you can hear a couple of songs off the new album, "March of the Pigs" and "Closer," on KNDD-FM all the time now. ("Pig," incidentally, is what was scrawled in blood on the door of the Tate home after the murders.)

"The Downward Spiral" is what Cobain was on the last weeks of his life, which makes it so strange to listen to the disc now. It is a concept album about how people destroy themselves, mostly by drugs, or how they're destroyed by madness or impulses they can't control.

Layers of sound

It's all very down but undeniably fascinating because Reznor creates such compelling textures, such fascinating layers of sound. Underneath the dark imagery is a longing for a way out, for stability, community, love. One song, "A Warm Place," is like a respite, a beacon of hope.

NIN's two shows here next week should have a special edge, an underlying tension, because of Cobain. Reznor has said that performing, for him, is a way to deal with some of the darkness that envelops him, that it helps release some of the negative energy. Many in the audience will probably be hoping for the same thing.

Nine Inch Nails is known for doing intense shows, with elaborate sets and props, special effects and powerful sound systems. The raven-haired, darkly handsome Reznor is given to wearing skimpy, torn black costumes on stage, including fishnet hose, and he sometimes carries a bullwhip. Be forewarned.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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