Hammered By The Gods
Wolverhampton Civic Centre
Welcome to Valhalla – about 15 miles north-west of Birmingham. This is the battleground where
emotional stormtrooper Trent Reznor (leather shorts, hair shirt, colour of
heart, grey – if he had one, of course) has set up his “empire of dirt” for the
duration and channels the most negative emotions of each and every one of us
into 60 minutes of outrageously dramatic grandeur.
Nine Inch Nails are hammered by their critics an
two main counts: 1) Reznor’s angst is theatrical fakery, they reckon, his
persona, (pain, persecution, the whole enchilada) nothing more than a
calculated sales pitch; 2) NIN are too “hard”, inappropriately macho for these
times. Sigh. Just what kind of credentials would satisfy you that NIN are “4
Real”? A lie detector test, maybe? A sworn affidavit? Admission to a mental
institution? Suicide? Look, there are a whole load more palatable and
commercially secure ways to package your personal problems than NIN’s.
Secondly, fear, doubt, chronic insecurity, paranoia, nameless dread – these
things have no gender. Reznor may have gone a little further down the track
than most of us, but the stuff he sings about is as basic as it gets.
There’s something else in the air tonight and
it’s sex. Whewee. Sometimes I wonder if it’s just split lager that’s making the
floor so slippery in here. Everywhere pubescent couples are necking and
groping, cooing the obscenities from whichever song at each other and yelling “I want to f*** you like an animal”
(“Closer”) and “Your kiss… your fist”
(“Sin”) with mad-eyed lust.
Not surprising, really – death and sex are old
mates. In fact the whole show is like having someone jam their tongue in your
ear while they hold a knife to your throat. (I’m just guessing here.)
NIN sound like Hades erupting in a hardware
store. They are monstrous in every sense of the word, but avoid the dead-eyed
reductivisim of bands like Front 242 or Nitzer Ebb. A lot of their older tunes
are basically super-heavy pop: “Terrible Lie”, which opens the show and sends
everybody apeshit with its shag-in-an-iron-foundry dynamics and the metronomic
“The Only Tim”, which could just about be INXS. “March Of The Pigs”, though, is
unbelievably malevolent, despite Reznor’s assurances that “everything is all
right”, while “Something I can Never Have” swells with the kind of f***- off
symphonic splendour that proves what a cool grasp of scale and momentum NIN
really have. In “Reptile”, an awesomely nasty machine-shop grind undercuts some
corrosive guitar to produce a huge sculptured thing, but they flip the mood a
bit later and cover Queen’s “Get Down, Make Love”. Hey, who says Reznor has no
sense of humor?
Then they cleave their way through “Down In
It”, brutalise the Minstry-like “Big Man With A Gun” and finish, naturally with
“Head Like A Hole”, all cruel, whip-cracking drums (there ain’t nothing like
the real thing) and nuclear meltdown guitars.
At the end, Rezor picks up a keyboard and
staggers about with it before hurling the thing to the floor. It’s poetic
destruction; it’s rock’n’roll; it’s Grand
Guignol; it’s the only time, Reznor says, the really feels alive. You
better believe it.