Nine Inch Nails bring the hammer down at The Met

Nine Inch Nails
Skylar Watkins

Nine Inch Nails and Trent Reznor played the first of two sold out shows at The Met Philadelphia on Tuesday night.

Though Reznor & Co. have long used menacing electronically-induced ambient swells to go with its industrial rhythmic throttle (the point of 1994’s ‘The Downward Spiral’), ever since 2008’s ‘Ghosts I–IV’ and carrying through to its Ghosts volumes V and VI in 2020, the recordings of Nine Inch Nails have focused more on mood than metal clinks and tortured guitars with Reznor’s ruined soul lyrics as its vocal center.

With that production’s decision to minimize its crushing industrialism and punkish shading, has come nuance and shade. In essence, Nine Inch Nails grew up. How then to make that more supplely produced noise more potent, energetic and powerful – enough so that its first tour in four years would thrill longtime Philly NIN fanatics – became the challenge of Tuesday night’s set list.

Reznor & Co. made the nearly-impossible doable by building the brutal beauty of their set, incrementally and carefully on Tuesday night.

Starting off backlit, smoke-enveloped and entering to David Bowie’s prayerful “Subterraneans,” Reznor, keyboardist Atticus Ross moved from the slow and spaciously crepuscular “Home” and “The Beginning of the End,” to the cautiously aggressive and spooky likes of “March of the Pigs” and Piggy” – the latter track given a cool, visual edge courtesy hand-held, singularly directed spotlights. There’s nothing like having a bright light shone just inches from one’s face in which to portray discomfort and ire. By the time NIN got to the head-charging “Copy of A,” they sounded particularly perturbed.

Reznor’s baritone voice has, like his ensemble’s material and NIN’s arrangements, matured into a quietly burly rasp with the occasional holler – the opposite of how it used to be for the singer – which, on dirge-like tracks such as “Even Deeper” forces the listener to focus. An old trick, that; a whisper is always better than a scream.

Lest Wednesday night’s audiences concern themselves with the possibility that Nine Inch Nails make carefully considered mood music that thunders, but rarely strikes hard rock lightning, Reznor & Co. saved some of its most head-rattling rock-outs for its last gasps. While their earliest classic “Head Like a Hole” was furious and fresh in a way it hasn’t sounded since the dawn of industrial music’s rise from the underground to the mainstream (and, a true surprise as most of NIN’s earlier 2022 tour dates did not get a shot at Reznor’s first single from 1988), the power of “Hurt,” Tuesday’s final song, was raw and everlasting.

Still sounding like the wild work of a man destroyed, but not yet down-for-the-count, the muscular Reznor played the drama of “Hurt” like a boxer preparing to pummel his opponent with that last killer punch.

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