It was the remixes that I heard first. Whilst many people’s introduction to Nine Inch Nails came through the singles, from the sweat-drenched choruses of Head Like A Hole and The Hand That Feeds or the gravy strokes of Closer, mine was Further Down The Spiral, the fractured collage of ripped textures and distorted screams some remove from the chord progressions and guitar breaks and vocal harmonies that I’d subsisted on since first buying records.
I didn’t know that these were remixes – that the hideous screech of colliding noise that tears through The Art Of Self Destruction Part 2 wasn’t quite the original artistic intention – but the effect was thrilling, nihilistic and uncompromising, at once terrifying and exciting in a way that little since has been. Heck, even The Downward Spiral, the album this bled out of that’s considered one of the sickest, darkest collections ever released seemed tame by comparison, muted and restrained next to the best of Trent Reznor’s outsourced work.
Those would be the Coil tracks. From The Aphex Twin to Dave Navarro and The Orb the list of remixers for Nine Inch Nails’ material runs long, but the English industrial duo were the most prolific, contributing five mixes to NIN’s published recordings including the skin-crawling Closer rework that accompanies the intro to Se7en. But their relationship goes further still: How To Destroy Angels, the band that Reznor formed with his wife in 2010 after he abandoned his day job, drew their name from Coil’s first single. There had even been talk of a collaboration between HTDA and Coil’s Peter Christopherson, before the latter’s death that same year.
Coil’s remixes got to the dark heart of Reznor’s songs, stripping back the noise to find the blackened mood beneath. They were the shadows cast long and deep.
Recoiled gives those shadows shadows of their own. There have long been rumours of additional mixes wrought from those same 1990s multi-tracks, of another set lost and hunted. Thanks to the efforts and the diligence of fans on the NIN forums they’ve been found, five tracks remastered and packaged like an original Halo, right down to the font choice and the coiled rope imagery: as time capsules go it’s pretty darned effective.
As are the tracks themselves. Gave Up (Open My Eyes) veers from a limbo of disembodied vocals to stabbing with beats and peels of guitar, forging a new chorus from Reznor’s snarls. Closer (Unrecalled) cuts the pace, a slow burn of whispers and machine static and echoing synth patters that, even nearly twenty years on, still sounds utterly vital, whilst The Downward Spiral (A Gilded Sickness) adds a beauty and texture to the original, counterpointing the suicide lyrics with Eastern melodics and hypnotic drum patters. By contrast the two Eraser versions here play up the nightmare, a fever of screams and droning pitch-bends and throbbing bass.
Nothing here sounds new, as such, but that’s an advantage. Each of these tracks has a parallel on the existing remix albums, and they don’t deviate that far from them: the sound palettes are often mirrored, the vocal treatments similar and the structures fairly close. But Recoiled benefits hugely from modern audio technology: the drums punch and the guitars cut, and Reznor’s voice – well, it’s just great to hear that rage again, that uncaged nihilism welded to music that sounds so ugly, so raw and so intense.
One for the nostalgics then? No, Recoiled stands on its own, both as a reminder of just how dark 90s music got and of how interesting, at its best, the industrial genre can be. But more than that these five tracks attest to the potential of remixes to be more than just a ramped-up BPM to be served to the club crowd – that they can be interesting and relevant and artful in their own right, with their own voice. We probably shouldn’t dwell too long on what’s it’s saying, mind.