Thirty Years Of Halo Two
October 20, 2019 5:38 PM   Subscribe

October 20th 2019 marks 30 years since the release of Nine Inch Nails' album Pretty Hate Machine [full album, 48m48s]. Known as Halo Two (the second release in the NIN canon), this album continues to find new fans even today. Side A: Head Like A Hole [video, the single for this track is Halo Three], Terrible Lie, Down In It [video, the advance single for this track is Halo One, the video shoot attracted the attention of the FBI], Sanctified, Something I Can Never Have

Side B: Kinda I Want To, Sin [video, the single for this track is Halo Four, b-side: Get Down, Make Love (Queen cover)], That's What I Get, The Only Time, Ringfinger

Richard Patrick looks back on its influence [Spin]. The Independent marvels about its staying power. Revolver shares little known stories about the album. Spin gets current musicians to talk about the album. Even Pitchfork gave it a strong review, albeit years after the fact. And the WhoSampled page for Pretty Hate Machine offers additional insight.

For even deeper insight, one might listen to the mythical Halo Zero, the demo tapes Reznor used to get TVT to pick up the project, now titled Purest Feeling. [43m]
posted by hippybear (41 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Oh my god, I thought your title implied the video game Halo 2 came out three decades ago and had a small heart attack.

I mean, this makes me feel pretty old but that would have made me feel REALLY old.
posted by potrzebie at 5:49 PM on October 20, 2019 [9 favorites] Halo numbers
posted by zamboni at 5:50 PM on October 20, 2019

I still love this album. Not with the intensity of a moody teenager, obviously, but the poppy songwriting with the stark, gritty production still holds up (musically....lyrically my appreciation for it stopped along with moody teenagerdom). Apart from 'Sanctified' sounding like industrial Seinfeld, it's pretty much all gold.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 6:00 PM on October 20, 2019 [9 favorites]

I've been trying to convince my 17yr old nephew that he really should be listening to nin by now, but he keeps listening to k-pop instead, no matter how loud I blast this in the living room.
posted by makoi at 6:34 PM on October 20, 2019 [6 favorites]


(Senior year of high school. And a chunk of my college life and my first life on the internet were associated with NIN fandom.)

This album is still really listenable. I saw them live about a year ago, and I guess the playlist on that tour tended to flip back and forth between "moody emo deep cuts" and "all the hits where 'hits' also means in-fandom faves including deep cuts rarely/never played live" and I scored the latter. The evolution of those songs through life and lineups and time is really interesting and a mark of good songs and great musicianship. I found it really interesting that a certain selection of songs that either a) he made a point of never playing or rarely playing or stopping playing at some point b) the songs that were, mmm, not superb? Those songs evolved as well. (Look, The Perfect Drug is an embarrassing song with a great beat/s.)

It was also a reminder that there are a surprising number of bangers in the catalog. I did a lot more dancing, or at least butt wiggling, than I remember ever doing at past shows. I had hoped that there would be a live album forthcoming, but I don't guess that's a thing anyone's talking about.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:41 PM on October 20, 2019 [5 favorites]

This album was the soundtrack of summer '90 for me. Such a pivotal moment...I was down in it.
posted by supermedusa at 6:56 PM on October 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

This is happening tonight in Toronto, they're just going to play the album over and over all night!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 6:58 PM on October 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

and I kinda want to go
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 6:58 PM on October 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

I saw them live about a year ago

The first NIN tour I've missed since I first saw them on Fragility 2.0. Much sadness.
posted by hippybear at 7:12 PM on October 20, 2019

I bought this album by mistake, on the recommendation of the staff at the CD store in the West Edmonton Mall. I went in and hummed a song I'd heard at an industrial/dance club in Vancouver. They looked at me like I was nuts but then recommended Pretty Hate Machine on account of "That first track is pretty heavy, Head Like a Hole".

It would be more than a decade before I'd finally hear that song again, and the circumstance was so random I can't believe it finally happened at all.

Anyway NiN became a mainstay for me and especially The Downward Spiral, which was completely huge around 1994-1996. That was end of high school / first-year college time for me and my cohort. Most of those folks hadn't heard PHM but everyone had a copy of TDS. I have probably listened to that album hundreds of times. Eventually I moved on-- it isn't something I listen to any more. But circa 1995 I probably listened to it nearly every day for a year.

It led me down the path of the genre, eventually finding the epitome in its origins: Skinny Puppy's Remission. Make no mistake, it's raw, but tracks like Glass Houses and Smothered Hopes have stood the test of time for me. And after Ministry's amazing set in Lollapalooza 1992 I went to the CD store the next day and bought Psalm 69. For me they were standout of the show (as a grunge kid I was there for Soundgarden and Pearl Jam).

Later NiN releases have not aged well to me at all. The Fragile has its moments but Trent Reznor really does seem to be making the same album over and over and over and I just can't hear him sing about how dark the world is and how alone he is and everything is terrible forever: I AM SUPER RICH AND SAD AND ALSO VERY ANGRY THAT I AM SAD! He is 54 years old and should be writing songs about how much his feet hurt and who left the mayonnaise out on the counter oh maybe it was me.

Oh and that song I was looking for turned out to be an earlier Ministry track I'd somehow missed: Thieves.
posted by cape at 7:19 PM on October 20, 2019 [16 favorites]

To be fair, Trent has done albums about his struggles with addiction and also an entire concept album about a Theocratic takeover of the US coinciding with ecological collapse and possibly an alien invasion, so maybe you stopped paying attention years too early.
posted by hippybear at 7:23 PM on October 20, 2019 [23 favorites]

I sadly passed up the opportunity to see Nine Inch Nails with David Bowie when they played in Chicago when I was in university. Somehow I let a three hour drive stop me.

On the other hand, when I was in high school, I took a class on audio and visual production, and our big assignment was to make a music video. A bunch of people just did terrible lip sync videos. I managed to figure out how to (using multiple VHS players and a CD player) to dub Happiness in Slavery from Burn to various scenes from Fantasia. I mean, it wasn't exactly groundbreaking, and the finished product was pretty sloppy, with bits that, had I actually taken more time, would have blended better, but seriously, when the crocodiles pick up the hippos and start swinging their legs in a circle... it matches the music perfectly.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:23 PM on October 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

I'm sure your version of the video was more cheerful than the original version. (Don't watch this, seriously don't.)
posted by hippybear at 7:26 PM on October 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was a 13yo budding 'zinester kid when this album came out, and I'd already started racking up my mom's long-distance bills by harassing the PR and media relations companies at various record labels I liked. TVT's publicist in particular took a shine to me and offered me a chance to interview Trent around the release of the "Sin" CD single. She set up the interview and gave me his home phone number, but I called at the appointed time to no answer. She later called back sending his apologies that he was out getting a new cat at the time. I didn't bother to reschedule for some reason, but I'll never forget that story.
posted by mykescipark at 7:33 PM on October 20, 2019 [5 favorites]

The emptiness of the production across much of it is what is surprising. You think of NIN being a wall of sound sort of band, but this album, this first one, there are stretches where it's a vocal and a single other instrument, bass or keyboard, but it's not a dense soundscape.

I think that's part of what helps it feel fresh even today. There are hints of this first NIN album in Lourde's first album, TBH.
posted by hippybear at 7:43 PM on October 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

I bought this on the strength of the review in, I think, Spin. I was floored, just what I was looking for. Saw NIN in a tiny club (1227) in St. Louis touring for this one, and it was a great show. Also saw the NIN/Bowie show a few years later. Can’t believe it’s been thirty years.
posted by jzb at 7:44 PM on October 20, 2019

Yeah, this is the only NiN album that really caught me - I suspect I was being an anti-pop douche when he found huge success with TDS and suddenly my teenaged favorite musical genre was.. like.. almost popular? And it all felt hollow, somehow. And it's not like I didn't like the more industrial collaborative work Trent did with Pigface and 1000 Homo DJs and various other assorted Al Jourgensen related media, but the later whole NiN albums just never clicked with me.

But PHM? I knew every word to every song.

(To be fair, I still listen to Ministry's Twitch, while the rest of their discography hasn't aged as well. There's something to be said for the simplicity and tightness a 4 track recorder brings to things.)
posted by Kyol at 7:59 PM on October 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Around 1994 or 1995, while Closer was burning up the charts and saturating MTV, I found my dad's copy of the Head Like a Hole single, and disappeared into endless remixes of Down In It and Terrible Lie. Naturally, I sought out the album that housed these songs, and to my delight, found that even the versions on the album were different from what was on that maxi-single, and I completely lost myself into what followed. I would lie in bed, with headphones on, silently mouthing the words while Pretty Hate Machine played on repeat, like a 15 year old ought to.

Prior to this discovery, I had been listening to The Art of Noise and The Offspring and a tape I made of Final Fantasy II music from the SNES. If you told me how my life would change because of this album, I'd think you were completely insane, making up weird stories.

I don't go back to it as often as I do The Downward Spiral or The Fragile, but it's fun to revisit, and the songs are still so powerful in concert. From a production standpoint, it's arguably the least Reznor-centric of the NIN albums, with heavy production input from Adrian Sherwood and John Fryer (also Flood and Keith LeBlanc), and despite the period-specific instrumentation, somehow it never sounds dated to me when taken as a whole. When Rock Band was a thing, someone ripped the multitracks for some of the Pretty Hate Machine songs that were made available on that platform, and taken individually, the keyboards and the drums and the guitars sound so fucking cheesy. Put put them all together on a track, and the sum transcending its parts.

All that said, there always felt like a clear divide in the fanbase - there are those who think Pretty Hate Machine is peak Nine Inch Nails, and there's everyone else. The way this album captured headbangers, goths, club kids, and the mainstream was impressive, but nothing Trent put out after it ever sounded quite like Pretty Hate Machine. In fact, for decades, almost every release felt like a reaction to the release immediately preceding it, and I absolutely eat that up.

I was glad the subject matter moved away from introspection, but I also really appreciate Trent's roadmap for navigating depression. Yes, everything can be going great in your life, but somehow your self still sees failure and catastrophe, but as exhausting as it can get -- you push against it and move through. It's helped me model a framework for dealing with my own struggles, and I appreciate how the narrative changes as he moves on in life.

30 years of Pretty Hate Machine. Yikes.

p.s. ICYMI, here are portions of demos of Terrible Lie and Sin, from a tape that Martin Atkins listed on eBay, but which ultimately disappeared before anyone ripped the full tapes. For all I dig up, there's always another holy grail...
posted by Leviathant at 8:41 PM on October 20, 2019 [6 favorites]

Leviathant: You've articulated many things I feel about NIN. I heard PHM when it was released but didn't really connect with the band until The Fragile, but I've ben along for the ride ever since. Even his latest trilogies of EPs has been illuminating for me once I took the time to dig in and digest. That "road map" you speak of has felt very personal to me even while I know it's truly only about Trent.

Your online NIN presence has deeply affected my life, and I love that you're also here on MetaFilter. So thank you.
posted by hippybear at 8:47 PM on October 20, 2019

Senior year of high school when that album came out, I had my first real girlfriend and she loved this album. She'd put it on when we had sex. I thought it was weird at the time. It was my first sexual relationship.

She and I and a bunch of friends went to see NIN open for the Jesus and Mary Chain at the old Living Room in Providence and while I enjoyed NIN, the Chain blew me away and scared me. The level of violence in the pit was so much more intense when they came on I had to get out of the pit. And I was young and in my prime.

I'm old now. I haven't loved everything they did but man oh man did they have a big part of my development back then.
posted by vrakatar at 8:52 PM on October 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

I saw NiN on tour w/ Marylin Manson opening in 1994. The highlight was Manson getting buck naked onstage, shoving a beer bottle up his rear and asking if "any of you 14-year-old girls wanna [blank] my rockstar [blank]?" He was dragged offstage by security shortly thereafter.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:13 PM on October 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

To be fair, Trent has done albums about his struggles with addiction and also an entire concept album about a Theocratic takeover of the US coinciding with ecological collapse and possibly an alien invasion, so maybe you stopped paying attention years too early.
I gave each new album a listen when they came out, but never heard anything new. It seemed like self-parody, seemed like shtick, bad art. But maybe it wasn't, and I was just missing the mark as a listener. Eventually I just stopped paying attention. But I have Apple Music now-- I'll go back and check out what I missed. Maybe something can still resonate.

(I may have just outgrown anger/darkness in general).
posted by cape at 9:36 PM on October 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

I HATED this album. My roommate who had been a DJ at the university radio station played this incessantly. Drove me nuts. Gah! anything but NIN please!
posted by zengargoyle at 10:17 PM on October 20, 2019

As far as Year Zero (that's the alien invasion/theocratic takeover/giant hand reaching down out the sky thing, right?), I don't know that I heard much of the music, but I really, really enjoyed the vaguely ARG (how's that found sounded dated!) stuff that came out of it. It seemed like there was some pretty awesome world-building going on there, and then I just sort of lost track of it.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:23 PM on October 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Love this album. So many memories.

This was arguably my introduction to real music (read: something other than the christian rock CDs my parents kept feeding tiny me), and I have very strong memories of hearing it for the first time at age ~10 on the terrible tape deck in my (much) older brother's crappy truck. I was captivated — so much so that I taught three other kids at the daycare center I attended the chorus of Head Like a Hole. Got in serious trouble when the teacher caught us all singing "bow down before the one you serve, you're going to get what you deserve.." on the playground.

I wouldn't own a copy of the album until high school. I'd forgotten about it almost completely, but on a trip with my church youth choir we were allowed to do some shopping. I ventured into a Camelot Music (RIP), and there it was. I bought the CD, tried to hide it, but was quickly caught when the group leader asked to see my purchases. I showed him, certain he'd take it away, but surprisingly he was cool about it. It didn't leave my Discman for the rest of the trip, and he and I became close after that. Less than a year later I'd become jaded and fall out of the church in large part because he got caught up in politics and let go.

Meanwhile, my NIN obsession continued, with me booking time at a public library to spend hours using their fancy new cable connection to download terribly encoded music videos to Zip™ disks for my friends and I to watch over and over and over (shout out to Leviathan — greater than zero chance I grabbed them from your site a few decades back). PS: never watch the Broken movie. Ever.

Throughout my 20s and 30s my brother and I would see them on every tour that passed through the midwest, road tripping for hours. It's how we finally connected as adults, really. So many fond memories.

These days I still dig PHM out from time to time — but only on cassette. My brother gave me the tape years ago, it's so beaten up. I don't relate to the lyrics anymore, but there's just something about that tape hiss, and that chorus still holds up.
posted by rosary at 12:24 AM on October 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Down In It brings back such memories from high school - still remember hearing it on the bus through the open window from an adjacent car waiting at a stop light. A few years later in college, was similarly blown away by the masterpiece Skinny Puppy album Last Rights.
posted by metaplectic at 2:04 AM on October 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Or, as people called it back in the day, “I hate my parents, nobody understands me, I don't want to clean up my room, it's so unfair!”
posted by acb at 2:14 AM on October 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

I heard Head Like a Hole on KROQ once and pulled over. I was blown away. It would be a year before they blew up (and be played on the radio again) and it was weird when it happened.

This is the album I loved, one of many great releases of '89, and I listened to it relentlessly. I've never really listened to anything after because I'm the world's worst fan.
posted by bongo_x at 2:38 AM on October 21, 2019

Trent and Peter Murphy (Bauhaus) - Head Like a Hole

I've always thought Murph sounded like a more intense Bowie.

Downward Spiral was my introduction to NIN. I first saw them in 94. For me the relationship was like Bleach:Nevermind::Pretty Hate Machine:Downward Spiral. I would never have known about PHM without DS being such a huge success. Also I was 15 for DS so I was the perfect target audience for it.
posted by adept256 at 4:52 AM on October 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

For a time The only working CD player in our house was the CD-ROM drive in the family computer. This album, modem handshakes, and door games (Legend of the Red Dragon, Barren Realms, Trade Wars) are completely intertwined in my memory.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 5:15 AM on October 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Great release. I still listen to it regularly. I've always thought, though, that NIN peaked with the 'Broken' EP. They were never able muster that kind of energy onto disc again.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 5:23 AM on October 21, 2019

Nine Inch Nails is one of the few good Christian Rock bands.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:50 AM on October 21, 2019

Jon Mitchell, yes, I too have often thought the bass a little bit spanky on Sanctified, so here's a killer live version of Sanctified with Pino Palladino doing his fretless thing.
posted by bitterkitten at 6:54 AM on October 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

This album was so huge for me. I listened to it non-stop for years. It still feels relatively fresh to me. Relatively in that 30 years on, it sounds like it could have been released in the RECENT past to me in a way that an album 30 years old in 1989 could not have. I always love to play the game: X is closer to Y in history than today. So....

Here are some things that the release of Pretty Hate Machine is closer to than today:

John F Kennedy announcing his candidacy for President
Elvis Presley returning from Army duty in Germany
The launch of Sputnik
Ben Hur is released in theaters

I just re-listened to PHM for probably-not-the-last-time-today.
posted by JJtheJetPlane at 7:55 AM on October 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

I was a sophomore in high school in 1990 and was slowly migrating from punk and metal to industrial. One morning I was browsing through the paper and saw that one of my new favorite bands, Jesus and the Mary Chain was playing that weekend. I begged and begged and finally got permission to go and actually convinced a friend to go with me.

We were young and new to the whole concert thing so we got there way early and managed to catch the opening band setting up. They had roadies and everything but they also came out and fiddled with the sound and the set up. One dude said hi to us and told us to have a good time. We asked who the opening band was and he said, "It's my band, Nine Inch Nails. Hope you like it." Because we were so young we just giggled and assured him we totally would. And then a few short minutes later 4 dudes who looked like guys we went to school with got out there and blew us away. Like we were totally dumbfounded by what had happened. My buddy looked at me and said, "We just saw the beginning of something major."

I know we stayed for Jesus and Mary Chain, but I don't remember a single note. I was still in awe.

The next day, I went to the record store and bought Pretty Hate Machine and played it non-stop for months.
posted by teleri025 at 8:24 AM on October 21, 2019 [9 favorites]

If I could put how much this album meant to 14/15 year old me into words, I'd be a much better writer than I am. I'm so glad I had it, though slightly embarrassed that I definitely wrote out the lyrics to some of the songs and hung them in my locker.

(If anyone else told me they'd done this, I would find it adorable but thinking about doing it myself...just yikes)

That said, I think it still holds up and probably has to default as one of my top 10 albums simply by the number of times I've listened to it start-to-finish.

(And if you'd told me back then that not only would I still be listening to stuff Trent Reznor was doing as I approach 45,but that he'd also be doing the music for an TV show adaption of Watchmen which isl - so far - good, I would have thought that 2019, as a whole, was much better than it actually is.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:38 AM on October 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

here's a killer live version of Sanctified with Pino Palladino doing his fretless thing.

Palladino is just killing it in that version!
posted by thelonius at 11:00 AM on October 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thirty years later and here I am as a forty-eight-year old woman back in the same rainy town where teenage me was astounded by this album.

I haven't listened to it in ages. I took it out of my rotation a while back along with a bunch of stuff that just didn't speak to me any more because I was no longer an angry teen full of hate for himself and the world. Looks like the last stuff I got by Trent was either Ghosts or The Slip.

I don't listen to any of the other industrial acts I loved around then much any more, either. They're all in the "stuff I used to like" playlist along with all my TMBG.

Eighties kid gets old, film at eleven.
posted by egypturnash at 11:08 AM on October 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

It is also probably worth noting that “Reptile” off of “Downward Spiral” was important to me. This cold, calculating woman who took what she wanted and left Trent as a dried-up, whimpering husk in her wake? Role. Model. I am generally a pretty nice lady but, well, that was an important image for a while, and thanks for that, Trent, even if I’m pretty sure that was not anything like you wanted anyone to take from that track.
posted by egypturnash at 11:32 AM on October 21, 2019 [6 favorites]

I would do a lot to get instrumentals of all of PHM. I would do almost as much to never have to perceive a Reznor-penned lyric.
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 6:54 PM on October 21, 2019

I listened to this album obsessively over and over again for months when it first came out (so....old...). Nothing sounded quite like it then. I've recently dug it out and added it to my regular play rotation (thanks to Ashley O). And you know what? Other than the production, which irritates me because it's too crispy (yes, I get that it's on purpose but still), it really holds up.
posted by biscotti at 9:12 AM on October 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

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