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Nine Inch Nails - And All That Could Have Been CD (album) cover


Nine Inch Nails


Crossover Prog

4.23 | 28 ratings

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4 stars The making of a really good live album is an art form in itself. It has to be sufficiently true to the original material to be wholly recognizable to their fan base while containing enough variations in the arrangements to avoid sounding like you're just playing your albums through the sound system. It has to include a certain amount of the crowd ambiance to confirm that there's a genuine performance going on while the group must avoiding pandering to the audience so much that the quality of the music suffers. In other words, there are more than a few fences to be straddled in these endeavors. In the case of Nine Inch Nails there's the added hurdle of taking what was meticulously and often uniquely constructed in the confines of the studio environment and trying to recreate those one-of-a-kind sounds in a concert setting. Now take all those challenges and toss in the raw passion and honest angst that are a big part of this band's compositions and attempt to present a final product to the listener that engages them to the extent that they'll feel like they're sitting in row M, seat 25 on the floor of the arena. All of the musicians on stage are multi-instrumentalists, as well, so keeping everyone on the same page no doubt posed its own set of difficulties. Pulling this kind of thing off is no easy feat even for the simplest of rock outfits but with 'And All That Could Have Been' Trent Reznor and his crew succeed on a remarkable level.

Without any unnecessary fanfare or hoopla Jerome Dillon's drums dive right into the gargantuan opener, 'Terrible Lie,' and right off the bat it's obvious that the technical side of the recording is top notch and it never wavers in its consistency. 'Sin' sports an energetic, up-tempo pace that unquestionably gets the throng out front to their feet. A group is only as good as their rhythm section and Dillon and bassist Danny Lohner punch it hard together throughout. I know that Reznor was still nurturing his severe addiction to alcohol and cocaine during this 'Fragility 2.0' tour but his voice on these songs is overwhelmingly expressive while remaining completely under control so it never poses a problem. (I guess if he was singing Sinatra it might be noticeable but not in this anger-filled milieu.) 'March of the Pigs' with its frantic but distinctive 7/8 time signature roars in next. The tune is as intense as they come but its cliff-hanger dynamics are stunning. 'Piggy' follows and its near-bluesy feel offers a stark contrast within the proceedings that they pull off masterfully. If you're one of those proggers who thinks NIN is just a wall of non-stop cacophony then this number will be a surprise. In the last few minutes they even veer into the outskirts of the jazz realm via Trent's cool piano noodlings. 'The Frail' is a short instrumental piece that features the piano initially, then expands when the cavernous synths join in. From there they segue right into 'The Wretched.' An ominous bass drum pulses underneath Reznor's tortured vocal before the highly infectious guitar riff intrudes to embellish the tune's chorus. Robin Finck's guitar work is compelling yet tastefully restrained. 'Gave Up' possesses a rumbling rhythm pattern that sets it apart from the average rock platform and once again their attention to details in the dynamics pays off. 'The Great Below' has a much more subtle aura surrounding it and it makes for a great change-of-pace moment in the show. The drums are kept out for the first half of the song, allowing the various keyboards to erect an eerie mood that captivates.

Another deliciously sinister atmosphere is constructed around the instrumental, 'The Mark Has Been Made.' Eventually Jerome's heavy drum beat emerges to supply a hypnotic yet powerful drive. The growling guitars and synths are amazingly strong. 'Wish' is a snare-led rocker that I consider the nadir of the concert. Not much finesse here, only straight-ahead head-banging fare from start to end. 'Suck,' a track by Pigface that they covered on 'Broken,' has a rather funky groove that gives it a different flavor from what's come before. The guitar lines are intriguing but the coarse lyric content may prove disturbing to many and that's putting it mildly. Not for the kiddos if you catch my drift. 'Closer' is next and this is a landmark tune that can't fail to incite a reaction because few are this compelling. This unflinching industrial love song achieves perfection as it builds layer by layer to its satisfying climax. They follow that with the terrific 'Head Like a Hole,' another surefire killer cut that's impossible to be indifferent about. 'The Day the World Went Away' calms the throng a bit as they manipulate the tension and suspense that slowly uncoils due to its patient arrangement. It's brilliantly executed. 'Starf**kers, Inc.' is a knock-the-walls-down rocker that's obviously not for the easily offended as it kicks like a mule and takes no prisoners while exposing the ugly underside of the touring rock & roll circus. Their encore is the fabulous 'Hurt,' one of the most haunting and brutally transparent tunes ever written. They deliver it with heart-wrenching emotion and an acute awareness of the fact that the number touches every one of their devotees in attendance profoundly. It'll leave you breathless.

'And All That Could Have Been' is a first-class concert album that deserves respect from both their followers and audiophiles in general. While I can't imagine a live recording ever being termed a masterpiece in my estimation, this one certainly ranks right up there with the best I've heard. Let me put it simply. I wish I would've been there to witness it in person but this comes dang close to the real thing. 4.2 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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