Trent Reznor performs in Venezuela in 2008 as part of Nine Inch NailsFLICKR / ED VILL

“You let me violate you. You let me desecrate you. You let me penetrate you”. These are the opening lines to “Closer” – one of the most vehemently sexual, electrifying rock songs to hit the charts. Who does it take to write something so visceral, yet catchy enough to help its album go four-times platinum? It may seem surprising to hear that the answer is in fact one of the composers of the latest Pixar flick, Soul. I am talking about Trent Reznor, the man behind industrial rock act Nine Inch Nails. A staple of the 1990s avant-garde, Reznor is certainly no stranger to critical acclaim. However, I want to talk about why his transition into the world of film scores, alongside long-time collaborator Atticus Ross, has led to the creation of some of my favourite albums of his yet.

Nine Inch Nails is certainly most notorious for their metal-infused industrial rock sound of the 1990s, encapsulated by classic albums such as The Fragile, where Reznor explores the emotions of drug-induced depression, and The Downward Spiral, a semi-autobiographical album about a man spiralling towards eventual suicide. The Downward Spiral saw the band draw upon producer Brian Eno’s highly influential work on David Bowie’s Low for thematic effect, with both albums created out of cocaine-laden nadirs. On the 2008 work Ghosts I-IV, Reznor instead took inspiration from Eno’s solo works to create a 110-minute-long collection of dark ambiance. Ghosts I-IV received praise for managing to retain the paranoia and existential dread expected from your typical Nine Inch Nails work, despite representing a notable departure from their earlier sound. This laid the foundations for Reznor and Ross’ delve into scores.

“the gloomy score [of The Social Network] perfectly complemented Fincher’s intense dramatisation”

The Social Network was the first score composed together by the duo, and was an immediate success, earning them an Academy Award and many positive reviews. The score certainly saw the pair continuing along their Nine Inch Nails path rather than trying to reinvent their sound for the big screen, with two of the tracks on the album simply being remixed songs from Ghosts. Designed to backdrop David Fincher’s saga of Mark Zuckerberg’s ascent from college loser to influential billionaire, the gloomy score perfectly complemented Fincher’s intense dramatisation. Highlights include the one-two opening punch of “Hand Covers Bruise” and “In Motion”. The former encapsulates Zuckerberg’s sheer loneliness and the latter juxtaposes this with the bustling Harvard atmosphere that catalyses his meteoric rise to fame and fortune; another highlight is Reznor and Ross’ reworking of Edvard Grieg’s “In The Hall of the Mountain King” which helps turn an unimportant boat race into an intense cinematic spectacle.


This would be the first of several fruitful collaborations between Fincher and the two composers. The next decade saw Reznor and Ross solidify their film score partnership by working on more Fincher films: their ominous work on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; their more upbeat, Bernard Hermann-esque score for Mank; and their piercingly cold soundtrack for Gone Girl, which would earn the pair a Grammy Award. Other well-received works include their scores for Jonah Hill’s directorial debut Mid90s, and the celebrated documentary series The Vietnam War. However, perhaps their most ambitious score yet was released last year: the score for Pete Docter and Kemp Powers’s Soul, a collaborative venture taken with jazz multi-instrumentalist Jon Batiste. While Batiste’s expressive jazz pieces rightfully attracted much acclaim, Reznor and Ross’ spacy contributions, played during protagonist Joe Gardner’s exploration of the ‘Great Before’, took the score to transcendental heights. The intricacy and nuance of their instrumentation successfully accompanied the mature existentialist themes of the film, and in April, Reznor and Ross took home a second Academy Award, a feat that some of the most celebrated film score composers of all time, from Ennio Morricone to Hans Zimmer, have failed to achieve.


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Why have these two outsiders taken the industry by storm? Firstly, on many of their soundtracks they have stuck to their guns by drawing strong influence from their Nine Inch Nails work, ranging from their early aggressive albums to their more recent dark ambient works. Secondly, their close partnership with David Fincher has been extremely fruitful. Fincher is no stranger to using music to express his misanthropic themes more vividly (Howard Shore’s score to Se7en and the Dust Brothers’ to Fight Club are particular highlights), and it is without a doubt that his leadership and unique creative genius would have eased Reznor and Ross’ transition into scores. Finally, the duo could easily have rested upon their laurels and begun to stagnate. The opposite is true, however, and their works over the past year on Mank and Soul suggest that the future is promising for these two visionaries.