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1989: The Raw Beginnings
Born and raised in central Pennsylvania, Trent Reznor channeled his suburban angst and ennui into a number of musical pursuits growing up. He eventually ended up in Cleveland, where he began work as Nine Inch Nails and recorded Pretty Hate Machine, released in 1989. Pretty Hate Machine brought together rugged industrial grime and the beauty of goth and new wave for a potent, melodic mix that yielded the single ''Head Like a Hole,'' which became Reznor's first big success as a musician.
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1992: Angry Young Man
Following the release of Pretty Hate Machine, Nine Inch Nails toured constantly, including a stint on the very first Lollapalooza in 1991. Wanting to put out new music but unwilling to work with TVT (the label that put out Pretty Hate Machine), Reznor has said he secretly recorded the tracks that made up Broken and presented them to Interscope, who put them out as this EP in 1992. Broken has a much rawer, more live feel than Pretty Hate Machine, and the project not only gave Reznor his first Grammy (''Wish'' won Best Metal Performance in 1993), but also pointed to his growing interest in film, as all eight tracks on Broken received video treatments.
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1994: First Taste of Greatness
In the midst of battling drug abuse and depression, Reznor recorded and released The Downward Spiral in 1994. The Downward Spiral gave Reznor a few more radio hits (including the eternally-bleeped ''Closer''), a more expanded sonic palette (it relies heavily on keyboards, samples, and loops), and an opportunity to introduce narrative into his music (The Downward Spiral has a loose narrative about hitting bottom).
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1994: Playing Well With Others
As part of his Interscope deal, Reznor got his own boutique label called Nothing, and one of his first projects was signing and producing Marilyn Manson. Reznor twiddled the knobs on Manson's debut Portrait of an American Family and became the band's mentor throughout the early part of their career. It was the first time that Reznor had the chance to imprint his sonic ideas onto someone else's work.
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1994: Journey Into Film
Reznor attracted a lot of famous fans from the film industry who recognized that he had a cinematic approach to his music. Oliver Stone asked Reznor to handle the soundtrack to the 1994 film Natural Born Killers, and it was Reznor who suggested that the music mirror the film. Though there are individual songs included (including tracks by Nine Inch Nails, L7, Dr. Dre, and Patti Smith), they all bleed together and overlap in one long fever dream — not unlike the film itself.
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1996: The First Score
A notorious videogame fan, Reznor got the chance to do his first proper score in 1996 when id Software gave him the reins on legendary PC shooter Quake. Though it doesn't carry the same dramatic heft as his later scores, Reznor's work on Quake pointed to a much greater passion for marrying sound with images, something that would inform not only future Nine Inch Nails output but also his later film work.
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1997: Even Deeper Into Cinema
Like Oliver Stone before him, David Lynch saw Reznor as a kindred spirit who could bring his unique sonic ideas to an edgy set of images. The soundtrack to Lost Highway mirrors the hallucinatory nature of the film, bringing together industrial rock, damaged covers, free jazz, and a handful of ambient rumbles. Lost Highway also gave Reznor a Nine Inch Nails hit in ''The Perfect Drug,'' one of the few new songs released between The Downward Spiral and The Fragile.
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1999: The Magnum Opus
Reznor's long-awaited follow-up to The Downward Spiral was an unruly sprawl of an album called The Fragile. It crammed all of Reznor's obsessions (metal, dance music, film scores, ambient hums, synth pop, and dozens of other electronic sub-genres) onto two discs and proved that perhaps Reznor's bag of tricks was too full to be hemmed in by the confines of modern rock music.
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2005: Turning Points
After disappearing for a while and getting clean, Reznor returned with With Teeth, something of a throwback album for him that tapped into the same kinds of grooves that made The Downward Spiral a transcendent hit. For a moment, it seemed like Reznor was recommitting himself to big-time arena rock, but in reality With Teeth was something of a goodbye to the musical traditions Reznor had known. It also led Reznor to David Fincher (who directed the video for the With Teeth single ''Only'') and to Atticus Ross (who handled programming and production, and became Reznor's most trusted musical partner and the co-writer of his scores for The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo).
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2007: Expanding His Horizons
Not just content to craft an album, Reznor really stretched himself on 2007's Year Zero. The album came with its own accompanying narrative about a dystopian future that manifested itself in a series of websites, mysterious phone messages, an alternate reality game, and viral videos. Reznor has been working with film producer Lawrence Bender to turn Year Zero into a miniseries.
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2008: Shedding Labels, Building Bigger Sounds
In 2008, Reznor really came into his own as a musician. Without much fanfare, he released Ghosts I-IV, a series of instrumental compositions that were mostly available for free via his website. The vibe of Ghosts I-IV is quite similar to Reznor's work on The Social Network — it's as though he was auditioning.
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2008: Last Dose of Rock
In the wake of Ghosts I-IV, Reznor also unleashed a proper Nine Inch Nails album in 2008, which he called The Slip and gave away as a free download. Reznor followed The Slip with a tour called Wave Goodbye that acted as the retirement of the live version of Nine Inch Nails, perhaps putting his onstage performing days to bed for good.
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2010: Oscar Underdog
Who better to tap into the mind and machinations of a computer genius than Trent Reznor? To bring his cold vision of genius to sonic life in The Social Network, Fincher tapped Reznor to construct the icy soundscapes that score Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's every moment of virtual alienation. The result? An Oscar for Reznor and a place at the table of great film composers.
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2011: Top of the Heap
Fincher brought Reznor back for another round, for his adaptation of Steig Larsson's brutal page-turner The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and the result was just as impressive as Reznor's work for The Social Network. Even more impressive? Reznor has graduated from Academy underdog to odds-on favorite in the span of one film — proof that he is indeed among the industry's elite.