After close to a year's work, gothic industrial-rockers Nine Inch Nails are nearly halfway done with what is turning out to be a more collaborative follow-up to 1994's The Downward Spiral, according to NIN keyboardist/drummer Charlie Clouser.
Holed up in their high-tech New Orleans studio nearly every day, the band, led by dark mastermind Trent Reznor and featuring Clouser and guitarist Danny Lohner, is "right in the middle" of recording the album, Clouser said, adding that each member has contributed to the songwriting this time around.
"[We've got] more than a few songs finished and mixed, and more than a few left to go," Clouser said earlier this month while calling from New Orleans.
Although past efforts have sprung almost entirely from Reznor's tortured head, Clouser said that he and Lohner are being given more of an opportunity to offer their ideas on the record, which the band's publicist said would likely not come out before the first quarter of 1999.
"As always, Trent is charting the course, and has a clear vision of how he wants things to sound," Clouser said. "But I've been able to contribute a fair amount, and some of the songs we're working on have grown out of sessions with all of us fiddling around in the studio, so it does seem like a more collaborative process than before."
While Clouser and Lohner are the only full-time bandmembers working with Reznor on a daily basis -- former programmer/producer Chris Vrenna left the group more than a year ago -- band publicist Sioux Zimmerman confirmed the participation of a number of outside musicians on the album.
Among the guests scheduled to appear on the CD are former King Crimson guitarist Adrian Belew (who also lent a hand on The Downward Spiral), Helmet guitarist Page Hamilton, Ministry drummer Bill Rieflin, former Chic/Power Station drummer Tony Thompson, keyboardist Mike Garson (currently on tour with the Smashing Pumpkins) and producer Steve Albini (Page & Plant, Nirvana), who has assisted in an undisclosed capacity.
The untitled album will be NIN's third studio album of all-new material since the band's formation in 1988. In addition to their 1989 debut, Pretty Hate Machine, which featured the alternative hit "Head Like a Hole" (RealAudio excerpt), the band has released 1994's The Downward Spiral and a number of remix albums, including 1992's Broken and Fixed EPs and 1995's Further Down the Spiral.
Attesting to the long layoff between albums, broken only by the inclusion of the new NIN song "The Perfect Drug" on the 1997 Lost Highway soundtrack, Clouser said it is simply a matter of how the band creates its lush electronic symphonies. "The way we work is very time-consuming," Clouser said. "So it will take a while, but I don't mind. The process is the enjoyable part for me, more than the celebration at the end, so I'm happy."
Although the band's notoriously loyal fans have been eagerly awaiting new music, at least one longtime follower said he thinks he understands the lag. "The continuous delay in the album has been very frustrating," fan Brian Hough Jr. wrote in an e-mail. "But I realize that perfection takes time, and Trent seems like he wants this album to be perfect."
The West Virginia-based webmaster of the unofficial NIN site "Halo Zero" said he's been listening to former Reznor protégé shock-rocker Marilyn Manson in the meantime, along with industrial act Gravity Kills. "But mostly I've been getting into a lot of Trent's outside works," he added. "I've been collecting remixes he has done and also finding phantom songs and bootlegs. It really hasn't filled the void but just helps pass the time faster."