Trent Reznor, the one man army behind Nine Inch Nails, the musical genius behind How to Destroy Angels as well as recent Academy worth scores for The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is no stranger to scoring video games. A self-professed avid and life-long gamer, Reznor’s resume is notable for contributing musical scores to Id’s Quake as well as Doom 3. Indeed, gamers from the 90s may recall that simply placing the Quake CD-ROM in a CD player would treat them to nearly an hour of grinding industrial soundscapes that fit the brown rust and maroon gibs of the game. Conversely, much of the post-David Fincher Hollywood, and post-Silent Hill game industry owe a lot of their aesthetic and editing choices to the ground Nine Inch Nail’s groundbreaking albums and videos of the 90s. Even the depraved scores of Akira Yamaoka acknowledge a debt.
Well, it seems that Reznor’s attachment to heavy hitting game franchises is stronger than ever, as today it was revealed that he was contributing the lead theme to November’s upcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops II. In today’s issue of USA today set to coincide with the release of a new trailer complete with his work, Reznor unveils process and collaboration behind scoring arguably this Fall’s most anticipated and controversial release:
“I have always looked to that franchise as the cutting edge of what seemingly unlimited budgets and full-on not cutting any corners can do in the current day and age.”
Reznor clearly chooses his words carefully. One can almost detect an undercurrent of dubious respect towards a franchise that many rightfully accuse of becoming machine like and formulaic. In the USA Today interview he admits to playing a supporting role in service to the greater network of human parts that is Treyarch games:
“In Nine Inch Nails, I've been the guy calling the shots since inception. I'd gotten used to that. I was interesting to be in a situation where I was working under somebody I respect and playing a supporting role. When I sat down with the Treyarch guys, I wanted right off the bat to say, 'Guys, first of all, I am working for you on this thing. What are the moods you are looking for, because the role of this piece is greeting the gamer into the game. Let's really talk about themes and as I start throwing iterations at you, please feel free to say, 'That's not right.'"
Devotees of Nine Inch Nails, the glory days of Marilyn Manson to which Reznor contributed music, and Reznor’s recent side project with wife Mariqueen Mondig “How to Destroy Angels” (click here for a free EP) know Reznor’s soundscapes and lyrics to typically come from a bleak and introspective place. On first inclination, one would be hard pressed to imagine the Downward Spiral, his masterpiece The Fragile, or even recent politically charged efforts Year Zero or The Slip (available for free download at www.nin.com) to be congruous with the fairly conservative, chest pounding patriotism the Call of Duty franchise is known for. Reznor is aware of this conflict and addresses it to USA Today:
When I sat down with these guys. I kind of wanted to extract 'If you are looking for a big orchestral, Hollywood-y feeling, traditional-type patriotic score, I can do something like that, but I'm not excited about doing it,and it's not my strength. There's a lot of other people who can do that better than I can.
I was intrigued by the idea that they were willing to get out of the zone with something a little bit different. What I did was present them with the concept of 'Let's have it arranged semi-orchestrally, but let's have the voice be an instrument. Let's veer it more toward guitar, bass, drum rock band aggression…
What I learned in listening to the full story and the amount of effort that has gone into the back story and the characters and the full preparation (is) there is a lot of reservation and angst and sense of loss and regret and anger bubbling under the surface. So it didn't make sense to have a gung ho, patriotic feeling theme song. It has to feel weighty. There is a lot of remorse and apprehension here. So choosing to arrange it a bit more with guitars and drums and aggressively sounding, that struck a tone with them.
It will be interesting to see if Reznor’s tendency towards dark, emotive throbbing machinery punctuated with piano based melancholy can bring a sense of soul to a series that has long since lost a sign of the human element. Needless to say, Black Ops II has already surprised us with change once before in the announcement of a more open ended, branching Call of Duty. Maybe Trent’s contribution will bring it one step closer to regaining a soul. You can read Reznor’s full interview here.