Soundtracks on Vinyl: Quake (1996-2020) - Reviewed

The first time I became aware of the music of Nine Inch Nails was not through the hit 1994 industrial rock album The Downward Spiral containing such iconic tracks as March of the Pigs, Closer and Hurt.  Rather, my introduction to Trent Reznor’s industrial ambient soundscapes came in the form of a 1996 id Software first-person shooter video game named Quake.  A dark, brooding and rusty looking Hellhole of a game and successor to the first-person shooter game developer id Software’s gargantuan smash hit Doom, Quake was a quantum technological leap forward for the company and to this day one of their greatest videogames. 
For Trent Reznor, having recently won an Academy Award for his work on The Social Network followed by an Emmy win for Watchmen, the 1996 videogame presented a unique opportunity for the musician.  In addition to creating the ambient atmospheric nightmare music for the game, Reznor and crew also designed all of the sound effects for the game, resulting in a sonically immersive experience that complimented the game’s ornately designed ugly visuals beautifully.  Created and rendered by Reznor for id Software’s game for free, the game itself also included a subtle nod to the band in the form of a Nailgun and Super Nailgun with ammo boxes featuring the NIN logo printed on the front. 
For years the only way to hear any of this music was off of the game disc itself which was intended for listening to with the game but itself is playable in conventional compact disc players as well.  Arguably the first unofficial Nine Inch Nails instrumental album which would pave the way for many other instrumental albums that would follow, the Quake soundtrack was considered by many to be a lost album of the band.  Largely ambient and described by Reznor as ‘not music’ but ‘textures and ambiences and whirling machine noises’, listening to the tracks on their own is sort of a door into the world of the game’s tone and mood. 

Called in some circles ‘the best soundtrack ever created for a computer game’, Quake as a standalone album was all but completely unavailable commercially outside of simply purchasing the game or buying the shareware disc.  But some twenty four years later with Reznor taking full control over his entire discography and making them available to the public in deluxe vinyl record pressings, that changed with what we now know to be the 2020 digital remastered Quake soundtrack newly released on the band’s website. 
For an already great sounding game soundtrack and a unique footnote in Nine Inch Nails’ discography, the work done on this new release has been wonderful.  Bass tones are warm and reverberating, percussive notes are more prominently punctuated than previously and the sleeve design is almost as beautiful as the booklet and jacket included on the game disc.  Sadly due to legal reasons the liner notes couldn’t be included with the set, which presumably delayed the album’s release for almost a year after the initial announcement though Reznor as per usual uploaded the liner notes online for free for those who really want to try and print it out themselves.

A scary, somber and thickly atmospheric listen, Quake as a game and as a listening experience is a one of a kind horror show taking players deep into a messy and unsettling netherworld.  But as a standalone album finally officially released by the band this year, it remains one of the best ambient horror soundscapes by a major artist since David Lynch’s The Air is On Fire, letting listeners fall deep into a waking nightmare leaning towards sleepiness with moments that are jarring and disquieting.  Even if you aren’t a fan of all things Nine Inch Nails related, as a horror soundtrack to an iconic videogame this remains an incredible listen and a perfect sonic counterpart to the musical work of John Carpenter who Reznor credits as a primary influence on the work. 

--Andrew Kotwicki