Nine Inch Nails' 1989 album Pretty Hate Machine was something unique in industrial music - certainly no one else was attempting the balladry of "Something I Can Never Have," but the crucial difference was even simpler.
Instead of numbing the listener with mechanical repetition, Pretty Hate Machine's bleak electronics were subordinate to catchy riffs and verse-chorus song structures, which was why it built such a rabid following with so little publicity. That innovation was the most important step in bringing industrial music to a wide audience, as proven by the frequency with which late-'90s alternative metal bands copied NIN's interwoven guitar/synth textures.
It was a new soundtrack for adolescent angst - noisily aggressive and coldly detached, tied together by a dominant personality. Reznor's tortured confusion and self-obsession gave industrial music a human voice, a point of connection. His lyrics were filled with betrayal, whether by lovers, society, or God; it was essentially the sound of childhood illusions shattering, and Reznor was not taking it lying down. Plus, the absolute dichotomies in his world - there was either purity and perfection, or depravity and worthlessness - made for smashing melodrama.