Ghosts I–IV

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Ghosts I–IV
A black background with a wavy, white, hill-like shape on the bottom. The words "Nine Inch Nails Ghosts I–IV" are featured in the middle.
Studio album by Nine Inch Nails
Released March 2, 2008
Recorded October–December 2007 in California, United States
Length 109:56
Label The Null Corporation
Nine Inch Nails chronology
Year Zero
Ghosts I–IV
The Slip
Halo numbers chronology
"Halo 25"
"Halo 26"
"Halo 27"

Ghosts I–IV is the sixth studio album by American industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, released on March 2, 2008. The team behind the project included Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor, studio-collaborators Atticus Ross and Alan Moulder, and instrumental contributions from Alessandro Cortini, Adrian Belew, and Brian Viglione. Reznor described the music of Ghosts as "a soundtrack for daydreams", a sentiment echoed by many critics who compared it with the work of Brian Eno and Robert Fripp. The songs are unnamed, and are identified only by their track listing and group number.

The album is the first independent release from Nine Inch Nails following its split from Interscope Records, and is an almost entirely instrumental album. Ghosts was initially intended to be a five-track EP, but the final release consists of four nine-track EPs, totaling 36 tracks. The album was released under a Creative Commons license (BY-NC-SA), and in a variety of differing packages and price points, including a US$300 "Ultra-Deluxe Limited Edition". Ghosts was initially released digitally on the official Nine Inch Nails website without any prior advertisement or promotion. Via the official Nine Inch Nails YouTube profile, a user-generated "film festival" was announced, where fans were invited to visually interpret the album's music and post their results.

Critical reception of the album has been generally favorable, with its unorthodox release attracting positive comments from many critics. Much coverage of Ghosts I–IV has compared it to the digital-download releases of Radiohead's In Rainbows as well as Saul Williams' The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!, the latter produced by Reznor himself. The album was nominated for two 2008 Grammy Awards, in the categories "Best Rock Instrumental Performance" and "Best Box Set or Limited Edition Package". These nominations represented the first time music released under a Creative Commons license had been nominated for a Grammy Award.


Recording and music[edit]

A shirtless man playing the drums
Brian Viglione of The Dresden Dolls contributed percussion to tracks 19 and 22.

Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor announced in 2007 that the band had completed its contractual obligations to its record label, Interscope Records, and would no longer be working with the company. He also revealed that the band would likely distribute its next album independently, possibly in a fashion similar to Saul Williams' 2007 album The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!, which Reznor produced.[2]

Following the Performance 2007 tour in support of the band's previous album Year Zero (2007), Reznor set out to make a record "with very little forethought".[3] Ghosts I–IV originated from an experiment: "The rules were as follows: 10 weeks, no clear agenda, no overthinking, everything driven by impulse. Whatever happens during that time gets released as ... something."[4] Reznor explained, "I've been considering and wanting to make this kind of record for years, but by its very nature it wouldn't have made sense until this point".[5]

The core creative team behind the project was Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Alan Moulder. Live-band member Alessandro Cortini and studio musicians Adrian Belew and Brian Viglione also contributed instrumental performances on select tracks.[4] Reznor described the band's early intentions for the project as "an experiment", and explained the group's process: "When we started working with the music, we would generally start with a sort of visual reference that we had imagined: a place, or a setting, or a situation. And then attempt to describe that with sound and texture and melody. And treat it, in a sense, as if it were a soundtrack."[6]

The musicians created the album tracks through improvisation and experimentation. As a result, the initial plan to release a single EP of the material expanded to include the increasing amount of material.[7] Viglione contributed percussion to tracks 19 and 22. He stated that Reznor's instructions to him were to "build a drumkit. Piece together any stuff that you want to bang on; rent what you want to rent. Have fun and ... be creative—See where your mind and your ideas take you."[8] Viglione's makeshift drum kit included a 50-gallon trash can, a pair of water cooler jugs, and a cookie tray with a chain across it.[8] Alessandro Cortini is credited on a total of ten tracks from Ghosts for his contributions on guitar, bass guitar, dulcimer, and electronics. Cortini was brought onto the project two weeks into the process, and his involvement evolved from "first recording some extra parts to some tracks" and eventually into "a collaboration on [the] tracks noted in the booklet".[9] Adrian Belew was also brought on for select instrumental contributions, but as the project evolved Reznor expanded Belew's involvement and shared writing credit with him on two tracks.[10]

Ghosts I–IV is an almost entirely instrumental album, with only a few tracks containing sampled vocals. Reznor described the album's sound as "the result of working from a very visual perspective—dressing imagined locations and scenarios with sound and texture; a soundtrack for daydreams."[11] PopMatters' review of the album compared its musical style to that of Brian Eno and Robert Fripp, ultimately categorizing it as "dark ambient".[1] The review went on to describe the music as "a tonal painting, a collection of moods and not all of these moods are good ones."[1] National Public Radio compared the album to the music of Erik Satie and Brian Eno; Rolling Stone's review to Brian Eno, specifically the album's sound to the instrumentals of Another Green World (1975) and the rhythm collages of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981).[12][13] Robert Christgau also compared the album to the work of Brian Eno, summarizing Ghosts' sound as "mental wallpaper".[14]

Ghosts I–IV features a wide assortment of musical instruments, including piano, guitar, bass, synthesizer, marimba, tambourine, banjo, dulcimer, and xylophone, many of which were sampled and distorted electronically.[15] Percussion instruments, contributed primarily by Brian Viglione, were constructed largely out of found objects and household items.[8]


Rob Sheridan acted as the album's art director, in collaboration with Artist in Residence. Sheridan was also art director for the previous two Nine Inch Nails studio albums, With Teeth (2005) and Year Zero.[4] Since Ghosts was released in a variety of versions, some of the versions feature somewhat differing (or additional) album art and related artwork. A 40-page PDF comes with each version of the album and contains a photograph for each of the 36 tracks. These photographs are also embedded into the ID3 tags of every downloadable track.[16]


A man sitting in front of a field of craggy rocks
Promotional photo of Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor for Ghosts I–IV

Ghosts I–IV was released online on March 2, 2008, on the official Nine Inch Nails website in a number of different formats at various price points.[7] The only prior advertisement or notice of the release was a post by Reznor two weeks prior on the site saying "2 weeks!"[17] Ghosts was the first album released by Reznor's independent label The Null Corporation. Retail copies of the album were distributed by RED Distribution on April 8 on CD and vinyl formats, and May 1 for the "Deluxe" and "Ultra-Deluxe" editions.[5][18][19] The smallest Ghosts package contains the first nine tracks, available for free online from either the official Nine Inch Nails website or officially from various BitTorrent trackers, including The Pirate Bay.[20] The entire album was also made available for download directly from the band for US$5. Physical copies of the album were available for pre-sale online, with immediate access to the digital version. A two-disc version includes two audio CDs and a 16-page booklet for $10. A "Deluxe Edition" is available for $75 and includes two audio CDs, a data-DVD containing multitrack files of the album, a Blu-ray Disc with the album in high-definition stereo and accompanying slide show, and a 48-page hardcover book with photographs. A $300 "Ultra-Deluxe Limited Edition" included everything in the "Deluxe" edition, as well as a 4-LP 180 gram vinyl set in a fabric slipcase, and two exclusive limited edition Giclée prints, unique to each copy. These were limited to 2,500 pieces, each copy numbered and signed by Trent Reznor.[5][18] Reznor described the limited edition release as "the most luxurious physical package we've ever created."[4] Finally, the album was also released on 4-LP 130 gram vinyl, set in a double gate fold package, for $39.[21]

The album is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike license, in effect allowing anyone to use or rework the material for any non-profit purpose, as long as credit is provided and the resulting work is released under a similar license.[22][23] Reznor explained this move by saying "It's a stance we're taking that we feel is appropriate [...] with digital technology, and outdated copyright laws, and all the nonsense that's going on these days".[24] Jim Guerinot, then manager of Nine Inch Nails, explained the unconventional release of the album as "[not] a reaction to what doesn’t exist today. [...] it’s more just like, 'Hey, in a vacuum I can do whatever I want to do.'"[25] The digital-release of the album reportedly required an extensive overhaul of the Nine Inch Nails website in order for the site to cope with the influx of traffic, online-payments, and customer service needs of releasing the album. These upgrades cost Reznor approximately $20,000 to implement.[26] Despite these measures, upon the release of Ghosts the site crashed, and additional servers were necessary to handle the traffic.[27]

Reznor wrote in 2008 that "more volumes of Ghosts are likely to appear in the future."[4] In a 2009 interview with Trent Vanegas, he repeated his intention to make another Ghosts album in the near future.[28] Portions of the album were used as the soundtrack to the 2014 documentary film Citizenfour.[29][30]

Film festival[edit]

Nearly two weeks after the release of the album, Reznor organized and announced a user-created "film festival" as an accompaniment to the album, hosted at the official Nine Inch Nails YouTube channel.[31] It was revealed that the album was stripped of much artwork and song titles to provide a blank canvas for the project.[31][32] Reznor explained that the endeavor was not meant as a contest, but as "an experiment in collaboration and a chance for us to interact beyond the typical one-way artist-to-fan relationship."[33] Over 2,000 video submissions were posted and over 13,000 members joined the festival group, which started in March 2008.[34]

Live performances[edit]

Ghosts I–IV material was implemented into Nine Inch Nails live performances typically as a distinct section of instrumental songs mid-way through the show.[35] Ghosts material was performed in this manner primarily as part of the Lights in the Sky tour in 2008, immediately after the album's release.[36][37] During these segments the music was largely acoustic, as opposed to the electric instrumentation of other Nine Inch Nails live sets. The Ghosts segment included instrumentation from a marimba, harmonium, glockenspiel, double bass, banjo and various homemade percussion instruments.[37] The Ghosts section was later scrapped for the "NINJA" and "Wave Goodbye" tours, as Reznor felt the instrumental songs did not fit with the set lists.[35]


Sales and chart performance[edit]

The album's initial release on the official Nine Inch Nails website suffered problems as the website was inundated with traffic, and was not fully operational until extra servers were added to handle the influx of downloads.[27] A week after the album's release, the official Nine Inch Nails site reported over 750,000 purchase and download transactions, amassing over $1.6 million in sales.[38][39] Pre-orders of the $300 "Ultra-Deluxe Limited Edition" sold out in less than 30 hours of its release.[40] Ghosts I–IV was the fourth most played album of 2008 on, and was the best-selling album on Amazon MP3.[39][41]

The physical release of the album placed on numerous charts worldwide, including a peak position of number 14 on the Billboard 200 album chart.[42] The album also reached the top spot on Billboard's Dance/Electronic Albums chart.[42] Internationally, Ghosts peaked at number 15 on the Australian ARIA Charts, number 58 in Austria, number 3 in Canada, number 26 in New Zealand, and number 60 on the UK Albums Chart.[42][43][44][45][46]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Source Rating
Metacritic 69/100[47]
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 2.5/5 stars[48]
Robert Christgau (A–)[14]
IGN (8.7/10)[49]
NOW 3/5 Ns[50]
Pitchfork (5.0/10)[51]
PopMatters 8/10 stars[1]
Rolling Stone 3.5/5 stars[12]
Spin 4/5 stars[52]
Sputnikmusic 3.0/5[53]
Tiny Mix Tapes 4/5 stars[54]

Critical response to Ghosts I–IV was generally favorable, with an average rating of 69/100 based on 12 reviews on Metacritic.[47] Seth Colter Walls of Newsweek described the album as "the kind of absorbing musical experience that the surviving ranks of know-it-all record-store clerks would be pushing on customers, if only they could offer it for sale."[55] IGN gave the album a rating of 8.7 out of 10 and wrote, "The music is so engrossing and encompassing that time ceases to be a factor—at least until the music finally stops."[49] PopMatters gave the album an 8 out of 10 and described the album as "36 tracks, but no songs", and went on to call it "dark, brooding [...] haunting."[1] Pitchfork Media criticized the album by saying "nearly every one of the untitled instrumental sketches here feels emaciated and half-finished", and gave the work a 5.0 out of 10.0.[51] Blender also criticized the album, summarizing the review by saying "Nine Inch Nails return with no label oversight, no boundaries and no tunes."[56] The Washington Post stated, "There's too much here. Yet it's the most interesting NIN in years." The review went on to describe each track as "the sonic equivalent of a silver orb hovering in your living room [which then] explodes into a million shiny balls of mercury that splash to the floor before trickling, magnetically, back into a large round mass."[57]

The album's unorthodox distribution methods also garnered the attention of various news agencies, such as Wired's Eliot Van Buskirk, who labeled Ghosts as "a remarkably extensive release".[58] Ben Worthen of The Wall Street Journal hypothesized that "most business execs [...] could learn a lot from [Reznor's] experiments with online business models."[59] Many news agencies compared the release to Radiohead's 2007 "pay what you want" digital release of In Rainbows, as well as the similar release of Saul Williams' album The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust! the same year, which Reznor produced. Rolling Stone's review called the album a "a new-media showpiece",[12] while Tiny Mix Tapes said "the circumstances surrounding the release are so forward-thinking that they could be considered just as key to appreciating the album as the music itself."[54] Financial website The Motley Fool wrote an article on the album's release titled "Music Industry Gets Nailed Again", forecasting that "Innovators like Nine Inch Nails are paving the way for new media business models that may bypass the middleman while making sure artists and fans are happy."[60] In its review of The Slip, however, PopMatters described Ghosts I–IV in retrospect as an "aimless batch of ... instrumentals packaged in a brilliant marketing scheme" and said that it was "basically a CD release with a couple of mail-order special editions available for the 'true fans'."[61]

Awards and recognitions[edit]

Ghosts was nominated for two Grammy Awards, under the categories Best Rock Instrumental performance for the track "34 Ghosts IV", and Best Boxed Set or Limited Edition Package for the "Ultra-Deluxe" edition of the album.[62] These nominations represented the first time music licensed under Creative Commons had been nominated for a Grammy Award.[63] Following the release of Ghosts and the similar online release method of the band's follow-up, The Slip, Reznor was awarded the Webby Artist of the Year Award at the annual Webby Awards in 2009.[64] Rolling Stone magazine named Reznor number 46 in its "100 People Who Are Changing America" list, concluding that he has "been more creative than anyone in embracing the post-CD era".[65]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, except where noted.

Bonus tracks[edit]

Included with the "Deluxe" and "Ultra-Deluxe" releases were two additional bonus tracks, accessible only by reconstructing them from multi-track files provided on the DVD. The second bonus track features musical elements and a similar song structure to "Demon Seed", track 10 from what would be the next Nine Inch Nails release, The Slip.[66]

No. Title Length
37. "37 Ghosts"   2:20
38. "38 Ghosts"   4:51


Album credits as adapted from the liner notes of Ghosts I-IV:[67]

  • Trent Reznor – performance, production, art direction
  • Atticus Ross – programming, arranging, production
  • Alan Moulder – engineering, mix engineering, production
  • Alessandro Cortini – guitars (4, 11, 17, 20, 24, 28), bass (4), dulcimer (22), additional electronics (19, 22, 29, 33)
  • Adrian Belew – guitars (3, 4, 7, 10–11, 14, 16, 21, 25, 27, 31, 32, 35), electronics (25), marimba (30)
  • Brian Viglione – drums (19, 22)
  • Tom Baker – mastering
  • Rob Sheridan – art direction, photography, visual and physical elements[4]
  • Artist in Residence – art direction, photography, visual and physical elements[4]
  • Phillip Graybill – photography
  • Tamar Levine – additional photography

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (2008) Peak
Australian ARIA Charts[43] 15
Austrian Album Charts[44] 58
Top Canadian Albums[42] 3
New Zealand RIANZ Charts[45] 26
UK Albums Chart[46] 60
US Billboard 200[42] 14
US Billboard Dance/Electronic Albums[42] 1
US Billboard Independent Albums[42] 2
US Billboard Top Rock Albums[42] 3
US Billboard Top Alternative Albums[42] 3


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External links[edit]