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Tapeworm: the Nine Inch Nails, Pantera and Tool supergroup that never was

(Image credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images//Annamaria DiSanto/WireImage)

It was one of the most eagerly anticipated records of the alt-metal era, a supergroup featuring some of the biggest names in 90s rock that had fans chomping at the bit. A Pantera and Nine Inch Nail mash-up? A duet between Trent Reznor and Maynard James Keenan? What’s not to get excited about? So why did Tapeworm never see the light of day?

“Hey, I was just as excited about it as all of you,” laughs former Nine Inch Nails keyboardist Charlie Clouser. “I mean, you see it on paper and it does look really cool. I can see why people were like, ‘Just release it, man!’ but it’s really not as simple as that.”

Tapeworm was formulated after Nine Inch Nails finished the end of the gargantuan touring schedule of 1994’s The Downward Spiral album. With Trent Reznor keen to continue writing, he asked his band to reconvene in New Orleans to start the process of constructing a new NIN album.

“We were told that we would play a part in that process and that our ideas were welcome,” Charlie says. “But in reality, we knew that 90% of the record would be from Trent. So, he told Danny [Lohner, NIN bassist] and I that any ideas we had that wouldn’t work for Nails could be expanded on by us for our own project, and he’d put the results out on Nothing Records. It felt like a win-win.”

As Charlie and Danny worked in isolation on songs, they began to dream up their own wishlist of musicians to duet alongside Trent.

“Maybe we were aiming way too high,” Charlie shrugs. “But we approached Phil Anselmo, as we were all fans of Pantera. Maynard Keenan was an obvious one, I love Jaz Coleman, one of the most apocalyptic voices in music, Alec Empire had toured with Nine Inch Nails and we love Atari Teenage Riot, and we had a song that we thought would be perfect for Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode. The idea of these great vocalists trading verses with Trent excited us hugely.”

Unfortunately, the lure of a new Nine Inch Nails album began to pull the pair away from concentrating on Tapeworm too heavily.

“When the behemoth that is a new Nine Inch Nails album is on the horizon, you want to be part of it,” says Charlie. “Do I want to have a writing credit on that, or do I want to use my idea for this little, unevolved thing? It’s a no-brainer, really. For example, I had a drum loop for a song that I was working on for Tapeworm and Trent really liked it. He took it away and it became the genesis for the song Starfuckers, Inc., which is a far bigger deal, really.”

Tapeworm was put to one side as NIN put all efforts into 1999’s epic double album, The Fragile. After its release and subsequent world tour, Trent was exhausted, leaving Charlie and Danny hanging in the studio while he went to recharge his batteries. Alone, and with hours of tapes and ideas for Tapeworm left unfinished, the project simply fizzled out. A couple of reworked tracks appeared via Maynard James Keenan – A Perfect Circle’s Passive and Puscifer’s Potions (Deliverance Mix) – but nothing else has surfaced.

“It’s like a leaf on a branch, isn’t it?” Charlie explains. “If you don’t water it then it dies. Lots of other leaves were getting watered at that time, and the Tapeworm leaf wasn’t. So, it just died. I left the band and went off to work with Page Hamilton from Helmet [on 2004 comeback album Size Matters]. We do have a whole load of recordings from that time, but they’re not ready, they’re in no fit state to release.”

And so, one of the most exciting supergroups in metal history remains just a rumour. “I kind of like it that way,” smiles Charlie. “It’s almost cooler that we never did release it. It’s become this mythical thing now. There will always be an air of intrigue and mystery around it. Not many albums you’ve heard have that.”