The story of Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral album starts a few years prior to its release as Trent Reznor left his original record company TVT for Interscope. In doing so, Reznor created his own label Nothing Records.
TVT felt that NIN were nothing more than a synth-pop band even though their debut album Pretty Hate Machine was so much more than that. The industrial sound definitely originated in 80s synth-pop, but the more aggressive sounds being developed and the heavier style NIN played live gave birth to what would become their most iconic record.
The Downward Spiral is considered the top of the mountain for industrial music, one of Rolling Stone's 500 greatest albums ever made, and Nine Inch Nails’ most successful album with over 5 million albums sold worldwide. For these reasons and a whole lot more, it is my vinyl of the week.
After leaving TVT, Trent Reznor set up shop in the house that the Charles Manson family murdered Sharon Tate and her friends. Building a recording studio and living there, Reznor started to evolve the NIN sound with the excellent EP Broken. From there, Trent started recording what would become The Downward Spiral.
The album is a concept album about a man who is slowly spiraling out of control and end with his eventual suicide attempt. Where Pretty Hate Machine did have those synth-pop influences, The Downward Spiral became an aggressive mix of industrial, heavy metal, and a hint of techno.
Reznor stated that he wanted to make a hard sounding album full of anger and I believe he accomplished that in spades. Putting on this record led me back to 1994 when I was an angry teen in high school and how I fed off the rage that Trent presented. The entire album is a highlight, as there are the tracks that truly stand out as some of the best Reznor has ever recorded.
Opening track Mr. Self Destruct hits you right in the face with its wall of noise and craziness. Right off the bat you know Trent turned things up a notch with this album. The song is so aggressive in style and a true industrial style track.
Things slow down on the fantastic Piggy. Piggy sounds like you are listening to an evil lounge singer that has bad intentions. It’s slower beats make the song so dark in style but also something you can dance to.
Heresy has the techno beats that were popular back in 1994 and can also be heard by bands like KMFDM and Lords of Acid at the time. This is the type of song that is blasting in a goth club when you first walk in.
March of the Pigs is one of the most kick ass NIN songs ever. That is not even up for discussion. Its beat is so fast it’s almost like you can’t keep up and is why mosh pits were invented.
I still remember seeing NIN back in ’94 and the entire floor of the club being a sea of bodies when this song was played. Next you are greeted by the beat of Closer. What is Nine Inch Nails biggest hit, is probably the darkest and evilest song about sex ever.
Once again, Trent created a song that while digging into your darkest thoughts also makes you want to move to the beat. He has become a master of this. The piano theme that closes the song is a recurring one throughout the album and has been used off and on over the years in other Reznor work.
A Warm Place and Eraser are instrumental songs and show what Reznor would do in the future as he has done a lot of instrumental and atmospheric style tracks from NIN Ghosts project to his film score’s like The Social Network.
Reptile is one of the best songs on the album and goes even further down the spiral so to speak. The track is Reznor at the end of his rope and succumbing to the darkness as he gets pulled in deep.
After the title track which is another dark toned instrumental gem with a little bit of creepy Trent vocals, we come to the final song on the album and perhaps one of the greatest album closers of all time.
Hurt is Reznor’s masterpiece. It is one of the darkest and most depressing songs you will ever here. The song ends the journey of going in a downward spiral and the suicidal/knowing the end is near theme is on full display.
Trent’s emotional sounding vocals add another dimension as you feel the desperation in each word. It’s a perfect closer to the album and Reznor’s finest moment as an artist.
The Downward Spiral is a classic and really showed the world what Trent Reznor was capable of. I still remember going to five shows on the album's tour and just becoming obsessed with NIN and Reznor. It is a love I still have today as Reznor is extremely high on my list of all-time favorites.
As a fan back then, no moment was more exciting than Nine Inch Nails stealing the show with the best set of the entire weekend of Woodstock ’94. Have a look and then go revisit perhaps the greatest industrial album the genre has ever seen.