Monday, April 30, 2012

Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral

Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral
Released - 1994

Story by Larry Ragone, singer/guitarist for Psychic Teens.

Editor's note: Since this is an album on a major label, there is no download link available.

It was the Summer of 1994 when I, like many others, discovered Nine Inch Nails and The Downward Spiral.  After a sloppy, physical, and mud-covered set at Woodstock ’94, and a much publicized battle with Tipper Gore and the P.M.R.C. (remember them?).  NIN had become a much buzzed about popular music act by the time I was able to acquire the compact disc from BMG Music Club.

At twelve years old, I knew soon after tearing the shrinkwrap and removing the much-dreaded Parental Advisory sticker that I had my hands on something special.  Unlike any other disc I owned (I had maybe a dozen) there seemed to be a very distinct visual aspect to the packaging and layout.  A slimline CD case with little or no copy housed the disc – which itself – was a downward spiral.  HALO EIGHT was featured twice in the layout thus planting the seeds of a future record collector, begging me to collect every HALO from then on out. 

Upon further inspection of the oversized booklet inside the slipcase, I knew that I had something that would likely be considered pretty fucked up.  Jagged sentence fragments in lowercase blue type adorned white pages.  The letter “i” prominent throughout led me to believe that this was a personal record with a single narrator: a trait of early Nine Inch Nails that I still admire to this day.

Upon the first spin of the disc, I was immediately bludgeoned with confrontational vocal delivery, wall -of-noise guitars and keyboards, and pulsating, unrelenting percussion.  There was no doubt to me that I was in some serious heavy metal territory – my genre of choice. However, this seemed more metal than Metallica, Slayer, or Iron Maiden.  Perhaps it was the ever-changing dynamics of The Downward Spiral and the absolute depravity of Reznor’s voice which, when drilled into the psyche of a teenager, would be cause of unrest and chaotic emotions off the bat.  “Mr. Self Destruct” rips and tears while “Piggy” conveys a confident swagger.  Trent Reznor has total control of your every sense.

This music was indescribable to me.  Twelve years old – I recognized the huge distorted guitars, the tightly programmed drums, and the other-worldly ambiance that permeates throughout, especially on the disc’s 2nd half.  Now looking back, I am able to identify the influence of artists I have discovered and have grown to appreciate within The Downward Spiral. The record weaves together a tapestry of sound much like This Mortal Coil’s Filigree & Shadow and It’ll End in Tears by expressing deep emotional longing while using different voices and arrangements.  “Reptile” levels with Swans-esque dirge while “Heresy” brings to mind a pop sensibility and arrangement that could have been provided Simple Minds in their heyday.  “Closer” - the album’s most polarizing (and popular) track - could very well be what Joy Division would have sounded like in 1994.

The Downward Spiral was a gamechanger, bringing musicianship and art to the next conceptual level for me.  Green Day and Metallica were bands.  Trent Reznor was an artist. And at the top of his game – he was not to be fucked with.  The Downward Spiral remains a piece of living art.  Going back on occasion and holding the package and listening to the CD from front to back gives me the same feelings I felt the first time I heard it.  It reminds me that music can be more than just going into a basement with your friends and ripping riffs all day. Music can also purge emotions and allow for a better understanding of how using different sounds and utilizing studio space can create a cathartic experience.  From “Mr. Self Destruct” to “Hurt”, Trent Reznor takes you on a visceral journey to hell and back and then back to hell.  This powerful work of art remains inspirational to me and the other members of my band by reminding us that unfiltered anger and sheer emotion is as important to creativity as just musical prowess and songwriting ability.  The Downward Spiral possesses all of the above qualities and is a benchmark album made without conforming to anyone else’s rules.



  2. Thanks so much for posting this, i really enjoyed and appreciated it, it really took me back because i had a similar experience. i was 13, and I actually bought the "Closer" cassette single before buying the full length, because i was so intrigued by the song and video, yet felt that maybe it was a bit too much or too deep for me to get into. For some reason i was scared of bands at that age. i was into Nirvana, Pearl Jam, AIC, White Zombie, but knew NIN was a completely different animal. I believe the next tape i bought was Pretty Hate Machine, i still just didn't feel ready for TDS for some reason, but after i received it (from Columbia House) i did the same thing, just completely engulfed myself in the album. i read the lyrics and listened to the first few tracks, and went to a friends birthday party at some fire hall type place. when i got home, i went to bed and listened to the whole thing on my walkman in the dark. It was like nothing i had ever listened to before....i wanted to know what made all those decaying yet emotional sounds layered in the tracks. it was alot to wrap my head around at that time, but i knew at that point that it would change my life. NIN became a favorite after that, and i'm pretty sure i was the only 8th grader in my town sporting a shirt. I was also intrigued by the whole "halo" concept and knew i had to own EVERYTHING this guy put out. I didn't end up seeing nine inch nails until "The Slip" tour, nearly 15 years later, but when they played "Reptile" all those old feelings of amazement came back. Just wanted to share. thanks.