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THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL

Nine Inch Nails

Crossover Prog


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Nine Inch Nails The Downward Spiral album cover
3.89 | 106 ratings | 7 reviews | 39% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection


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Studio Album, released in 1994

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Mr Self Destruct (4:30)
2. Piggy (4:24)
3. Heresy (3:54)
4. March of the Pigs (2:58)
5. Closer (6:13)
6. Ruiner (4:58)
7. The Becoming (5:31)
8. I Do Not Want This (5:41)
9. Big Man With a Gun (2:18)
10. A Warm Place (3:23)
11. Eraser (4:53)
12. Reptile (6:52)
13. The Downward Spiral (3:56)
14. Hurt (6:15)

Total time 65:46

Lyrics

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Music tabs (tablatures)

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Line-up / Musicians

- Trent Reznor / vocals, all instruments
- Adrian Belew / guitars
- Danny Lohner / guitars
- Andy Kubiszewski / drums
- Chris Vrenna / drums, programming, sampling
- Stephen Perkins / drum loops
- Charlie Clouser / programming

Thanks to windhawk for the addition
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Explicit Lyrics
Nothing/TVT/Interscope Records 1994
Audio CD$6.70
$2.79 (used)
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Single
Interscope 1995
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Audio CD$39.95
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NINE INCH NAILS The Downward Spiral ratings distribution


3.89
(106 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(39%)
39%
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(37%)
37%
Good, but non-essential (16%)
16%
Collectors/fans only (5%)
5%
Poor. Only for completionists (3%)
3%

NINE INCH NAILS The Downward Spiral reviews


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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Slartibartfast
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars As an old prog hand and as an Adrian Belew fan, this album was my opening to taking an interest in Nine Inch Nails. Adrian just did a brief cameo on this one and I had a girlfriend at the time that really liked the music so I checked it out. At the time there really wasn't much new happening in progressive music, that I knew of, and this album really changed my tastes of my favorite music.

Sure it was to a large extent unlike all the music I had experienced before and considered prog, or as I like to call it, really good music. An interesting amalgam of profanity, synths, heavy guitars, and you name it. Still I can get past the harshness (dark, bleak, angry) of the music and hear an artist who has listened to prog and learned a few lessons incorporated here. At the very least, I have a hard time not taking an interest in anything Belew has touched.

Avoid it if you don't want to be disturbed or challenged. Four on the roundup. (Not the insecticide.))

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Review by Chicapah
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars "The Downward Spiral" is a concept album that, via confrontational music and lyrics, documents a man's self-induced annihilation. Its brutal and often vulgar portrayal of the protagonist's tragedy may be impossible for some to endorse and the idea of finding anything enjoyable in it might suggest to those harboring that opinion that the willing listener suffers from a deficiency in the morals department. I can understand that mindset but I certainly don't agree with it. "Whoa, old geezer," you may be saying, "if you're the 'Christian' you claim to be isn't it sinful and downright blasphemous for you to admire a project that is so rife with obscene, abhorrent and loathsome language?" To that I respond that a love for God and for worldly art is not incompatible. Picasso's "Guernica" is a striking expression of the horrors and atrocities of war but it still enthralls me. Beethoven was a frustrated grouse who often shook his fist at the creator for allowing him to go deaf but his symphonies never fail to astonish my senses. Hardy's novel "Jude the Obscure" reveals the very worst in human nature yet its literary grandeur floors me. My point is that, regardless of the mental state of the artiste or the subject matter they opt to exploit, my decision to indulge or not to indulge in their offering is always based on whether or not I feel they're being honest with me. I have no tolerance for those whose only aim is to offend. In the case of "The Downward Spiral" there was no avoiding the incorporation of vile and sordid words if a realistic, unflinching look into the deteriorating world of a desperate, suicidal nihilist was to be achieved so that aspect of this endeavor was never an issue for me. If it's good, it's good. Period.

Released right smack dab in the middle of the 90s, Trent Reznor's uncompromising, raw approach was perfect for the disillusioned Generation X'ers that bought over 5 million copies of this CD. He was pissed off and so were they. It also appealed to aging proggers like me because it pushed the envelope of the accepted norm. I simply had never heard anything like it and it kicked serious tail, to boot. In essence, a lot of us were wondering what became of the utopian society that was supposed to blossom into being before the glorious new millennium arrived and Nine Inch Nails captured that frustrated despondency even better than the snarling grunge movement did. Though not to this extreme, each of us had brief moments when we felt as disgusted with the planet's population as the album's poor sap drowning in his percolating angst did and sometimes misery just adores company.

The aptly titled "Mr. Self Destruct" opens with what sounds like a person being physically sick while using their head to bludgeon a hole in some cheap drywall with ever-increasing gusto. It's unnerving, to say the least. The song's percussive impetus is akin to a pinball being tossed into an empty washer on spin cycle and the result is taut tension on the order of a heart attack. What I can only describe as melodic white noise surrounds Reznor's frantic vocal as he screams "I am the bullet in the gun/I am the truth from which you run/I am the silencing machine/I am the end of all your dreams" (every line is completed with a whispered "and I control you"). The sudden breakdown midway through is like flying into the calm eye of a hurricane before they re-enter the storm and peak in a gaseous billow of neurons gone haywire. Not for the faint of heart and, if this freaks you out, exit now. "Piggy" has a foreboding, sparse bass/drum backdrop in the early going, then a thin organ summons ominous clouds of dark matter as our boy (let's just call him Bo going forward), devastated by his lover's abandonment, sings of lost hope. "Hey, pig, there's a lot of things I hoped you could help me understand/what am I supposed to do?/I lost my s**t because of you/nothing can stop me now/I don't care anymore," he intones. The tune ends in a cacophony of haphazard drumming as if individual bricks in his mind's wall were breaking loose.

Not satisfied to limit blame to his failed relationship, Bo takes on his pastor and religion in general. "Heresy" features deep synthesizer notes and a heavy, lead-footed drum pattern that wouldn't be out of place in Goliath & Samson's Disco. Trent's mix of mad ranting and airy falsetto is an inspired juxtaposition on the verses but his in-your-face spewing of "Your God is dead/and no one cares/if there is a hell/I'll see you there" pulls no punches. The number's weird bridge section is like a glimpse into an abyss where demons run amok. The urgent "March of the Pigs" is next and it's an intense, frenzied polka-on-speed-in-7/8- time jitterbug comparable to unrelenting tidal waves washing ashore. This time it's crass consumerism Bo targets with "step right up march push/crawl right up on your knees/please greed feed." The simple piano breaks Reznor injects are temporary respites from insanity. What follows is the guess-the-missing-word FM radio hit that is "Closer" in which we learn that anti-hero Bo has foregone romance altogether, finding immediate enlightenment and a reprieve from his troubles by immersing himself in the lust of the flesh. In graphic terms Bo informs his concubine-for-hire that his desire is to copulate with her like a Rhesus monkey. (Which is humorous because, as anyone who has taken a gander at the Animal Planet channel knows, the sex act in all but the realm of homo sapiens is pretty much a wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am happening and not particularly gratifying for either party.) But all that aside, this iconic song is an infectious collage of industrial synth samples and exasperated vocalizations that works on many levels and the patient piece by piece buildup to the finale is pure genius. Trent's frequency manipulations are nothing short of cubist paintings with sounds used instead of colors and the haunting theme performed on what brings to mind a broken toy piano during the coda is unforgettable.

"Ruiner" sports a looped rock beat pounding in front of a noisy verse that leads to a deliciously pompous ascending chorus. It's a very disorienting yet engaging tune where we discover that Bo has grown paranoid and is striking out at an unspecified adversary. "You had all of them on your side, didn't you?/the ruiner's got a lot to prove/he's got nothing to lose/and now he made you believe/the ruiner's your only friend/well, he's the living end/to the cattle he deceives" he spits. Reznor weaves in another eerie breakdown where a highly distorted guitar wanders about like a bewildered phantom. On "The Becoming" the album falters a bit. The repeating pattern in 13/4 time is overly busy and borders on annoying. Bo is slipping farther into psychosis and loss of identity, evidenced by his acknowledgement that "the me that you know doesn't come around much/that part of me isn't here anymore." The track's arrangement allows it to flow into some less- distracting acoustic guitar strumming and that helps to save it from dulling monotony. "I Do Not Want This" is next and its discordant piano slithering underneath synthetic drums makes for a macabre aura on the verse. Here it would seem that even professional therapy isn't getting through as Bo sings "you extend your hand to those who suffer/to those who know what it really feels like/to those who've had a taste/like that means something" as evidenced by his startling, irate outburst of "Don't you tell me how I feel!" on the chorus. During the extended instrumental section Trent gets a little too gimmicky with studio trick overkill. However, one can't ignore Bo's emotional, impassioned cry of "I want to know everything/I want to be everywhere/I want to f**k everyone in the world/I want to do something that matters!" that speaks directly to our egos without discretion. Powerful.

"Big Man with a Gun" is exactly what you think it's about (the makers of Viagra should jump on this pronto to use in their ad campaign) and its non-stop pulsating beat fires this short piece of guttural malice to a white-hot glow before you know what hit you. "A Warm Place" is a mystery-shrouded instrumental that delivers a much-needed break from the usual NIN churning bulldozer approach and is almost peaceful. "Eraser" starts with rat scratches in the night accompanied by mindless human hums. TR then spices it up with the world's fattest drum kit laying down a massive 6/4 superhighway, blends in a snaky synth line and tosses in random guitar snippets and voila! He has himself a trippy deal going down. The vocal enters at the 3:30 mark with some bare, esoteric lyrics and quickly the thing turns into a subliminal torture chamber. Bo has crossed a dangerous line, giving himself over to the deadly escapism of opiates. "Reptile" has the echoes of a train rumbling along tracks in the distance, then evolves into a dense dirge with a throbbing undertow roiling beneath the vocal. The more "normal" chorus of "Oh, my beautiful liar/oh, my precious whore/my disease, my infection/I am so impure" is welcome here but the verses' inventive guitar effects are anything but ordinary. The cut's gargantuan climax is exhilarating.

"The Downward Spiral" is akin to a murky pool of indecision joined by a ghostly reprise of the theme from "Closer" in the first half, then it morphs into a slippery muted swirl as if we suddenly jammed cotton balls into our ears. The disturbing words explain the muffling explicitly. "He couldn't believe how easy it was/he put the gun into his face/BANG!/(so much blood for such a tiny little hole)," we're told quietly. Problem is, the wound wasn't fatal and now Bo's just maimed. It ends with the poignant, heartbreaking "Hurt" that says it all. It's intentionally distorted like we've got a bad connection but Reznor's subdued voice is clear as a bell as he moans "What have I become?/my sweetest friend/everyone I know/goes away in the end" and "you could have it all/my empire of dirt." The droning music gives the impression that something essential inside Bo is damaged beyond repair and the ambiguous finale is as if someone forgot to turn the universe off when they left. The effect is devastating.

While not as emotionally disemboweling, I found Porcupine Tree's masterpiece "Fear of a Blank Planet" to be just as bleak and, in its own way, the Who's "Quadrophenia" in '73 presented an equally dismal outlook on life and I treasure them both (and that's just in Progville). What, you might inquire, does a follower of JC find interesting about depression and self-doubt? I won't get preachy (I hear your applause), but they all showcase existences lived separated from God and therein lies the lesson. Let those who have ears... well, you know. Anyway, what Trent Reznor did here is pretty dang amazing and it's no wonder that he fell into his own downward spiral in the years that followed this release. The darkness he conjured moved in with him for a while but it doesn't take away from the fact that he made something unique with this album. Is it prog? In my book it is. Music doesn't have to be upward-looking to be progressive. 4.4 stars.

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Review by Conor Fynes
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars 'The Downward Spiral' - Nine Inch Nails (8/10)

Using a hefty dose of anger and disillusionment to his benefit, Trent Reznor has hereby created one of the most unique and disturbing albums I've ever listened to. To anyone that isn't familiar with the term 'industrial' in the musical sense, it will be a bit difficult to explain how this music exactly sounds. Having been under the impression that this strange and unexplored genre had alot to do with using atonal machine sounds as instruments, I had been turned off to even looking into it for a while. However, after having been given the explanation that the realm of 'industrial' was an extension of the psychedelic scene - exploring music by experimenting with new, as yet unheard sounds - I decided to start my journey into this genre with a band I had already heard plenty of good things about. While I had heard a few fleeting moments of NIN beforehand, this would be my first experience with Reznor's music, and suffice to say, I'm very happy that I made the leap of faith.

The first listen to 'The Downward Spiral' as you can imagine, was something of a system shock. I wasn't sure whether it was amazing in it's arrangement and density, or unlistenable in it's atonality and heaviness. As the music first starts going, the listener is bombarded with a collage of controlled noise with a subdued vocal melody singing over top of it. Before long though, some strong melodic hooks are thrown in as a perfect counterbalance to the harsh tones. This style and emphasis on dissonance carries out through most of the album, with a few segments (such as the interlude 'A Warm Place') counting as exceptions.

While the songs themselves are enjoyable, possibly the most enjoyable thing about 'The Downward Spiral' is it's sense of experimental production and sonic density. At any given time, there are multiple things going on, which can make it a pretty challenging listen at first until you start getting a hang of the basics. The sounds and loops used here are also a point of interest, because alot of these sounds cannot be heard in nature as we would think it. While most rock bands focus on the melodies and songwriting and seem to forget about the importance of the actual sound itself, Trent Reznor seems to be meticulous in the way he crafts the sounds of the studio to his liking. What emerges is something that can only be described as sounding 'dystopian.'

'The Downward Spiral' is described as being a concept album about one man's decent into insanity. While there isn't a real flowing narrative here, the general running tone of the album helps to bind it together as a single piece of music. While the middle section of the album seems to be a bit of a dip in quality ('I Do Not Want This' is a good track, but doesn't compare too well to the rest of the fantastic music) the final moments make up for it and more. Strangely enough, Trent Reznor decides to top off the album with a track thats quite unlike the rest of the album that came before it. 'Hurt' is what you could call Nine Inch Nails' version of a ballad; poignant, dense yet filled with emotion and poignance. Being quite a bit more melodic and laid- back than alot of the other music here, it makes for a really heart-wrenching end to an album which I can safely say has changed my view on music.

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Review by zravkapt
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Post/Math Rock Team
4 stars Mainstream rock music in the mid-90s rarely got better than this. Certainly more "progressive" than the majority of rock-based music coming out at the time. NIN were labeled 'industrial' but in reality were so much more; more melodic, more metallic, and much more diverse than most groups under that label. If it hadn't been for the success of the video/single "Closer", I don't think this album would have sold as much as it did. Even "Hurt" wasn't a big hit at the time and only became well-known because of the Johnny Cash version a decade later. The first single/video from the album was "March Of The Pigs"...an odd choice I always thought, what with the syncopated start/stop rhythm and the lovely piano lines that don't seem to fit the rest of the song.

I originally had this on cassette, and I always loved playing Side B(beginning with the eerily beautiful "A Warm Place") the most because all the songs segued into each other. It was like one really long song(no wonder I got into prog!) Trent Reznor plays most of the instruments himself although he is occasionally helped out by guitarist Adrian Belew(Zappa, T Heads, Crimson, etc). Jane's Addiction/Porno For Pyros drummer Stephen Perkins appears on "I Do Not Want This", U2 collaborater Flood even uses the ancient analogue synth ARP 2600 on "The Becoming", while Tommy Lee of Motley Crue/Pamela Anderson fame is credited with "steakhouse"(???) on "Big Man With A Gun". A little warning: if you don't like sexual/violent and/or anti-religious lyrics, this album ain't for you. A shame because you're going to miss out on some great music.

The music is mostly synth & distorted guitar-oriented, although there is plenty of room for acoustic guitar and piano. The singing can go from soft lullabys to yelling/screaming(usually studio treated). Most of the drumming is programmed but touring drummer Chris Vrenna occasionally gives us some "real" drumwork. The Downward Spiral is light years ahead of the debut Pretty Hate Machine, but generally continues where the 1992 EP Broken left off. If all you know from this album is "Closer" and "Hurt", then you are in for a surprise as the other songs don't really sound anything like those two. Worth at least 3.5 but I'll round it up to 4.

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Review by Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars The sheer rage and anger which drove Reznor through the Broken EP gutters out into depressed self-loathing on The Downward Spiral. Lyrically speaking, the album consists half of the sort of statements which really cut to the heart of the experience of depression, and half of the sort of embarrassing tripe depressed people try to distance themselves from once they're out of their low. Musically, there are a number of strong tracks here - I particularly like Mr Self Destruct and A Warm Place - but Reznor's gear shift into a more metal-focused sound which by now has purged most of the dance music influences of the first two releases results in a lot of the album feeling like filler to me.

Fact is, Reznor protegee Marilyn Manson had already done the shock rock Middle America- baiting pop-industrial metal thing much better, and so tracks like Heresy and Closer don't seem transgressive to me such as petulant. There are far catchier, more emotive, more experimental and more groundbreaking industrial releases to spend your time and money on - including Nine Inch Nails' own Broken - so the necessity of this release is questionable at best.

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Review by TCat
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars I have a hard time understanding why people seem to have a hard time accepting this album as a essential masterpiece of progressive rock. I can give you a lot of reasons why this is progressive and these reasons follow in the next paragraph.

It was inspired by the works of David Bowie (Low) and Pink Floyd (The Wall). It is a concept album in every sense of the word about a man on a downward spiral of destruction from the beginning to an attempt at suicide. Sure that's a heavy subject but then so was The Wall. It is musical progression in that Trent changed his focus from the synth-pop of "Pretty Hate Machine" to hard hitting guitar centered music ranging from heavy metal to prog-industrial (King Crimson style anyone?) to short bits of ambience. It has some very tricky meters through various part of the album (29/8 time signature in "March of the Pigs' for example). The heavy guitar sound was influenced by Adrian Belew (Frank Zappa, King Crimson) who felt that Trent's ideas at the time was a good outlet for Belew's guitar experimentation, in fact, Belew not only helped on two tracks ("Mr. Self Destruct" and "The Becoming") but also convinced Reznor that the guitar was a very dynamic instrument and helped steer him away from the syth-heavy sound that he was using. This album is also a study in dynamics and abruptness, there is very little use of crescendos and decrescendos, but dynamic changes are very abrupt and fit this music and the concept perfectly. Most of the songs here do not use conventional song patterns such as Verse/Chorus/Repeat. The album itself worked to inspire a host of future artists and is still essential and evident to this day. The structure of the music is based on experimental and psychedelic music and the influence of both types of music are used effectively throughout. Odd chord changes and chord manipulations (Hurt) abound. Recurring themes are scattered among the tracks tying the concept together. Inventive music and experimental sounds are all over this album (The Downward Spiral, Mr. Self Destruct, etc.) I don't know what else people need to prove that this is progressive music.

Now, I agree that it doesn't fit to everyone's taste. It is a study in extremes, so even though you get some beautifully quiet passages, most of the album is loud and noisy. It is industrial, yes, but progressive elements are infused into the music all throughout the album. If you don't like the over the top loudness and feelings of loss of control, then this is not for you. It is dark, but if it wasn't, it wouldn't be very true to it's concept. So that's just how it is. I can't blame people for not wanting to listen to it because of the subject matter, but that doesn't bother me, so I recognize this for the masterpiece that it is. It may not be the most progressive music out there, but it's definitely more progressive than any of the music that was popular (or is popular now) and anything that becomes accessible to the masses that promotes progressive music is a great thing. This is a type of album that I wouldn't be surprised if Mike Patton or Toby Driver would put out, of course with their own styles, but their styles aren't really that far removed from this. This is not an overrated album. It is the celebrated masterpiece that it deserves to be, but those that should be it's proponents are it's biggest deniers. As for myself, I can't recognize this for anything less than what it is. 5 stars.

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3 stars Before unleashing uncompromising hatred upon me, remember that three stars is still technically a "good" rating. I just find The Downward Spiral to be very, very overrated. If you don't already know, the concept of this album is the destruction of one particular man with no told name. This would ... (read more)

Report this review (#278085) | Posted by CinemaZebra | Thursday, April 15, 2010 | Review Permanlink

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