Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral - Classic Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral

by James Weiskittel Rating:10 Release Date:1994-03-08
Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral
Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral

While hard to imagine now, there was a brief point in time where Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor's musical brainchild/alias/moniker, was one of alt-rock’s most prominent bands.  And in terms of cultural relevance, the outfit’s apex occurred with their second full-length album, the appropriately titled The Downward Spiral.

While The Downward Spiral is every bit the vicarious journey into hedonistic self-destruction that the title suggests, it also arguably represents Reznor at his creative peak.  Reznor cashed in on the artistic equity afforded by the slow-burn success of his debut (Pretty Hate Machine), seamlessly juxtaposing his heavily processed, electronica-tinged production with the chaotic, ‘amps-to-eleven’ sound of his well-seasoned live band.

While the album is clearly buoyed by a pair of decade-defining singles (the bondage-themed “Closer” and ‘everybody’s-favorite-song-to-cover’ “Hurt”), what sets The Downward Spiral apart from the rest of Reznor’s catalog is the way in which the album so succinctly realizes it’s overarching theme while managing to still remain an accessible collection of individual songs.  There are arguably ‘heavier’ records (With Teeth, Broken), and ‘headier’ records (The Fragile, Year Zero) in the ‘Nails catalog, but it’s hard to find a more potent artistic statement than that of The Downward Spiral.

Picking up where the live-band-influenced, aggro-tinged Broken E.P. left off, The Downward Spiral opens with the impressively jarring “Mr. Self Destruct”.  The lewd-lounge vibe of “Piggy” and the absolutely visceral “Heresy” and “March of the Pigs” represent what is perhaps the band’s most effective opening salvo of songs on record to date.  But the album's second act, beginning with the touchstone hit “Closer” is where The Downward Spiral really shines; with “Ruiner”, “The Becoming” and the absolutely-punishing “I Do Not Want This” adding a muscular, progressive-tinge to Reznor’s electronica-rock.  

While the album is a fittingly haphazard sonic-assault for the majority of its running time, it’s the final third where Reznor manages to provide listeners with a tangible sense of closure.  The claustrophobically-produced title track and the primally-evocative “Reptile” place Reznor’s imagery-laced lyrics to the forefront while the album-closing “Hurt” remains one of the 90’s most enduring tracks, undoubtedly a ‘someday-soon’ entry into the great American songbook.

While identifying the ‘best’ album from a group as prolific as Nine Inch Nails is an inherently tricky affair, where personal bias and subjectivity render it an almost impossible task; the cultural impact of The Downward Spiral can simply not be overstated.  The album impressively managed to exponentially grow the band’s audience while also satisfying longtime fans.                                                                                 
Regardless of whether it was because they wanted a copy of 'that song' they saw in constant rotation on MTV, or because it was the crowning achievement from their favorite band, The Downward Spiral represents the moment in time when seemingly ‘everyone’ was listening.

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