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Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral
Label: Interscope Records
Release: 1994

Tracklisting:
Mr Self Destruct
Piggy
Heresy
March of the Pigs
Closer
Ruiner
The Becoming
I Do Not Want This
Big Man With A Gun
A Warm Place
Eraser
Reptile
The Downward Spiral
Hurt
The Downward Spiral - Nine Inch Nails
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Of my favorite albums from the mid nineties, The Downward Spiral has the best track record for withstanding the "replay value test". Over the years, I have looked back to my collection to reevaluate some of the classics I had lived by and grown accustomed. This is a veritable masterpiece; and the industry hasn't looked at "modern rock" or electronic music the same way again. Spiral has probably the best flow of any recording I own--it's one of those that must be heard in its entirety. And, this is as good as it gets when it comes to packaging and production.

Apparently, the theme is a suicide, culminating at the end of the album with the quasi-ballad, "Hurt". Each song is unique, yet many of the songs are blended, a la Dark Side of the Moon. The most notable pieces of this album occur when the singer is silent--the music is there to scream or whisper. Many of the instrumentals, for instance, the title track, can even be used as background muzak or to lull to sleep. "The Becoming," one of Trent Reznor's strongest poetry, pits man against machine in this celebrated motif. The lyrics of this machination are absolutely brilliant ("it's the nature of / my circuitry"; "the me that you know is now made up of wires..."), and the first instrumental chorus seems to draw in the listener for another round of assimilation.

If I had to select a low point on this album, I would propose "Big Man With a Gun" as the weakest moment. I could further dissect Halo 8, but that would delay you hearing this album.

Reviewer Rating of CD :

Trent Reznor has never been the poster boy for quiet, melodic pop ballads. His music and his music's imagery are not to be taken lightly. If there is one album to show what Nine Inch Nails is all about, it would be The Downward Spiral. We start off with "Mr. Self Destruct”, which starts off sounding like gun shots and soon smolders into a fiery song, with a tranquil lull in the middle, and an ending that can be unpleasant for the ears due to the immense amount of white noise dubbed over the actual music, followed by some awkward guitar loops. This beauty and ugliness wrapped into one package is the theme of the entire album, and a great way to let the listener understand what is ahead. At points of this album, noise overtakes music, and melody isn't present. Much like life, the downward spiral can be chaotic and messy, and then tranquil, beautiful, and worthwhile. At times overly dark and depressing, while at times completely numb, The Downward Spiral ends with a beautiful ballad "hurt" but the ending note resonates and fades away slowly, leaving us to assume that the end of the spiral is suicide.

The Downward Spiral is a very troubling album that will not settle well with you at first, lyrically and musically. It grows on you though, like a big ugly tumor that makes you want to off yourself.


Reviewer Rating of CD :

On the third track on NIN’s the downward Spiral “Heresy”, Trent Reznor screams “God is dead!”… Followed by, “and no one cares, if there is a hell, I’ll see you there”. Trent Reznor is no lyrical Nietzsche, hell; he’s not even a lyrical Stephen King. Although his explicit lyrics of violence and sexuality do coalesce into a conceptual piece about shame and loss of identity in a world that expects some impossible ideal of perfection does hold the album together and even reaches some emotional high-ground (see the final song, hurt) it never takes off into clever word play or allegory one might expect a good lyricist to do, instead, his heavy themes are weighed down by trite and plain language. Trent’s lyrical Goth poetry meanderings of angst and existential erosion are an eerie pre-cursor to the popularization and bastardization of his particular industrial sub-culture. What once was only scribbled in notebooks of mascara-stained fans of Bauhaus and Skinny Puppy is now plastered across live-journals, hottopic t-shirts and nu-metal lyrics, and Trent is likely to blame for it.

     If you’re over that particular self-glorifying disposition of being “dark”, the lyrics might not ring true to you, but I am confident that when they were written they were written without much irony, because how could anybody foresee that the lyrics to Closer “help me get away from myself” would preempt “I’m one step closer to the edge, and I’m about to break!”… surely this is proof that any sincere expression that somehow makes its way into the public consciousness in a successful way will subsequently be urinated on by anybody who could make a cookie cutter product out of it… well, that’s another story… the real story here isn’t they lyrics, it’s the music.
There’s a reason there’s always a 5 year gap between each NIN album, and it isn’t the lyrics, it’s the crazy layering and mixing that only NIN can pull off. Undoubtedly, Trent Reznor (the one and only Nine inch Nail) is one of the most talented (and by proxy, most underrated) soundscapist in musical history. Synths, distorted guitars and wild crazy drum bullshit stand out so obviously in the mix, but beneath that are layers and layers of sampled sounds ranging from manipulated samples of screams, chainsaws, creaky pipes, stock footage of boxing matches and animal experiments and children’s voices all of which come together on the mixing table to create some ghostly-organic symphony that rarely sounds electronic at all. taking the moody atmosphere of ambient synths and samples and combining it with the equally moody world of hard-rockin’ dance oriented industrial he created a paradigm of in studio perfectionism and craftsmanship that is unparalleled in the gothic scene (and only topped elsewhere is rare instances like Kevin Shield’s of (my Bloody Valentine) crazy guitar epics. This album pays off time after time for the careful listener, constantly bleeding out new layers of sampled trickery. At points the textures of the music becomes so complex that it becomes a beautiful and vulnerable symphony unto itself, reaching emotional depths the lyrics could only hint at, like in “a warm place” a three-minute instrumental that I still earmark after many years of first finding this album as one of the most beautiful instrumental pieces I’ve ever heard.

The album is topped off by the simple and powerful end track, Hurt, which stands as one of the most heart-wrenching pieces to ever come out of the self-indulgent, nihilistic and overly-dramatic world of gothic-industrial and, ironically, the uncharacteristically bare-boned peak of NIN’s music.

Reviewer Rating of CD :

 


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