Review Summary: A dark portrait of depression and self-hate, it's easy to see why this made Reznor a star
Nine Inch Nails. The word brings hate to the lips of industrial purists and invokes great discussion amongst fans; mostly debating weather The Fragile or The Downward Spiral is better. Both have their strong points. Both have their downfalls. Both are utterly amazing. The reason behind this is different for both records but are we here to discuss that? No. We are here to sample the marvels of the album that is credited for opening up the mainstream to industrial and the REAL alternative genre.
The first thing that strikes you with The Downward Spiral is that Reznor has made a genre jump from Broken. As many fans know each album is different in sound and melody. Just look at Pretty Hate Machine, pop, Broken, metal, The Fragile, layered, With Teeth, rock, Year Zero, electronic. You get the idea. NIN got labelled “industrial” from this album. It’s hard not to see why.
The opening track <b>Mr. Self Destruct</b> abuses the synthesizer in unknown ways, manipulating it to create that factory grind. The guitars are pushed in with this wall of noise and soft whispers and scrapes of vocal cords. Breathtaking. But this is only the beginning. Unfortunately the energy gained by <b>Mr. Self Destruct</b> is brought down by <b>Piggy</b>, a quiet song that lets Reznor let a soft undertow pull the lyrics right out of his throat. This is by far not a bad song but it’s placing brings down the energy and that’s what the album is all about, energy. <b>Heresy</b> begins with a sexy electro-pop beat before unleashing heavy drums and screeching guitars into the chorus. <b>March of the Pigs</b> brings out the crazed side of Reznor, the side that would just like to take a guitar and “let it all out”, not caring about anything but the emotion. But this is not Broken. This is something more honed and focused thus bringing in the brief interludes where the drums are hushed and pianos and industrial wind sounds are ushered in.
At this point things are looking good. The next song is one of great brilliance. At first <b>Closer</b> seems like a pop song, radio friendly even, until a sinister beat creeps up and the sexually explicit lyrics are put in place. It is raw emotion. Unmolded but yet so focused and pure. <b>Ruiner</b> puts the industrial sound introduced in the opening tracks back into perspective as it almost totally blocks out Trent’s vocals and spits out what seems to be a distorted bird call. <b>The Becoming</b> begins with another sinister piano solo then thrusts the listener into a world of muffled screams and madness. This is where things become hit-or-miss.
<b>I Don’t Not Want This</b> has it’s heart in the right place but doesn’t seem to excite like the first half did. The drums may sound too basic or there could be a lack of inspired lyrics. Whatever it is you can see that stand starting to slip. Despite all of that this is still a killer song that fits in with the album. Things continue to slip with <b>Big Man With A Gun</b>. It really isn’t needed here and the lyrics are repetitive and uninspired. The droning industrial bursts aren’t complimentary either and begin to hurt after a while. So thank god the album is saved by <b>A Warm Place</b>. A nostalgic little track that seems to act as a calm before the storm; a reflective piece that flows with the soft slur of a deep synthesizer. It being an instrumental also helps, as lyrics could have easily destroyed the song completely.
The next track, <b>Eraser</b>, could have easily been an instrumental piece and for the most part it is. Weighing in at almost 5 minutes long, vocals don’t hit until more than halfway through. Still it works amazingly with the stadium drums and random samples stuck in for extra layer points. <b>Reptile</b> is a hard hitting piece that brings the industrial-factory sound back and depicts the betrayal of a close, promiscuous, friend beneath it’s pounding distorted bass and blistering synths. There isn’t really much to say about <b>The Downward Spiral</b>. The final step before actual suicide it does good at the end with whispers of self-destructing thoughts but the blast of heavy guitar sort of ruins the atmosphere. Finally we come to <b>Hurt</b>. Arguably NIN’s finest song (apart from <b>Closer</b>) it starts off with wind-noise then creeps up with a painful guitar solo with piano/drum chorus that will bring tears to your eyes. The best album closer. Ever.
There you have it. The single most influential industrial album to reach the mainstream in the ‘90’s is probably one of the best albums of all time in my books. The fusion of heavy metal guitars, dark drum beat, abusive synthesizers and striking vocals make for an irresistible listen and it’s even better to dissect and pick apart layer-by-layer of industrial sound. In the end, there is almost nothing that can be done, that can smear the unique sound of this landmark album that ushered in the industrial craze of the mid-’90’s.
March of the Pigs
Big Man With A Gun
Final rating: 5 out of 5