Nine Inch Nails
The Downward Spiral


4.0
excellent

Review

by lateoctober USER (9 Reviews)
January 23rd, 2009 | 20 replies | 3,395 views


Release Date: 1994 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The Downward Spiral: One of the most harrowing concept albums of all time, or the Holy Bible theatricalized?

4 of 9 thought this review was well written

Ah yes! The Downward Spiral, an album I have once clinged to in those desperate lonely nights, inhaling my own stale air. The flickering of a dim lampshade in the distance as I fell asleep to the endless clattering of furnace machinery and guttural howls screaming out from my headphones. Call me aloof but there comes a time in those difficult adolescent years that such chaos is necessary to understand the chaos of the world we live in. The Downward Spiral to many of us is the old saying “who needs therapy when you have Trent Reznor” Those words hold some truth to them but like the dangers of any misdiagnoses it would be best taking those words with a pinch of a salt.

It may seem strange at first that I compare this technical milestone in industrial metal to an other album released in 1994: The Holy Bible, by what now are an anthemic somewhat adult alternative rock band in their 40’s, the little band that could, The Manic Street Preachers. But back in the early 1990s the group had a secret weapon (not so secret anymore) in rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards. The self harming, bile spewing poetic lyricist was finally declared legally dead last year after mysteriously disappearing in 1995. He was on the verge of the group’s first American tour. Edwards had a saying that he would make one classic album then “Burn Out”. That promise he fulfilled after making such an album in The Holy Bible.

Now if there are any albums I have heard in my life which I could compare in similarity and then make a judgment on which one pales behind the other it would be these two grim opuses. The problem I have in making that decision means I have to move on and admit that as good as it still is The Downward Spiral seems to falter. As the years creep by, swept underneath the doors of my memory I realize that I can not feel the same urge of rebellion that flowed vitally through me years ago. It’s a sad undermining feeling nostalgia leaves that you can not relive those years again, but I’m letting this one go.

Musically The Downward Spiral has to be a record for the ages. It is so well crafted, so meticulously layered that describing the structure of the songs inside just seems futile to their quality. The Becoming with its ominous sampled screams perfectly arranged to add maximum visceral effect to that shuddering bass line, the icy death disco of Ruiner with that perfect bluesy solo and their just the lesser known tracks. March of the Pigs, Closer and Reptile have all become nightclub staples whilst the now legendary closer Hurt has become the Decades of well, the decade. The Downward Spiral if anything serves now as a historical document in what the mid nineties sounded like, the answer to why Axel Rose developed his Robin Finch obsession or what twisted pit spawned grotesque Reznor protégé Marilyn Manson into mass stardom.

So why, why after such praise could I have given this a 4 rating? You see this is where I believe the Manics Holy Bible can be used as ample evidence to what makes the Downward Spiral just miss the status of being a life changing classic. What made Richie Edwards stark tirades of political oppression, mental illness and vile murderous atrocities work in a way that seemed life affirming to me was that many of the songs came from first hand experience or they were poetically abstract enough to avoid accusations of hollow shock value and exploitation. Both albums snarl and spit in disgust at humanity, both lyrically and musically (The Holy Bibles, the Intense Humming of Evil is even a Nine Inch Nails Inspired track) However Reznor chose to craft differently. He worked laboriously on the work, perhaps too laboriously……

Lyrically The Downward Spiral is given its fatal flaw, Reznor has never been a great lyricist but whilst he lacks subtlety he makes up for it in melody. The Downward Spiral however is mired by a sheer convoluted pretension which parodies its serious subject matter in mental illness. I am not one to spit out at the apolitically correct but this is an album which could very well stigmatize depressive illnesses further. It is one thing to say that depressed people like to engage in sex with prostitutes and disregard lovers frequently at ease but to include a song like “Big Man with a Gun” is just preposterous. Fortunately to assume that many who have listened to The Downward Spiral believe whole heartedly in its concept would be an insult to people’s intelligence. Of course most of us do not take this albums concept too seriously, which is what buries such grievances under the rug but it is still frustrating all the same that what the album lyrically is, is a parody of its subject matter.

This then hurts the music as well. There is almost never a destination point for this spinning bullet. The lovely late night ambience of A Warm Place which seems to borrow a lot from David Bowie's Chrystal Japan is the only thing that provides space to breath up until Hurt and it is placed near the end of the disc. In all its macabre bluster Reznor could have eased back on the tension to invite me into the actual albums theme. If he thought that he could not tackle the concept with complete honesty he could have at least let some melancholy passages do the talking. Of course Reznor was a young man at the time enjoying his youth and it is hard for me to attack him for not being able to transform this music into an honest testament for an experience that no one wishes to endure.

If something good can be said about the albums lyrical content is that when at his simplest Reznor’s flair for emotional theatrics is spot on. Mr. Self Destruct’s cryptic declarations of the many addictions we seem to openly enjoy are jarringly poetic and its blistering chainsaw guitars and machine gun drum loops are an outstanding example of how aggressive yet tuneful industrial music can be. The now well quoted Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche statement that “God is dead” is used well to enhance Heresy’s and the album’s nihilistic undertones and finally Hurt in all its ragged, dissonant and heartbreaking glory is an achievement on its own that Reznor has yet to best.

As one grows older this is an album which has the possibility to loose playability value, fortunately in this case it just means from something that was played infinitely is now played frequently. I can admit to myself that life and the people I meet on the way offer opportunities to be the best person I can be. The Holy Bible on the other hand has stood the test of time to a further degree. It educates, it makes you give a damn and that alone is a liberating experience.

For me this is an album I still keep close to my heart though. Despite my frustration with how Reznor went about crafting it I can forgive him as he was simply free and naïve as I am now. What’s done is done but the music itself has stood the test of time, a haunting yet somehow warm reminder that there is light at the end of the tunnel if one chooses to see it and that growing pains can fade. This ironically is completely different to how the albums story ends of course but the sentiment of such a journey is easily more powerful than just ending it with a suicide.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
lateoctober
January 23rd 2009



171 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is not really an in depth review as such, in a way that I mean saying what already has been said. I wanted to make a negative argument on an album I feel positive about.

I have tried to play this as much as I used to but I just can not do it anymore, so this is in a way a personal reflection on that matter with both principles and musical taste in mind.

I don't expect it to be liked and come to think of it, it is a bit over stuffed but I like things imperfect and it's probably the kind of mess I will have to release to get over myself writing with too much restraint and fear of criticism.

Merkaba33
January 23rd 2009



702 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Edwards had a saying that he would make one classic album then “Burn Out” that promise he fulfilled after making such an album in The Holy Bible.



Put a period after burn out. Also stick a comma in your summary before "or". It would make it more understandable.

Your review was good enough that I don't think the comparison to the Holy Bible was even needed. Your a good writer. You get a positive from me.This Message Edited On 01.23.09

slack
January 23rd 2009



248 Comments


ew.

three paragraphs in and i was wondering if i was reading a review of the downward spiral.

the review felt condescending somewhat. hard to pinpoint exactly, but i thought you came across as arrogant sounding.

also, lines like this, "The lovely late night ambience of A Warm Place which seems to borrow a lot from David Bowie's Chrystal Japan is the only thing that provides space to breath up until Hurt and it is placed near the end of the disc." take up a lot of space and are not very meaningful to those of us who have not heard the song you're comparing it to.

neg.

fireaboveicebelow
January 24th 2009



6837 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

out of the box review, if someone wants to know exactly what songs you're talking about there's 5 other reviews for this, pos for originality

badtaste
January 24th 2009



824 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

"... whilst the now legendary closer Hurt has become the Decades of well, the decade."

Is that a mistake, or a reference to something that I am (obviously) not familiar with?

Alright review, but it jumps all over the place for me. Less of a review, more of a... journal type rant thingy.

Meatplow
January 24th 2009



5524 Comments


I always feel I should like this more then I do, NIN is a group I listen to a fair bit but still have never warmed up to fully for some reason.

Willie
Moderator
January 24th 2009



15774 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I'm with you there. Other than Pretty Hate Machine and Broken, NIN doesn't do anything for me.

Digging: Teramaze - Esoteric Symbolism

lateoctober
January 24th 2009



171 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

actually slack just to burst your bubble the first paragraph pretty much is about the downward spiral (almost all of it) the second is to coincide with my overall consensus and the third to explain what I am going to tackle in the review as an end for my introduction.

Almost everything else is The Downward Spiral related and I thought it was wise to make an attack at a warm place to enlighten those who have not heard Bowie's Chrystal Japan (no one has brought that up)


I like criticism but to be honest yours "came across as arrogant sounding."

Note for those who wanted to know "Decades" is the final track from Joy Divisions final album, Closer (if you ignore the posthumous A Sides and rarity's collection Substance)The song is often referenced in music journalism for better or worst as one of the best album closers of all time. This Message Edited On 01.24.09

bastard
January 24th 2009



3435 Comments


this is kinda meh.

great review though.

Spamue1G
January 24th 2009



1292 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

A below 5-star review... NEGNEGNEGNEGNEG
Seriously though, pretty good but in need of tidying up. I'll pos, as it's pretty informative.
I disagree about the lyrics. They work very well in the context of the album, even though they aren't exactly filled to the brim with complex vocabulary.This Message Edited On 01.24.09

STOP SHOUTING!
January 24th 2009



628 Comments


"this is kinda meh"

you bastard, how could you say that?

bastard
January 24th 2009



3435 Comments


well, my opinion is kinda similar to that of iarescientists' (metaldude666), its sort of contrived and overly angsty. I mean, there are highlights, but other than those, this kinda sucks.

slack
January 24th 2009



248 Comments


actually slack just to burst your bubble the first paragraph pretty much is about the downward spiral (almost all of it) the second is to coincide with my overall consensus and the third to explain what I am going to tackle in the review as an end for my introduction.


what are you talking about? the first paragraph is about you more than anything else.

my problem with this review is basically that instead of judging the album independently like a good reviewer would, you compare it against MSP's Holy Bible, or a song by David Bowie, or some other idiotic standard.

lateoctober
January 25th 2009



171 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

So basically you want me to repeat the 5 other reviews on here and not compare it to similar works by artists which have been influenced by of have influenced Trent Reznor, (which was only done once, sorry I brought up that a Warm Place is a remake of that song :P)

The whole point of the Holy Bible comparison is entirely justified both albums are neck to neck with each other for 1994 on the sputnik music chart, deal with the exact same concept and are both lyrically and musically uncompromising. The point of the argument was to give credit where credit is due and not to where it is not.

In this case I felt The Downward Spiral was flawed by how contrived and silly the angst was compared to The Holy Bible, an album which is lesser known in stature. The reason why I take your comment personally is because I think you made a judgment on me personally and not the review, which is the worst way to judge something.

I would have just preferred you judged the review and left such words as "arrogant, idiotic and not good" out as judgment on my own personalty, when we clearly don't know each other and clearly we both don't understand each others ideals when reading a review. This Message Edited On 01.25.09

STOP SHOUTING!
January 25th 2009



628 Comments


Hey guys, cool your jets and chill your beans.

Do you agree with what that bastard said?

Metalstyles
Staff Reviewer
January 25th 2009



8221 Comments


which bastard?This Message Edited On 01.25.09

Digging: Metsatoll - Karjajuht

STOP SHOUTING!
January 25th 2009



628 Comments


Bastard

bastard
January 25th 2009



3435 Comments


this one

Zyb
September 3rd 2010



40 Comments


You don't demonstrate how it's a parody, insult the people that do believe in or understand the album, and actually call the artist dishonest. Terrible.

And a whole paragraph is a review of another album. Which, by the way, doesn't musically represent its themes nearly as well as this.

Piglet
September 3rd 2010



4644 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

These kind of reviews I'm kind of half-and-half about, but yours isn't bad by any drastic measures. Have a generous pos.



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