Review Summary: A furious, relentless musical masterpiece that can truly be considered to be a work of art.
Nine Inch Nails
The Downward Spiral
Nothing Records, 1994
While recording their music, most musicians and artists struggle to fulfill one purpose, and complete one goal. It is a goal that is not strived for by the musicians themselves, it is instead craved for by the listeners, by the fans, by the people who would stand out in the pouring rain for hours just to see their musical hero. This one purpose: emotion. If music contained no emotion, then it would, simply put, not be music, it would just be boring, mismatched sounds wandering aimlessly through a blank aural soundscape. Luckily for rabid fans of music, such as myself, many, many artists have managed to achieve emotion in their songs, whether it be anger, lust, or happiness. Composer, producer, and sole member of industrial group Nine Inch Nails
, Trent Reznor, is not only an artist who achieves emotion through his music, but is also somebody who has managed to perfect this musical approach, and make it into something entirely different. An example of this emotional experience can surely be represented by The Downward Spiral
, considered by many to be one of the most powerful, emotional albums of all time.
The Downward Spiral
is a concept album, plain and simple. It follows a story arc that can be interpreted in many different ways. The music can be used to display different parts of the story, and helps express the feelings of the protagonist, and the feelings of Reznor himself. The story line found here has always been debatable, with many fans deciphering the lyrics in different ways. It is generally accepted, however, that the story follows a man who slowly descends into madness, eventually committing suicide.
The theme described above is created magnificently through Trent Reznor's outstanding lyrics, considered to be some of the best of his career. Most of the lyrical content is depressing, with disturbing imagery and sickly sexual innuendo acting as a springboard for much of the songwriting. 'Reptile' and 'Closer', two magnificent, epic tracks, are prime examples of the explicitly sexual lyrics that may be found here. Religion is another key factor behind Reznor's songwriting, with 'Heresy' bluntly explaining how ridiculous religion can be. In recent interviews, Trent admitted that he was greatly inspired by recording in the house where actress Sharon Tate was murdered to write many of his dark lyrics, often describing this album as 'a soundtrack of destruction'.
Almost all of the music found on this album was recorded by Trent Reznor himself, which makes it all the more impressive. Unlike his debut Pretty Hate Machine
, Trent has decided to take a much heavier direction, with pounding keyboard and guitar melodies crashing into the listener with brutal ferocity. Album opener 'Mr. Self Destruct' takes this aggressiveness to all new heights, with obliterating walls of powerful, brutal sound. The drumming drives these powerful soundscapes, with many furious, catchy drum beats interspersed amongst the prominent guitar-synth aural assaults. 'March Of The Pigs' contains some of the quickest, angriest drumming to ever grace my ears, which really escalates the song to new places. As this is considered to be an industrial album, many of the instruments are tweaked to sound like machines. The rhythmic, mechanical musical effects on 'Reptile' are dark and twisted, while the wah-wah guitars on 'Closer' seemingly try to replicate some sort of twisted factory device.
Not all of the songs here are heavy, however, with the slower, softer songs often acting as calm bridges between heavier songs. 'Piggy' is an excellent follow up to the angry opener, with a cool repetitive drum beat following Trent's calm vocals and catchy verses. 'Hurt', the critically praised album closer, is a gorgeous acoustic ballad with heavy, brooding undertones, as well as some brilliant production. There is even a short, ambient song 'A Warm Place', which manages to be quite beautiful and mysterious in it's own unique way.
With The Downward Spiral
, Trent Reznor has managed to make one of the most emotional, powerful albums of all time. With it's openly debatable storyline and brilliant composition, this album will surely go down in history as a milestone for industrial music, as well as music in general.