Review Summary: The Masterpiece of NIN career, still unmatched to this day
“The Downward Spiral” is not for the faint of heart. It’s Nine Inch Nails’ first concept album (All albums have concepts, but when an album follows a story in order through the songs, that is called a concept album.) and it is pretty bleak.
We start out with “Mr. Self Destruct”, which is a song about a man telling someone else that he is everything that person is and how he controls that person. The drums are way too fast for me to hope to play, and the guitar is distorted, yet not in the song much. It starts out with a sample from the movie “THX 1138″ and is played while it gradually speeds up until it is about the same speed as the drums, then the drums come and take the sample’s place. It is very crazy until the bridge, when it slows down a crap load and is almost calming, but before you get settled, BAM! The hard drums and Trent’s screaming comes back. It has about a 45 outro that all it is is static and guitar harmonics. Then it ends for a quick second and we hear Trent saying the famous lines: “Hey Pig.” THAT is how you know we have reached the song “Piggy.”
This is a landmark in NIN history as it is the only song to have Trent playing drums (the frantic drumming over the regular drumming at the end of the song.) It is very basic, just the drums and Trent, then the guitar comes in, then the tambourine, and the… the organ? Well, it is one of the first songs to have Trent saying the even MORE famous lines: “Nothing Can Stop Me Now.” It actually very calming until the crazy drumming comes in. It’s funny because the drums do not fit in with the rest of the song, but they oddly do. Then we have the very old sounding piano type thing playing the even MORE MORE famous “Downward Spiral Motif,” which are those little notes they repeat throughout the album.
Then we come to “Heresy”, which is apparently about a man using religion as a excuse for all the bad things he has done. This is one of my favorite songs on the albums because it is such a hard song and this is one of the first songs that shows how when other artists may HINT at things, Trent comes out and says it to your face. This was a infamous song because in the chorus, Trent screams “YOUR GOD IS DEAD,” but for only 2 out of the around 5-6 times he says something like that, he says THAT. He would usually scream “GOD IS DEAD” instead of “YOUR GOD IS DEAD!” It ends somewhat abruptly, then leads into what I think is my favorite song off the album… no, I don’t think this is it, but I freaking LOVE this song.
“March of the Pigs” is a hard hitting song that only lets up at the end of the chorus, where it changes to just a piano and Trent. This is one of the only songs that, along with starting a riot, makes me want to punch a baby. You will air drum or drum with your fingers or your pens on your desk for DAYS after hearing this song. I am always THIS close to jumping out of my chair and moshing with myself when I hear this song. It is pretty short and ends pretty fast, but then we get to the most famous NIN song ever released.
The second your hear the first two notes, those first two heart-beat like noises, you know you are now listening to the ever so famous “Closer”. This is the ultimate head bobbing and foot tapping song. Every time you hear it, you can’t help it, you just bob your head and tap your feet, like the sound is infecting your brain and telling you to do things. The synth is awesomely awesome and Trent’s lyrics are actually haunting instead of stalker-ish. It’s just how he says the lines against the backdrop the music paints, it leaves you with a song that will never leave your mind after you hear it for the first time. Then we get to the ending keyboard solo, which ends abruptly to lead into one of the songs tied for my favorite song on this album.
“Ruiner” is pretty meaningful song. It is talking about how this man is blaming someone else for all the f-ups in his life and he is wondering how that person did it. The beginning blends in PERFECTLY with the ending of “Closer” and it starts fast and is concise. It gets the message across (even if you can’t hear him over the synth) and it gets it across in a such a way that makes you feel like this man REALLY is starting to lose everything. He keeps saying this other person had to do this or that, didn’t they, and he wonders how this person, who was equal to him, became so much stronger and made his journey so much longer. At the end, it calms down for a bit, but gets right back to the hard hitting drums and the man is telling this other person how they didn’t hurt him and how nothing can stop him now. Once again, ends all of a sudden when Trent says “Nothing can stop-” and leads into another one of my favorite songs.
“The Becoming” is a very synth heavy song. It is about a man who loses himself to his inner demons and almost becomes a machine. To convey that, almost all the instruments are synth and it is VERY mechanical. The lyrics show the final push that really sends this man over the edge, falling down the downward spiral. It calms down during the bridge, with just an acoustic guitar, a distorted voice, and then Trent comes in whispering. This is one of the only times he uses a name, in this case, the name he says in the bridge is Annie while saying, “Annie, hold a little tighter.” Then the synth slams you in the face again, with the final lyrics “It won’t give up, it wants me dead, and goddamn this voice inside my head” until slowing back down into the same guitar from the bridge. Then this odd static fades in and it leads us into the the next level of the downward spiral.
“I Do Not Want This” is pretty basic, but pretty basically awesome. The drums are sampled (or at least it sounds like it) and the guitar is VERY VERY VERY hard and distorted. The piano plays a haunting tune that fits in PERFECTLY. The man is now saying he doesn’t want what he has right now. He hates what he has, but at the same time, he is realizing that what he doesn’t want is all he has left. Then he starts SCREAMING at someone telling them not to tell him how he feels. The ending is very synthy and machine-like. Then we have Trent saying how he wants to do all these things so he can do something that matters. It ends, then we jump into the most violent and hard rock song NIN has ever made.
“Big Man With a Gun” is the point of no return for this man. He goes crazy with anger, telling a man how he can kill him with his gun just for fun. He is saying how he can do all these things to scare this man and to bring his own self up from the ground… but fails very miserably in the process. At the end he is screaming about him and his gun, like it is his only friend. All of these things are shown VERY well through the music, as the guitar is playing nothing but power cords, the drums are getting wailed on, and the synth is ear-bleedingly loud. The song end the most abruptly then any other song and this time, it has a very good reason.
“A Warm Place” is an instrumental. It is a tear-jerker also. You may think, “Dude, it’s just a song.” But you have to see it as part of a story. It has this really sad melody played on a acoustic guitar and the synth is very well done. What it means in the story is the man all of a sudden realizes what he has done and what he is doing. He is thinking back, and he just can’t believe what he has done. He wants to take it all back, but it is too late. Then an odd straw sound starts playing…
…which leads into “Eraser”. It is basically an instrumental also, but Trent comes in at about the last minute and a half. The drums are very overpowering and there is this odd bee like sound. This synth comes in that sounds like an out of tune bass and then an actual guitar comes in playing these really high notes. Then another guitar comes in, playing many dead notes and a few high notes. The first guitar gets an echo effect, then Trent comes in. The lyrics are basically a list. He at first lists how he need this other person to a very calm background… then he lists what he thinks need to happen to him to a very not calm background, with the last lines being “Kill Me” repeated over and over.
Then we get to “Reptile”. The song is about how this love of his is his savor, and yet the person which made him need the saving in the first place. This song real shows the industrial side of NIN with it being all synth in the verses and all synth and one guitar in the chorus. The problem is that it is about 2 minutes too long, and you kinda just want it to be over with. After we get past the movie sample and the outro, we reach the bottom.
“The Downward Spiral” is not the last song, but it is the end of the story. It starts with a odd machine like noise, then we get those famous notes that were played at the end of “Closer” and in many other songs on an acoustic guitar. That stretches out for a bit until it picks up a bit and the acoustic guitar plays something different. Then we get to a part with a heavy but very muffled guitar, hard but very muffled drums, and Trent’s muffled screaming. Over this, we have Trent whispering the final lines of the story of a man who tried to tear away everything just to see what would happen, but ends up in the worst position he could be.
“Hurt” is the final song on the 14 track story known as “The Downward Spiral”. Many people see this song in many different ways. Some people see it as the man starting over again in another life, some see it as a suicide note he left behind. It basically says how he tried to throw everything away after he realized what he become, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t go back to normal. He realizes he became something he never wanted to become, but how he must now live with it. The song is very basic, most of it is just Trent and an acoustic guitar. The choruses add a bit more, until the end when it gets so loud you have to cover your ears. It never really ends, almost like Trent kept it open for the listener to imagine what happens after.
Overall: 5/5. This album tells a story in such an amazing way that you feel bad for this person who doesn’t even live. The songs are so diverse and the story is so amazing that it is almost listening to an audiobook with music. This is an epic told the best way. Here, you can hear how this man is feeling, not read how he is. How mad his is, and just how far he will go to see one tiny thing.