Spin Magazine

August 1999

The Downward Spiral (Nothing/Interscope, 1994)

It was the best of sounds, it was the worst of sounds. In a Los Angeles recording studio, Trent Reznor filtered the nails-on-chalkboard textures of industrial through a blend of punk, metal, hip-hop, stoner rock, and New Wave, which made the machinery pulse as if it were human--and still sounds fresh today. But the studio in question was located in the house where Charles Manson's "Family" slew actress Sharon Tate, and Reznor paid tribute with plenty of sophomoric "pig" lyrics. Even he only half-heartedly defended the tossed-off horror show "Big Man With a Gun," which put him on a collision course with conservative activist C. DeLores Tucker and former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett. Anything went, and without much thought to the consequences.

Still, it could have been worse. As Reznor said in 1995, "There was another song that I didn't put on there called `Just Do It.' It was a very dangerously self-destructive, silly little snippet. You know, `If you're going to kill yourself, just do it, nobody cares at all.' But [Downward Spiral coproducer] Flood freaked out and said, `No, you've gone too far. I don't want to be involved in that.'"

Reznor's embrace of the extreme could seem disturbingly manipulative, but his anger was real. The results, drawn in part from Ministry's work in the '80s but far more grand and personal, synthesized a new brand of rock'n'roll rocket fuel. Reznor obviously influenced industrial-types like Filter and his seamier protégé, Marilyn Manson, but he also paved the way for anyone mixing guitar-slinger rage with modern-day beats. And despite the controversy swirling around Reznor, the synth-pop tour de force "Closer" made "I want to fuck you like an animal" a heavy-rotation message. Tori Amos admires "the way he stuck to what he believed in and could draw a line with the record company." Today, as Reznor finishes his long-long-awaited new record, he says, "I had a story to tell [with The Downward Spiral], and I was--and still am--very pleased with how it turned out. I didn't realize at the time, however, that it was about to become a self-fulfilling prophecy."

ERIC WEISBARD

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This article is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously located at SUS.