Alternative Press Magazine

April 1994

The Downward Spiral

Nine Inch Nails (Trent Reznor's nom de musique) have bestowed another album full of pastoral folk ballads about courtly love, the wonders of Nature and God. Had you going there, huh? Actually Reznor's fans (all million or so of you) won't be surprised by his hook-wise industrial-dance turbulence or lyrical obsessions. Our man is still a mite disturbed. It's hard to know if his agitation is genuine or a pose, but regardless, aficionados of nihilism will definitely feast on The Downward Spiral.

I've largely ignored industrial-dance, including NIN's Pretty Hate Machine and Broken, with little regret. Except for Cabaret Volitaire, early Meat Beat Manifesto and 1000 Homo DJ's cover of Sabbath's 'Supernaut', the genre leaves me numb and headachy. Besides, I already know that televangelists are hypocrites, war is evil and killing animals is wrong. But Reznor has always displayed more pop sense than most of his industrial brethen (it is overwhelmingly a male sound) but his anguished howls caused the opposite of catharsis-I felt as if I'd implode if I absorbed that voice for longer than one song. Let the rich white suburban kids revel in industrial music, those sullen brats who wear their unearned angst as one more fashion accessory. This thing wasn't leading to heaven, to paraphrase Harry Crews. But you've gotta hand it to Reznor. He lays himself on the line, warts n' all, spewing his poisoned, self-abnegating thoughts for millions of strangers to hear. Reznor's so relentlessly bleak he must be sincere. Either that or he's hell of a method actor. Nobody (except maybe Mark Kozelek of Red House Painters) is taking confessional songwriting to Reznor's extremes. If he comes off sounding like a suicidal megalomaniac in primal scream therapy, so be it. It's a great spectacle, if nothing else. While Reznor's lyrics are affecting and amusing in their excessive darkness, his music-at times equally as extreme as the words-seems to have become more interesting in its use of strange textures and distortion.

The Downward Spiral may be less accessible than Pretty Hate Machine but Reznor's pop savvy still resonates often enough to assure his record company that it still has another platinum platter on its hands. Fortunately, those who dig noise and distortion won't go wanting either. Reznor's unhinged persona is in your face from moment one. "Mr. Self Destruct" barges in with a locomotive chug and stabbing guitars con mucho warpage, building to an annihilating intensity. Reznor charges up "Piggy", a subdued slinky number with subtle use of black noise and chilling synth miasma, over which he intones, "Nothing can stop me now/because I don't care anymore". That may be Trent's manifesto, unless it's "Your God is dead and no one cares/if there is a hell I'll see you there."

More unconventional sounds appear on the funky-as-hell "Ruiner", wherein a synth imitates a malfunctioning windshield wiper. A nasty guitar solo contributes to the track's epic chaos. In "Eraser", my favorite cut here, Reznor screams as if his dick's been struck by lightning, "hate me/smash me/erase me/kill me" over an ominous synth drone and some Bad Moon Rising era Sonic Youth guitar plinks. After this madness the gothic, funereal instrumental beauty of "A Warm Place" nicely drains the tension. On "Closer" Reznor wields Prince's lubricious rhythms to Gary Numan's frozen waterfall synth majesty. This is robotic electrosoul whose subtext is that sex can never go too far, that too much is not enough. It could be a hit single if it weren't for the line "I want to fuck you like an animal."

At least three more songs deserve plaudits but I've already surpassed my word count. To sum it up, The Downward Spiral is a hell of an album, in all senses of the word. Reznor's musical integrity and lyrical megalomania cut through my cynicism and won me over big time. I kind of feel ashamed.

Dave Segal

Added to Smashed Up Sanity thanks to Gaby Boffa.

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