The Downward Spiral

Originally published in CMJ on December 1, 1994

When emotional pain reaches a level beyond the threshold of human endurance and simple tasks like getting out of bed or answering the phone become as difficult as running on ice, The Downward Spiral has begun. From that point on, life takes on a new perspective until a mere flip of the coin could mean the difference between blowing your brains out and trudging through another day. It's a time of hopelessness, bitterness and utter instability, a period to dwell on the futility of the human condition; and it's the condition Trent Reznor has been in ever since he discovered he had a "Head Like A Hole" and a heart as black as night. The Downward Spiral is a bleak and harrowing showcase of nihilism, an electronic celebration of the dementia brought on by emptiness and despair. Unlike Nine Inch Nails' Broken EP last year, which exploded in fury and frustration to the tune of 1,000 blazing guitars, The Downward Spiral is far more moody and despairing, expressing the next step after rage, when physical exhaustion sets in and the turmoil that remains clashes painfully in the mind. The record does feature a wide array of crunching guitar riffs, but they're cloistered between ominous synth lines, distorted vocals, and highly structured drum machines, clawing their way out in the climaxes of tracks like "Mr. Self Destruct," "March Of The Pigs" "I Do Not Want This" and "Big Man With A Gun," An emotional rollercoaster that rumbles through the many shades of gloom and dolor, The Downward Spiral is a triumphant tumble down a dark staircase.

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

View the NIN Hotline article index