The Downward Spiral
Originally published in CMJ on December 1, 1994
Believe it or not, The Downward Spiral is only the second full-length album of NIN's massively popular blend of heavy-duty industrial dance and heavier-duty depression. The years since Pretty Hate Machine haven't cooled Trent Reznor's fury, either lyrically or musically. Some of the lyrics, in fact, are the blackest, most flesh-loathing stuff heard on a record since the early days of Swans: Georges Bataille filtered through Pornography-era Robert Smith. The brief "Big Man With A Gun," backed by a drum-spiked moss of flailing distortion, isn't subtle ("I'm going to come all over you/Me and my fucking gun"), but subtlety would get in the way of its frontal attack. A few of these tracks, like "Heresy" and "Reptile," recall NIN's earlier records - they've got that synth-bass pulse, those bear-down choruses - and are sure to be big dancefloor hits. The best parts of the album, though, are where Reznor pushes his industrial-pop envelope further than he has before. Tracks like "Eraser" and especially the suicide-solution title cut balance nearly silent passages with equipment-shredding levels of noise, with no pap-friendly power chords or choruses to hold on to. Take out Reznor's vocals (his hooks usually lie there, and no amount of Vocoder distortion can obscure them), and parts of this album could be a completely out-there noise record. And you can still dance to it. Way to go.
Transcribed by Keith Duemling