The Downward Spiral
Originally published in CMJ on December 1, 1994
The Downward Spiral is a veiled rock opera of sorts, a concept album mired in infernal noise and vitriol. In this, Trent Reznor's long-awaited full-length follow-up to the angst-ridden pop anthems of Pretty Hate Machine, he buries his melodies beneath vast layers of the harshest industrial sounds, entombing them in pyramids of noise built in monument to his own hate. What makes listening to this record more than a soundtrack to Lucifer's fall to Earth (the record does have a Paradise Lost sensibility to it) are those melodies, so bright and strong they shine through the abyss. This is not, mind you, achieved without a fair amount of artistiy. The dissonant barrage is incredibly coarse: Each sonic blast is crafted with shards of contrast that, when played at extreme volumes (and we suggest this), have an utterly unique texture. In other words, this is not just another indistinguishable mass of white noise upping the industrial music ante; this overfilled chamber-pot of anger has both rhyme and reason. This noise, for all its violence and sheer extremity, is enticing, even sensual in its own way. The "concept" does follow a vague story of its protagonist, "Mr. Self Destruct" (hmm... who could Trent be thinking of...), and is filled with more pig references than Pink Floyd and William Golding combined, but this record's creative triumphs all lie in the music. From the almost sexual tug formed by the contrasts in sound to the surprisingly pure melodies, The Downward Spiral is enough to make any fan already smitten with Nine Inch Nails positively besotted.
Transcribed by Keith Duemling