The Downward Spiral

September 20 2017 · 7 minute read · by NavJack27

I’m going to be looking at the Nine Inch Nails album ‘The Downward Spiral’. I’ve been listening to Nine Inch Nails since I was in middle school, but I’ve never put into typed words how I feel about Trent’s musical works.

The album starts out with the iconic sampled sounds from THX1138 on ‘Mr. Self Destruct’ which sets the tone for the rest of the album. Authoritarian; but from the inside outward. An introspective nightmare most of us would not ever venture into but totally should as a rite of passage into adulthood and life in general.

The next song almost doesn’t seem fitting ‘Piggy’. You aren’t sure if this has to do with police or some other force entirely. I think it has to do with the continuation of the self-destructive urges of the protagonist. These urges made him lose his shit and nothing can stop him on the path of the downward spiral. Let me take a minute and address the beautiful mixing of the drums, they come at you from all sides and even inside your own head which I’m not sure how to do that to the phasing.

‘Heresy’ seems obvious but I’m not sure it really is that simple. I’m taking God to mean one’s self.

MARCH PIGS!!! STEP RIGHT UP!!! ‘March of the pigs’ is the song playing in your head during an insane amphetamine binge. Ripping away layers of the self through excess indulgence. You end up really wanting to watch it all come down. You have it all, you won… Through this excess instead you are now engaged in the animalistic. You are only focused on one thing, the domination of the other. You can’t feel anymore, and you think the only last escape is pleasure. You isolate yourself, your existence is flawed, you have lost all faith and you require that unhealthy relationship to fuck it all away to get ‘Closer’.

Now inner loathing starts to creep in with ‘Ruiner’. This song is an aural assault quite honestly. You have voices coming from within even more so and then you have the chorus with the HUMONGOUS synth orchestra. We just shut down at this point in the album as nothing can hurt us not even ourselves and nothing can stop it. I’ve felt like this so many times in my life with my depression and ADHD and addictions. I feel so much from this song and it’s quite fucking honest in its delivery, I suspect it was very hard for Trent to write. The sudden stop at the end is just fucking genius!

We get into ‘The Becoming’ which is a hard thing to describe to people who have never been in this state of mind. You feel you have mastered the human domain and can control every aspect of the self at this point. If you feel something you don’t like you can just adjust it. Everything is out of your control and totally in control at the same time. The wails in the background are like your ego shouting out to prove it still exists but you shut it out with these arpeggiating and looping electronic sounds. No matter what people who love you say, your therapist, anyone in life… you are hiding backwards inside of yourself, unafraid, inches from slipping away and fucking it all up again. Your human machine starts to glitch out and freak the fuck out at the prospect of this all. That voice, that feeling, it won’t give up and it’ll kill you if you give into it! IT WON’T GIVE UP IT WANTS ME DEAD AND GODDAMN THIS NOISE INSIDE MY HEAD! I hope I’m not the only one who hears that in their brain radio at random times.

Now we get honest with ourselves ‘I do not want this’ to be my life anymore! It almost sounds like this is recorded from therapy sessions. I hate that with therapists where they go on and on about how maybe I should feel or it’s ok that I don’t feel or whatever. No one knows how I fucking feel! The ‘living so many lives all in my head’ is 100% relatable along with the ‘there really isn’t anything, now is there’. The in and out mantra in this song of ‘ahhhh oooooo’ just to stifle everything going on. Now the ego is taking over at the end of this song with the repeated ‘I want to know everything, I want to be everywhere, I want to fuck everyone in the world, I want to do something that matters!” but giving into the ego is really bringing back those self-destructive tendencies.

We fall into the void with ‘Big Man With A Gun’ and just embrace it fully. Sometimes it feels valid to skip this song when you listen to the album but that’d be a sin, it matters in the big picture! This track is a short falling off the wagon of sorts and it works perfectly with the next track.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have ‘A Warm Place’? Almost foreboding. Chill inducing. Nostalgic. To me this takes me back to my addiction to Dextromethorphan which was the embodiment of a warm place in a time in my life where nothing was warm to me. How’d you like a substance that gives you that childlike feeling of everything is new but familiar with a constant Deja vu of being in a void of peace? That’d be hard to give up, it was!

After falling off the wagon and then entering the void we erase it all with ‘Eraser’. We have the sound of a reed being blown into without an instrument which gives way to almost like pestilence flies and powerful drums which then give into a great synth bassline and then a looping guitar track on the high notes and THEN more midrange guitar. The high-end guitar starts to echo and feed back into itself and then a drone guitar starts up in the background and wails to completion along with some progressive synth chords. A fucking masterpiece wall of sound. 

Motherfucking ‘r͎̤͊ͥ̆̊e̠̬̹̦͎͉ͪ̉͂͊̈́͞p̴̡̖̬͈̤̮͙̺͋̿̄̚ţ̸̞̮̹̖̪̇ͨ̃ͪ̅͌̓̚͘i̵̛̳͎̦̜̫̣̐̆́͂̑̍̾̓͡l̛̻͙̘ͨͣͧ̏̾ę̫̫̰̱̹̫̑ͤ̓͌ͯͨ’! Machinery, pistons, hydraulics. This is dating in a nutshell! This is mating! Robotic! Realizations that this girl has fucked so many other dudes before you. There is no pretense here at all, this is what it is all about. Besides all that, this song is just again, mixed amazingly. OR it’s a reflection on the self-destructive tendencies of the protagonist of the album. That inner voice is calling him out on being a liar to himself and not acknowledging his disease of self-destruction. Either way you want to read into this track is fine with me.

We have the titular track ‘The Downward Spiral’ which has so many feels. That yelling in the background, the matter of fact way of stating the situation so far. 

Ok, I’m strange, I do like ‘Hurt’ but it’s such a popular track that it’s hard to enjoy it unless I’m depressed and can tune out all that voice in my head that is like “so many goth chicks on myspace had lyrics to this on their profile”. I’ll also admit that I probably at one point did too LOL. Ok, so maybe I do like this song a lot! I don’t need to get into this song, do I?”. You only have yourself to blame at the end of the day, you cause what you caused up to this point. There is no happy ending to the hurt of existence. AT LEAST AT THIS POINT IN THE NINE INCH NAILS CATALOGUE.

I’ll be exploring more music in-depth in other posts along with other things that strike my fancy! Thanks for reading!