Dissertation On The Downward Spiral

The Downward Spiral is the second studio album by American industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, released on March 8, 1994, by Nothing Records and Interscope Records in the United States and by Island Records in Europe. It is a concept album detailing the destruction of a man from the beginning of his "downward spiral" to his attempt at suicide. The Downward Spiral features elements of industrial rock, techno and heavy metal music, in contrast to the band's synthpop-influenced debut album Pretty Hate Machine (1989), and was produced by Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor and Flood.

The Downward Spiral was conceived after the Lollapalooza 1991 festival tour as a pivot for Reznor's personal issues and the "negative vibe" felt by the band. The following year, Reznor moved to 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles, where actress Sharon Tate was murdered by members of the Manson Family. It was used as a studio called "Le Pig" for recording Broken (1992) and The Downward Spiral with collaborations from other musicians. The album was influenced by late-1970s rock music albums such as David Bowie's Low and Pink Floyd's The Wall in particular, and focused on texture and space.

The album spawned two singles, "March of the Pigs" and "Closer", in addition to the promotional singles "Piggy" and "Hurt". "March of the Pigs" and "Closer" were accompanied by music videos, with the former shot twice and the latter's heavily censored.

The Downward Spiral was a major commercial success, and established Nine Inch Nails as a reputable force in the 1990s music scene, with its sound being widely imitated and Reznor receiving media hype and multiple honors, while diverging into drug abuse and depression. It has been regarded by music critics and audiences as one of the most important albums of the 1990s, and was praised for its abrasive and eclectic nature and dark themes, although it was scrutinized by social conservatives for some of its lyrics. A remix album titled Further Down the Spiral was released in 1995.

Writing and recording[edit]

The Downward Spiral was conceived after the Lollapalooza festival tour as Trent Reznor thought of a "negative vibe" felt by the band when they were in a European hotel. Nine Inch Nails live performances were known for its aggressive on-stage dynamic, in which band members act angry, injure themselves, and destroy instruments. Reznor had a feud with TVT Records that resulted in him co-founding Nothing Records with his former manager John Malm, Jr. and signing with Interscope. He wanted to explore a fictional character whose life is psychologically wounded and developed a concept about the album's themes; he later used the concept as lyrics. The concept was based on Reznor's social issues at the time: he had personal conflicts with band member Richard Patrick and was known for enjoying alcohol.[1][2][3] When developing The Downward Spiral, Reznor struggled with drug addiction and was depressed as he wrote songs related to personal issues. His friends suggested that he could take Prozac (fluoxetine), an antidepressant, but this choice did not appeal to him.[5] He wanted the album's sound to diverge from Broken, emphasizing mood, texture, restraint and subtlety, although he was not sure about its musical direction.[6] The album was made with "full range" and focused on texture and space, avoiding explicit usage of guitars or synthesizers.[7]

Reznor searched for and moved to 10050 Cielo Drive in 1992 for recording Broken and The Downward Spiral,[8] a decision made against his initial choice to record the album in New Orleans.[9] 10050 Cielo Drive is referred to as the "Tate House" since Sharon Tate was murdered by members of the Manson Family in 1969; Reznor named the studio "Le Pig" after the message that was scrawled on the front door with Tate's blood by her murderers, and stayed there with Malm for 18 months. He called his first night in 10050 Cielo Drive "terrifying" because he already knew it and read books related to the incident. Reznor chose the Tate house to calibrate his engineering skills and the band bought a large console and two Studer machines as resources, a move that he believed was cheaper than renting. The studio was also used for the recording of Marilyn Manson's debut album Portrait of an American Family, which Reznor co-produced. Marilyn Manson accepted Reznor's offer of signing a contract with Nothing Records.[11]

Reznor collaborated with former Jane's Addiction and Porno for Pyros drummer Stephen Perkins, progressive rock guitarist Adrian Belew, and Nine Inch Nails drummer Chris Vrenna.[6] Belew's first visit to the studio involved playing the guitar parts in "Mr. Self-Destruct", and he was told to play freely, think on reacting to melodies, concentrate on rhythm, and use noise. This approach improved Reznor's confidence in the instrument: he found it to be more expressive than the keyboard due to the interface. Belew praised Reznor for his "command of technology," and commented that the music of Nine Inch Nails made innovations "that are in [his] realm."[13] Vrenna and Perkins played drum parts recorded live in the studio; the tracks were rendered into looped samples. Reznor took a similar approach to recording guitar parts: he would tape 20- to 25-minute-long sessions of himself playing guitars on a hard disc recorder with the Studio Vision sequencer.[14]

Most of the music was recorded into a Macintosh computer using a board and manipulated with music editor programs on the computer. Unique effects such as analyzing and inverting the frequency were applied to the tracks to create original sounds. The band would "get an arrangement together" and convert it into analog tape.[14] Reznor sampled excerpts from guitar tracks and processed them to the point of randomness and expression. Among the equipment Reznor used for recording the album are Pro Tools, Digidesign's TurboSynth, a Marshall rack head, the Prophet VS keyboard, and various Jackson and Gibson guitars.[13]

In December 1993, Reznor was confronted by Patti Tate, who asked if he was exploiting Sharon Tate's death in the house. Reznor responded that he was interested in the house as her death happened there. He later made a statement about this encounter during a 1997 interview with Rolling Stone:

While I was working on [The] Downward Spiral, I was living in the house where Sharon Tate was killed. Then one day I met her sister [Patti Tate]. It was a random thing, just a brief encounter. And she said: 'Are you exploiting my sister's death by living in her house?' For the first time, the whole thing kind of slapped me in the face. I said, 'No, it's just sort of my own interest in American folklore. I'm in this place where a weird part of history occurred.' I guess it never really struck me before, but it did then. She lost her sister from a senseless, ignorant situation that I don't want to support. When she was talking to me, I realized for the first time, 'What if it was my sister?' I thought, 'Fuck Charlie Manson.' I went home and cried that night. It made me see there's another side to things, you know?[17]

Flood, known for engineering and producing U2 and Depeche Mode albums, was employed as co-producer on The Downward Spiral. It became his last collaboration with Nine Inch Nails due to creative differences.[6] A "very dangerously self-destructive," humorous short song written for the album, "Just Do It", was not included in the final version and criticized by Flood in that Reznor had "gone too far." Reznor completed the last song written for the album, "Big Man with a Gun", in late 1993.[18][19] After the album's recording, Reznor moved out and the house was demolished shortly thereafter.[9]The Downward Spiral entered its mixing and mastering processes, done at Record Plant Studios and A&M Studios with Alan Moulder, who subsequently took on more extensive production duties for future album releases.[21]

Music and lyrics[edit]

Numerous layers of metaphors are present throughout The Downward Spiral, leaving it open to wide interpretation. The album relays nihilism and is defined by a prominent theme of self-abuse and self-control. It is a semi-autobiographical concept album, in which the overarching plot follows the protagonist's descent into madness in his own inner solipsistic world through a metaphorical "downward spiral", dealing with religion, dehumanization, violence, disease, society, drugs, sex, and finally, suicide.[23][24] Reznor described the concept as consisting of "someone who sheds everything around them to a potential nothingness, but through career, religion, relationship, belief and so on."[8] Media journalists like The New York Times writer Jon Pareles noted the album's theme of angst had already been used by grunge bands like Nirvana, and that Nine Inch Nails' depiction was more generalized.[25]

Using elements of genres such as techno,[26]dance,[27][28]electronic,[27]heavy metal,[29] and hard rock,[30]The Downward Spiral is considered industrial rock,[31][32]industrial,[33][34]ambient,[33] and alternative rock.[35][28] Reznor regularly uses noise and distortion in his song arrangements that do not follow verse–chorus form, and incorporates dissonance with chromatic melody or harmony (or both). The treatment of metal guitars in Broken is carried over to The Downward Spiral, which includes innovative techniques such as expanded song structures and unconventional time signatures.[23] The album features a wide range of textures and moods to illustrate the mental progress of the central protagonist.[18] Reznor's singing follows a similar pattern from beginning to end, frequently moving from whispers to screams.[37] These techniques are all used in the song "Hurt", which features a highly dissonant tritone played on guitar during the verses, a B5#11, emphasized when Reznor sings the eleventh note on the word "I" every time the B/E# dyad is played.[38]

"Mr. Self Destruct", a song about a powerful person, follows a build-up sampled from the 1971 film THX 1138 with an "industrial roar" and is accompanied by an audio loop of a pinion rotating. "The Becoming" expresses the state of being dead and the protagonist's transformation into a non-human organism.[5][24] "Closer" concludes with a chromatic piano motif: The melody is debuted during the second verse of "Piggy" on organ, then reappears in power chords at drop D tuning throughout the chorus of "Heresy", and recurs for the final time on "The Downward Spiral".[39] The album was chiefly inspired by David Bowie's Low, an experimental rock album which Reznor related to on songwriting, mood, and structures, as well as progressive rock group Pink Floyd's The Wall.[40]


Committere, an installation featuring artwork and sketches for The Downward Spiral, "Closer" and "March of the Pigs" by Russell Mills was displayed at the Glasgow School of Art. Mills explained the ideas and materials that made up the painting (titled "Wound") that was used for the album's cover art:

I had been thinking about making works that dealt with layers, physically, materially and conceptually. I wanted to produce works that were about both exposure and revealing and at the same dealt with closure and covering. Given the nature of the lyrics and the power of the music I was working with, I felt justified in attempting to make works that alluded to the apparently contradictory imagery of pain and healing. I wanted to make beautiful surfaces that partially revealed the visceral rawness of open wounds beneath. The mixed media work 'Wound' was the first piece I tackled in this vein (no pun intended) and it became the cover of the album. It is made of plaster, acrylics, oils, rusted metals, insects, moths, blood (mine), wax, varnishes, and surgical bandaging on a wooden panel.[41]



"March of the Pigs" and "Closer" were released as singles; two other songs, "Hurt" and "Piggy", were issued to radio without a commercial single release.[42] "March of the Pigs" has an unusual meter, alternating three bars of 7/8 time with one of 8/8 (in effect, a 29/8 time signature), and has a BPM rate of 269.[5] The song's music video was directed by Peter Christopherson and was shot twice; the first version scrapped due to Reznor's involvement, and the released second version being a live performance.

"Closer" features a heavily modified bass drum sample from the Iggy Pop song "Nightclubbing" from his album The Idiot.[44] Lyrically, it is a meditation on self-hatred and obsession, but to Reznor's dismay, the song was widely misinterpreted as a lust anthem due to its chorus, which included the line "I wanna fuck you like an animal". The music video for "Closer" was directed by Mark Romanek and received frequent rotation on MTV, though the network heavily censored the original version, which they perceived to be too graphic. The video shows events in a laboratory dealing with religion, sexuality, animal cruelty, politics, and terror; controversial imagery included a nude bald woman with a crucifix mask, a monkey tied to a cross, a pig's head spinning on a machine, a diagram of a vulva, Reznor wearing an S&M mask while swinging in shackles, and of him wearing a ball gag.[46] A radio edit that partially censored the song's explicit lyrics also received extensive airtime.[47] The video has since been made part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.[48]

"Piggy" uses "nothing can stop me now", a line that recurs in "Ruiner" and "Big Man with a Gun".[5] The frantic drumming on the song's outro is Reznor's only attempt at performing drums on the record, and one of the few "live" drum performances on the album. He had stated that the recording was from him testing the microphone setup in studio, but he liked the sound too much not to include it.[44] It was released as a promotional single in December 1994 and reached the Top 20 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart.[42]

Released in 1995, "Hurt" clearly includes references to self-harm and heroin addiction.[49]


See also: Self Destruct Tour

The Nine Inch Nails live band embarked on the Self Destruct tour in support of The Downward Spiral. Chris Vrenna and James Woolley performed drums and keyboards respectively, Robin Finck replaced Richard Patrick on guitar and bassist Danny Lohner was added to the line-up. The stage set-up consisted of dirty curtains which would pulled down and up for visuals shown during songs such as "Hurt". The back of the stage was littered with darker and standing lights, along with very little actual ones. The tour debuted the band's grungy and messy image in which they would come out in ragged clothes slathered in corn starch. The concerts were violent and chaotic, with band members often injuring themselves. They would frequently destroy their instruments at the end of concerts, attack each other, and stage-dive into the crowd.

The tour included a set at Woodstock '94 broadcast on Pay-per-view and seen in as many as 24 million homes. The band being covered in mud was a result of pre-concert backstage play, contrary to the belief that it was an attention-grabbing ploy, thus making it difficult for Reznor to navigate the stage: Reznor pushed Lohner into the mud pit as the concert began and saw mud from his hair entering his eyes while performing. Nine Inch Nails was widely proclaimed to have "stolen the show" from its popular contemporaries, mostly classic rock bands, and its fan base expanded.[52][53] The band received considerable mainstream success thereafter, performing with significantly higher production values and the addition of various theatrical visual elements.[54] Its performance of "Happiness in Slavery" from the Woodstock concert earned the group a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 1995.[1][55]Entertainment Weekly commented about the band's Woodstock '94 performance: "Reznor unstrings rock to its horrifying, melodramatic core—an experience as draining as it is exhilarating".[56] Despite this acclaim, Reznor attributed his dislike of the concert to its technical difficulties.

The main leg of the tour featured Marilyn Manson as the supporting act, who featured bassist Jeordie White (then playing under the pseudonym "Twiggy Ramirez"); White later played bass with Nine Inch Nails from 2005 to 2007.[58] After another tour leg supporting the remix album Further Down the Spiral, Nine Inch Nails contributed to the Alternative Nation Festival in Australia and subsequently embarked on the Dissonance Tour, which included 26 separate performances with co-headliner David Bowie. Nine Inch Nails was the opening act for the tour, and its set transitioned into Bowie's set with joint performances of both bands' songs. However, the crowds reportedly did not respond positively to the pairing due to their creative differences.[60]

The tour concluded with "Nights of Nothing", a three-night showcase of performances from Nothing Records bands Marilyn Manson, Prick, Meat Beat Manifesto, and Pop Will Eat Itself, which ended with an 80-minute set from Nine Inch Nails. Kerrang! described the Nine Inch Nails set during the Nights of Nothing showcase as "tight, brash and dramatic", but was disappointed at the lack of new material. On the second of the three nights, Richard Patrick was briefly reunited with the band and contributed guitar to a performance of "Head Like a Hole".[61] After the Self Destruct tour, Chris Vrenna, member of the live band since 1988 and frequent contributor to Nine Inch Nails studio recordings, left the act permanently to pursue a career in producing and to form Tweaker.[62][63]

Release and reception[edit]

The Downward Spiral's release date was delayed at various times to slow down Reznor's intended pace of the album's recording. The first delay caused the process of setting up Le Pig to take longer than he expected, and its release was postponed again as he was educating himself different ways to write songs that did not resemble those on Broken and Pretty Hate Machine. He considered delivering the album to Interscope in early 1993, only to experience a writer's block as he was unable to produce any satisfactory material. Interscope grew impatient and concerned with this progress, but Reznor was not forced by their demands of expediency despite crediting the label for giving him creative freedom. He told rock music producer Rick Rubin that his motivation for creating the album was to get it finished, thus Rubin responded that Reznor might not do so until he makes music that is allowed to be heard. Reznor realized that he was in the most fortunate situation he imagined when the album was recorded with a normal budget, "cool" equipment, and a studio to work at.[1]

Released on March 8, 1994 to instant success,[1]The Downward Spiral debuted at number two on the US Billboard 200, selling nearly 119,000 copies in its first week.[72] On October 28, 1998, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified the album quadruple platinum,[73] and by December 2011, it had sold 3.7 million copies in the United States.[74] The album peaked at number nine on the UK Albums Chart,[75] and on July 22, 2013, it was certified gold by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), denoting shipments in excess of 100,000 copies in the United Kingdom.[76] It reached number 13 on the Canadian RPM albums chart[77] and received a triple platinum certification from the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) for shipping 200,000 copies in Canada.[78] A group of early listeners of the album viewed it as "commercial suicide", but Reznor did not make it for profit as his goal was to slightly broaden Nine Inch Nails' scope. Reznor felt that the finished product he delivered to Interscope was complete and faithful to his vision and thought its commercial potential was limited, but after its release he was surprised by the success and received questions about a follow-up single with a music video to be shown on MTV. The album has since sold over four million copies worldwide.[80]

Many music critics and audiences praised The Downward Spiral for its abrasive, eclectic nature and dark themes and commented on the concept of a destruction of a man.[1]The New York Times writer Jon Pareles' review of the album found the music to be highly abrasive. Pareles asserted that unlike other electro-industrial groups like Ministry and Nitzer Ebb, "Reznor writes full-fledged tunes" with stronger use of melodies than riffs. He noticed criticisms of Nine Inch Nails from industrial purists for popularizing the genre and the album's transgression.[25]Robert Christgau gave the album an honorable mention () rating and commented that, musically, the album was comparable to "Hieronymus Bosch as postindustrial atheist", but lyrically more closely resembled "Transformers as kiddie porn."[81] Jonathan Gold, writing for Rolling Stone, likened the album to cyberpunk fiction.[69]Entertainment Weekly reviewer Tom Sinclair commented: "Reznor's pet topics (sex, power, S&M, hatred, transcendence) are all here, wrapped in hooks that hit your psyche with the force of a blowtorch."[66]


The Downward Spiral has been listed on several publications' best album lists. In 2003, the album was ranked number 201 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time[82] and number 201 on its 2012 online edition. The Rolling Stone staff wrote: "Holing up in the one-time home of Manson-family victim Sharon Tate, Trent Reznor made an overpowering meditation on NIN's central theme: control."[83] The album was placed 10th on Spin's 125 Best Albums of the Past 25 Years list; the Spin staff quoted Ann Powers' review that appreciated its bleak, aggressive style.[84] It was ranked number 488 in the book The Top 500 Heavy Metal Albums of All Time by heavy metal music critic Martin Popoff.[85] In 2001, Q named The Downward Spiral as one of the 50 Heaviest Albums of All Time;[86] in 2010, the album was ranked number 102 on their 250 Best Albums of Q's Lifetime (1986–2011) list.[87]The Downward Spiral was featured in Robert Dimery's book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[88] In May 2014, Loudwire placed The Downward Spiral at number two on its "10 Best Hard Rock Albums of 1994" list.[89] In July 2014, Guitar World placed The Downward Spiral at number 43 in their "Superunknown: 50 Iconic Albums That Defined 1994" list.[90]


The immediate success of The Downward Spiral established Nine Inch Nails as a reputable force in the 1990s. The band's image and musical style became highly recognizable that a Gatorade commercial featured a remix of "Down in It" without its involvement. Reznor felt uncomfortable with the media hype and success the band earned, received false reports of his death, depression, and was falsely reported to have had a relationship with serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, and was depicted as a sex icon due to his visual identity. Nine Inch Nails received several honors, including Grammy Award nominations for Best Alternative Performance for The Downward Spiral and Best Rock Song for "Hurt". After the release of The Downward Spiral, many bands such as Gravity Kills, Stabbing Westward, Filter, and Mötley Crüe made albums that imitated the sound of Nine Inch Nails.[93][94]

Reznor interpreted The Downward Spiral as an extension of himself that "became the truth fulfilling itself," as he experienced personal and social issues presented in the album after its release. He had already struggled with social anxiety disorder and depression and started his abuse of narcotics including cocaine while he went on an alcohol binge.[95] Around this time, his studio perfectionism,[96] struggles with addiction, and bouts of writer's block prolonged the production of The Fragile, and Reznor completed rehabilitation from drugs in 2001.[95][97]

One year after The Downward Spiral's release, the band released an accompanying remix album titled Further Down the Spiral. It features contributions from Coil with Danny Hyde, J. G. Thirlwell, electronic musician Aphex Twin, producer Rick Rubin, and Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro. The album peaked at number 23 on the Billboard 200 and received mixed reviews.[99][100]Recoiled, a remix EP of "Gave Up", "Closer", "The Downward Spiral", and "Eraser" by Coil, was released on February 24, 2014 via British record label Cold Spring.[101]

Retrospective reviews regard The Downward Spiral as one of the most important albums of the 1990s and Reznor's greatest work. The 2004 edition of The New Rolling Stone Album Guide gave the album five out of five stars and called it "a powerful statement, and one of the landmark albums of the Nineties."[70] Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Kyle Anderson remembered watching the music video of "Closer" on MTV as an adolescent and expressed that the album changed his perception of popular music from that of songs heard on the radio to albums with cover art.[102]Stereogum's Tom Breihan remains favorable toward the album since it is "the one that most fully inhabits" Nine Inch Nails' characteristics and influenced youth culture, with teenagers wearing ripped fish nets on their arms.[94] The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[103]


Its emphasis on transgressive themes made The Downward Spiral's lyrics vulnerable to criticism from American social conservatives. Senator Bob Dole, then the head of the Republican Party, sharply denounced Time Warner, the former owner of Interscope's former parent company Warner Music Group, after a meeting between Michael J. Fuchs (head of WMG), William Bennett, and C. Delores Tucker. Tucker and Bennett demanded Fuchs to recite lyrics from "Big Man with a Gun", because they thought the song was an attack on American conservatives by metaphorically claiming within the lyrics they had a jingoistic agenda.[104] Interscope had previously been blamed for releasing gangsta rap albums by rappers such as Dr. Dre, Tupac Shakur, and Snoop Dogg that were deemed objectionable. Reznor called Tucker (who erroneously referred to Nine Inch Nails as a gangsta rap act) "such a fucking idiot", and claimed that the song was actually a satire of the gangsta rap genre as a whole and was originally about madness. Reznor conceded The Downward Spiral could be "harmful, through implying and subliminally suggesting things", whereas hardcore hip hop could be "cartoonish".[2]Robert Bork also repeatedly referenced "Big Man with a Gun" in his book Slouching Toward Gomorrah as evidence of a cultural decline. The book also incorrectly states that it is a rap song.[106]

Another form of the Downward Spiral ... deeper & deeper it goes. to cuddle w. her, to be one w. her, to love; just laying there. I need a gun. This is a weird entry ... I should feel happy, but shit brought me down.

Dylan Klebold from one of his journals two years before the shooting.[107]

Before the Columbine High School massacre, perpetrator Dylan Klebold referenced lyrics from Nine Inch Nails songs multiple times in his journal. Klebold heavily identified with the protagonist of The Downward Spiral as a symbol of his own depression.[108] On May 4, 1999, a hearing on the marketing and distribution practices of violent content to minors by the television, music, film, and video game industries was conducted before the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.[109] The committee heard testimony from cultural observers, professors, and mental health professionals, that included conservative William Bennett and the Archbishop of Denver, Reverend Charles J. Chaput.[109] Participants criticized the album, Nine Inch Nails' label-mate Marilyn Manson, and the 1999 film The Matrix for their alleged contribution to the environment that made tragedies like Columbine possible.[109] The committee requested that the Federal Trade Commission and the United States Department of Justice investigate the entertainment industry's marketing practices to minors.[109][110]

In 2009, Apple rejected a proposal for a Nine Inch Nails iPhone application, citing objectionable content in The Downward Spiral. Days later, Apple reversed the decision, but refused to explain its reasoning.[111]

Track listing[edit]

Original release[edit]

All tracks written by Trent Reznor.

1."Mr. Self Destruct"4:30
4."March of the Pigs"2:58
7."The Becoming"5:31
8."I Do Not Want This"5:41
9."Big Man with a Gun"1:36
10."A Warm Place"3:22
13."The Downward Spiral"3:57
Total length:65:02


  • The opening sounds of "Mr. Self Destruct" are a sample from the film THX 1138 in which a man is being beaten by a prison guard.[24]
  • The sample of screams that plays throughout "The Becoming" is from the film Robot Jox, when a giant robot falls on a crowd of spectators.[112]
  • The sample at the beginning of "Big Man with a Gun" comes from a studio-altered recording of a porn star having an orgasm. According to the album booklet, this "sample" is titled "Steakhouse" and is credited to Tommy Lee.[21]
  • Japanese pressings of the album contain a cover of Joy Division's song "Dead Souls", originally included on the soundtrack to the film The Crow. The track is placed in between "Big Man with a Gun" and "A Warm Place".[114]
  • The break in "Reptile" contains an audio sample (starting at 5:06) of a woman falling down a hill from the 1974 film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.[115]
  • The first Australian pressing has track length errors. Affected tracks do not play at their beginnings when selected individually ("Big Man with a Gun" has the beginning of "A Warm Place" tacked on, likewise all the songs up to "Hurt" start 41 seconds earlier than they should. "Hurt" itself has 44 seconds of silence on the end as a result); however, the disc plays and flows correctly as a whole.[116]

Deluxe edition (Halo 8 DE)[

Adrian Belew (pictured)'s approach to guitar parts on the album improved Reznor's confidence in the instrument
Reznor performing during the Self Destruct tour, circa 1994–1995

The Downward Spiral (also known as Halo 8) is Nine Inch Nails' second studio album, though it is largely considered the third major release after the Broken EP, which consisted of entirely new material. It was released on March 8, 1994. It is likely the most acclaimed and well-known of the band's discography, and is said to have brought "industrial" music to the mainstream. A collection featuring remixes from The Downward Spiral was released as Further Down The Spiral on June 1, 1995.

Track List

  1. "Mr. Self Destruct" – 4:30
  2. "Piggy" – 4:24
  3. "Heresy" – 3:54
  4. "March Of The Pigs" – 2:58
  5. "Closer" – 6:13
  6. "Ruiner" – 4:58
  7. "The Becoming" – 5:31
  8. "I Do Not Want This" – 5:41
  9. "Big Man With A Gun" – 1:38
  10. "A Warm Place" – 3:22
  11. "Eraser" – 4:54
  12. "Reptile" – 6:51
  13. "The Downward Spiral" – 3:58
  14. "Hurt" – 6:15

Disc 2 (SACD Rerelease Only)

  1. "Burn" - 5:00
  2. "Closer" (Precursor) - 7:16
  3. "Piggy" (Nothing Can Stop Me Now) - 4:03
  4. "A Violet Fluid" - 1:04
  5. "Dead Souls" - 4:53
  6. "Hurt" (Quiet) - 5:08
  7. "Closer To God" - 5:05
  8. "All The Pigs, All Lined Up" - 7:26
  9. "Memorabilia" - 7:22
  10. "The Downward Spiral" (The Bottom) - 7:32
  11. "Ruiner" (Demo) - 4:51
  12. "Liar" (Reptile Demo) - 6:57
  13. "Heresy" (Demo) - 4:00

The original Japanese release includes "Dead Souls" between "Big Man With A Gun" and "A Warm Place."

The double vinyl release splits sides between "March Of The Pigs" and "Closer," "The Becoming" and "I Do Not Want This," and "Eraser" and "Reptile." Rather than completely separating the songs, the transitions are retained: "The Becoming" still contains the fade-in of the "I Do Not Want This" beginning, but fades out; the introduction of "Reptile" is tagged onto the end of "Eraser."


The unmastered instrumental versions of almost all the songs on The Downward Spiral ("Ruiner" and "Big Man With A Gun" were not included) have been made available on remix.nin.com for streaming and free download. They can be found under the "general playlists" section in the lower right hand corner of the page, in the "featured" subsection.


Trent Reznor has stated in various interviews some of the ideas and inspiration behind the album:

"The idea behind the album is of someone who sheds everything around them to a potential nothingness, but through career, religion, relationship, belief and so on. It's less muscle-flexing, though when I started it I didn't know what I wanted it to sound like. I knew I didn't want to be a full metal album, so I tried to address the issue of restraint. It was a long process."[1]
"Thematically I wanted to explore the idea of somebody who systematically throws or uncovers every layer of what he's surrounded with, comfort-wise, from personal relationships to religion to questioning the whole situation. Someone dissecting his own ability to relate to other people or to have anything to believe in...With 'The Downward Spiral' I tried to make a record that had full range, rather than a real guitar-based record or a real synth-based record. I tried to make it something that opened the palate for NIN, so we don't get pigeon-holed. It was a conscious effort to focus more on texture and space, rather than bludgeoning you over the head for an hour with a guitar."[2]
"I was really into electronic music at the time. David Bowie's 'Low' was probably the single greatest influence on 'The Downward Spiral' for me. I got into Bowie in the 'Scary Monsters' era, then I picked up 'Low' and instantly fell for it. I related to it on a song-writing level, a mood level, and on a song-structure level...I like working within the framework of accessibility, and songs of course, but I also like things that are more experimental and instrumental, maybe."[3]


Reznor set out to make an album that was a departure from the Broken EP ("when I went into the studio, I knew that I didn't want to make Broken again"), which he described as "a real hard-sounding record that was just one big blast of anger." Instead, Reznor wanted to create an album "that went in 10 different directions, but that was all united somehow." Reznor brought in a number of guest performers to record, including Stephen Perkins and Adrian Belew. Perkins played a number of drum parts that were recorded live in the studio; these tracks were then turned into sample loops. Reznor took a similar approach to recording guitar parts. Reznor would record 20 to 25-minute long sessions of himself playing guitar on a hard disc recorder with a Studio Vision sequencer, then would cut out parts of the recording he found interesting for later use. Reznor said, "99 percent of the stuff we do–even vocals–is recorded into the computer [hard disk] first. We get an arrangement together and then dump it to tape." For "Mr. Self Destruct", Reznor ran the entire mix through the mic pre-amps of several modules plundered from an old Neve board.

Like other NIN releases, some songs never made it to the final album. In this case, some songs were "The Beauty Of The Drug", which was a general out take, and "Just Do It", which was a track prompting the album's protagonist to kill himself. The latter was axed at the request of Flood, who refused to have anything to do with it.

An article from Sound On Sound contains a list of some of the equipment used on the album:

"The studio was equipped with a 56-input Amek Mozart console with Rupert Neve modules, two Studer A800 Mk3 multitrack machines, Mac-based Pro Tools and a host of outboard gear, in addition to Akai S1100 and Kurzweil K2000 samplers; Prophet VS, Digidesign Turbosynth, ARP Odyssey, Oberheim Expander, Oberheim OBMx, Roland MKS80 and Minimoog synthesizers; Doepfer and Oberheim sequencers; a Mellotron MKIV polyphonic tape replay keyboard; a Roland R70 drum machine; and assorted Jackson and Gibson guitars."[4]

In a Q+A session before the 2017 Riot Fest show, it was revealed that David Lynch's use of sound in his films was an inspiration for the sound design of The Downward Spiral.

Concept and Interpretations

There are numerous layers of metaphors that are present throughout the album, which leaves it open to wide interpretation. As a whole, The Downward Spiral is defined by Nietzschean concepts and a prominent theme of existentialism. It is a concept album in which the overarching plot follows the protagonist moving through his own "Downward Spiral", dealing with religion, dehumanization, violence, disease, society, drugs, sex, and finally suicide. Reznor has stated that the character is a representation of himself:

"...it was during that tour (Self Destruct) that problems started to arise. Prior to that I would have considered myself pretty normal. With the Downward Spiral, I can remember where I was in my head, what I was thinking, and I can remember writing that record, and the mindset. This record that was about an extension of me, became the truth fulfilling itself.

Most fans seem to agree that "Closer" (noted for its "I want to fuck you like an animal" lyric) has meaning deeper than its surface lyrics (note the desperate dependency expressed by the final line, "you are the reason I stay alive"). The narrator was not exactly modeled after Reznor's previous life, though he would later go through his own sort of "downward spiral" during the Fragility tour, battling issues such as drug abuse.

"A dissertation on The Downward Spiral"

This is a lengthy interpretation of the album's story written by two men back around 1998. Read it at:

Recurring themes and styles

  • The ending keyboard melody of "Closer" is repeated in the climax of "The Downward Spiral" and the chorus of "Heresy." A similar piano melody is played at the end of "Piggy."
  • The lyric "nothing can stop me now" appears in "Piggy," "Ruiner" and "Big Man With A Gun." The same phrase would recur on later albums in "La Mer," "We're In This Together" and "Sunspots."
  • Quite a few of the songs end by repeating the same line or set of lines: "Piggy," "Ruiner," "I Do Not Want This," "Big Man With A Gun" and "Eraser." These deviate from the traditional chorus-chorus ending in that these lyrics are introduced near the end, and they are not sung, but rather whispered or yelled.


see also Samples In NIN Songs
  • "Mr. Self Destruct" begins with a sample from the 1971 film THX 1138. It is taken from a scene in which a man is being beaten by a guard depicted on a holographic television. [5]
  • The frantic drumming at the end of "Piggy" played by Reznor himself—his first and only attempt at live drumming on a record, and one of the few "live" drum performances on the album, (Stephen Perkins on "I Do Not Want This," Andy Kubiszewski on "The Downward Spiral" and Chris Vrenna on "Hurt"). He states that it was from him testing the mic setup in studio, but he liked the sound too much to not include it. [6]
  • "Closer" uses a heavily modified sample of a kick drum from the song "Nightclubbing" from The Idiot album by Iggy Pop. [7]
  • "A Warm Place" is based on the melody from David Bowie's 1980 single "Crystal Japan." Some hear it as a complete rip-off, while others argue that from a music theory point of view that the structure has significant differences.
  • The looping female voice that appears on "Reptile" (approx. 5:06) is from the 1974 film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The strange mechanical sound before the drums start can be found in the movie Leviathan and the other sounds during all the song are found in Aliens (the escape in the vessel).


10th Anniversary

To mark the album's tenth anniversary, The Downward Spiral was re-released on November 23, 2004 in two new formats:

  • As a 2-CD "Deluxe Edition" (labeled Halo 8 DE). The first disc is an SACD/CD hybrid featuring the album in high-resolution stereo and 5.1 surround sound. The second disc features various remixes, b-sides, and other non-album tracks that were available around the time of the original release.
  • As a DualDisc (labeled Halo 8 DVD-A). The CD side features a digitally remastered version of the album. The DVD side includes high-resolution stereo and 5.1 surround sound versions of the album as well as videos for "Closer" (director's cut), "March Of The Pigs" and "Hurt" (live). Also included is a gallery of artwork from The Downward Spiral era (though many photos of Closure artwork are also included) and a discography.

The nin.com subsite tds.nin.com was set up to promote the re-release.

Back To Black Vinyl

Universal chose, without consulting Trent Reznor, to re-release the vinyl edition of The Downward Spiral as a part of their "Back To Black" collection celebrating the 60th anniversary of vinyl. Trent's opinion on this was posted on nin.com:

You may have heard there's a new re-release of The Downward Spiral on vinyl. I heard that, too. I have no idea what it is or what's on it because the band has had no involvement in it.

The vinyl was released on September 23, 2008, and has the same artwork and track listing as the original 1994 release.

Definitive 2017 Edition Vinyl

A vinyl reissue was annouced in December 2016 and began shipping in August 2017, with further vinyl reissues of the other major NIN releases to follow.[8]

"Trent Reznor and NIN art director John Crawford set out to make the “definitive editions” of all the main NIN releases on vinyl. Reznor: 'We want to present the catalog as it was intended to be, with no compromises. That means a careful remastering of the audio from the original sources, a careful and painstaking recreation of the artwork, pristine materials, some surprises and an insane attention to detail that you probably won’t notice… but it matters to us. No extra bullshit and gimmicks – the “real” records in their truest form available at a reasonable price.'"


For more information, see Self Destruct Touring Cycle

The album was supported by a major tour that lasted nearly two years. It circled North America a few times and also visited Europe and Australia. The shows were very intense and included well-programmed lighting and very aggressive performances, with many instruments being mangled in the process. A co-headlining leg with David Bowie, referred to as the Dissonance tour, took place in 1995. The tour culminated with a few club dates showcasing artists that were on Nothing Records. Portions of the tour were documented and released as part one of the Closure double VHS in 1997.


All of these songs have been played live. Obviously, they were featured during the Self-Destruct Tour, though "Heresy" was played only once in 1994 and disappeared from live shows until 2007.

On the Performance 2007 tour, The Downward Spiral era songs received more frequent play time. A particularly extreme example is the 2007/02/15 show in Madrid, Spain, when ten tracks from the The Downward Spiral were performed, the first seven of which were performed in their exact order on the album.

During the band's Webster Hall performance on August 23, 2009, the band opened the show by performing the album in its entirety which included the live debut of "A Warm Place" and the first performance of "Big Man With a Gun" in over 15 years. The same thing happened at the Hollywood Palladium show.


On his website[9], Russell Mills explained the ideas and materials used for the paintings that became the album cover and the inner cover/j-card insert.

About "Wound" (used for the album cover):

"I had been thinking about making works that dealt with layers, physically, materially and conceptually. I wanted to produce works that were about both exposure and revealing and at the same dealt with closure and covering. Given the nature of the lyrics and the power of the music I was working with, I felt justified in attempting to make works that alluded to the apparently contradictory imagery of pain and healing. I wanted to make beautiful surfaces that partially revealed the visceral rawness of open wounds beneath. The mixed media work Wound was the first piece I tackled in this vein (no pun intended) and it became the cover of the album. It is made of plaster, acrylics, oils, rusted metals, insects, moths, blood (mine), wax, varnishes, and surgical bandaging on a wooden panel."

About "Future Echoes" (used for the inner cover):

"At the time of this commission I had also been reading and researching into ideas about transformation, transmutation and regeneration. I was interested in how a line of willow poles used as fence posts could come back to life to start growing as trees again (Rupert Sheldrake). Similarly Seamus Heaney’s poem ‘Requiem for the Croppies’ which relates to a true event in Irish history filled me with tears and wonder. In it Heaney describes how during the early part of the 20th century a group of farmers to the North of Dublin gathered in a field to march on Dublin to protest at yet more draconian taxes being imposed by the occupying English powers. The English had been tipped off and were in place hiding around the field where the farmers met. The farmers were ambushed, shot down and buried in a mass grave. The farmers had in their pockets barley seeds to chew on during the proposed march. The following year a crop of barley sprang up out of the grave where they had fell. At the back of my mind were also thoughts of the rebuilding of Europe after the 2nd World War, physically and politically. I remembered seeing film footage of women in Berlin, scavenging for bricks in the ruins, creating a daisy chain, passing bricks from one to the other in order to rebuild new houses out of the debris.

I was also interested in how organic matter can provide clues for past lives and past events. One hair from a human head carries enough DNA for that person to be identified. Similarly our teeth, which, after death, survive longer than any other part of our bodies, are carriers of intimate details of past lives.

The piece I made focuses on teeth and their associative potential. A row of teeth is embedded in flows of salt crystals. Salt corrodes all but gold and glass; it is destructive as well as preservative."

Album Credits

  • Writing, and performance: Trent Reznor
  • Management: John A. Malm, Jr. for Conservative (1994); Rebel Waltz, Inc. (2004)
  • Assistance: Chris Vrenna, Maise
  • Engineering (2004): Alan Moulder
  • Additional engineering: Sean Beavan, Chris Vrenna, Alan Moulder, Bill Kennedy, Brian Pollack, John Aguto
  • Additional sampling and sound design: Chris Vrenna
  • Studios: Le Pig of Beverly Hills, The Record Plant, A&M Studios
  • Continuity: Trent Reznor, Chris Vrenna, Charlie Clouser
  • Mastering (1994): Tom Baker at Futuredisc
  • All paintings: Russell Mills
  • Photography: David Buckland, Rob Sheridan
  • Original package: Gary Talpas
  • Deluxe Edition/DualDisc package: Rob Sheridan
  • 5.1 mix: James Brown with Trent Reznor
  • Assistance: Neal Ferrazzani
  • Studio: Interscope Studios
  • High-resolution mastering: Bob Ludwig for Gateway Mastering, Portland, Maine
  • Publicity: Sioux Zimmerman for Formula
  • Booking: Gerry Gerrard for Artists & Audience
  • Merchandise: Jerry Long
  • Road Management: Mark O'Shea
  • Live audio engineering & coordination: Sean Beavan
  • Lighting/Set design: Jan Pieter Nipius, Roy Bennett
  • Live production management: Kevin Lyman, Ray Woodbury
  • Legal: Michael S. Toorock
  • Nothing Records: Tony Ciulla
  • Thank you: Interscope; Jimmy Iovine; Silvia Garcia; Susie Tallman; Peter Christopherson; Rick Rubin; Missy Worth; Brian Warner and Marilyn Manson; Brian Liesegang; the temporarily displaced Richard Bugg; Coco-Puff; Scott Hasson; Mark Tindle, Mike Morongell, Shelly Yakus and A&M; Cally, Jamie Spencer, Mark Marot, Chris Blackwell and Island UK; Paul Connolly; Alex Kochan; Ian Flooks; Mark Blasquez, Sean Wilhelmsen and Nadine's; Opcode Systems; Pat Stolpz, Martin Arthurs and Amek; Joseph Cultice; Handy Andy; Marina Chavez; Walter Cessna; Tina Montalbano; Carol Davis

We miss you Jeff Ward

©1994 Leaving Hope/TVT Music, Inc. ASCAP. All rights reserved.

Deluxe Edition & DualDisc Credits

  • Deluxe Edition executive producers: Courtney Holt, Paul Bishow, KamranV
  • Publicity: Dennis Dennehy
  • Booking: Mark Geiger for WMA
  • Legal: David Altschul, Ross Rosen
  • Audio asset coordination: Michel Etchart
  • Executive Producers for DVD-Audio: Courtney Holt, Jim Belcher, Paul Bishow
  • Supervising Producer: Shari Young
  • Producer for DVD-Audio: KamranV
  • Photography and Design for DVD-Audio Menus and Gallery: Rob Sheridan
  • Additional DVD-Audio Art Design by The DZN Group (www.dzngroup.com)
  • DVD-Audio Authoring: Paul Angeli, DVD Labs
  • "Closer": Directed by Mark Romanek
  • "March Of The Pigs": Directed by Peter Christopherson
  • "Hurt": Directed by Simon Maxwell
  • Special thanks to: Leo Herrera; Jeff Anderson; Atticus Ross; Chandra Lynn and DigiDesign; Andrew Grad, West LA Music; Native Instruments; Tom Ryan, Gateway Mastering; Dave Casey, Apogee Digital; Monique McGuffin; Chuck Reed; Ed Goodreau; Jim Belcher; Vartan; Antone DeSantis; Ramon Galbert, Ingrid Erickson; Lee Edwards; Mike Ragonga; Tanya Grieg
  • 1–4, 6–8, 10–13 written by Trent Reznor ©1994 Leaving Hope/ TVT Music, Inc. ASCAP. All rights reserved.
  • 5 written by Ian Curtis, Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris; Fractured Music (all rights controlled by Zoma Music Publishers, Ltd., ASCAP/PRS) ©1994 Atlantic Recording Corporation for the United States and WEA International, Inc. for the world outside of the United States
  • 9 written by David Ball and Mark Almond ©1981 Phonogram Ltd. (London)

External links

10th Anniversary Edition (Halo 8 DE / Halo 8 DVD-A) artwork
10th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (Halo 8 DE) with slipcover
The Downward Spiral inner cover art

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