"Annie, hold a little tighter, I might just slip away..."
This was actually an album that I just kept as a rating for awhile and not a review. I felt that, if I reviewed it, my words would not do justice to the contents of the album because it is just too far above and beyond my words and important to me that it would be difficult describe it like it needs to be described. But, one day, I just decided - "fuck it, I'm reviewing The Downward Spiral." And so I'm reviewing it, but it might not be easy.
Nine Inch Nails' "The Downward Spiral" is without a shadow of a doubt one of my favorite albums of all time, not only because of the musical and lyrical power of it, but because of how important it is to me personally. Being on the brink of suicide for awhile now, "The Downward Spiral" (perhaps ironically?), along with "The Eye of Every Storm" by Neurosis and "In Utero" by Nirvana, could be considered one of the reasons I'm still here. Perhaps this might be ironic given the concept of misery that encompasses this album, but this is exactly why. To know that true suffering can be shared and or pitied, even if its only a sound on your speakers, gives a feel of cleansing. When I listen to this album, I feel absolutely miserable, but come out fresh and hopeful because I know I'm not the only one who's suffering through these problems.
Musically, "The Downward Spiral" is an album which Trent Reznor obviously set out to say "Well, its my next album, so let's make it as good as I can." And it shows - The Downward Spiral is without a doubt the peak of Reznor's musical career, heavy, harsh, misanthropic and even...sad. While NIN's other albums are also great, none of them can compare to this one, which remains fresh literally from the first second of the CD to the last. There is not a single moment of bad music here, in my eyes.
The basic album follows a jist or concept - a story of a collapse into a deep depression caused by a schizophrenic, antagonistic entity in the protagonist's head that injects depression. To escape from the suffering of the Mr. Self Destruct/Ruiner/mechanical voice in his head, the protagonist.... *spoiler* *spoiler* *spoiler* The album undergous many different states of mind, specifically anger, mental illness and regret, but also occasional glimpses of happiness and comfort - short stops on tropical islands before you continue your journey swimming through a sea of boiling water (special thanks to MutantClannfear on Metallum for that line). Let's just say the album has an unrelenting feeling of misery and darkness behind it that, despite how disturbing it is, you can't stop listening to it.
On other words about the lyrical and vocal content, Trent Reznor is without a doubt a genius at it. The vocals in track 7 "The Becoming" are by god the peak of Reznor's vocals and some of the best he has ever uttered in any of his songs. Just so full of intensity, so full of emotion, all different kinds of it. Trent Reznor, similarly to Maynard James Keenan (Tool) or Edgy 59 (Burning Witch), has a difficult to master vocal talent of sounding like a vicious mental ward patient at one moment and a cornered, kicked animal in the other. The lyrics invoke very disturbing, paranoia-inducing imagery, and if you don't read me, just take these examples from the album:
"The me that you know, he used to have feelings, but the blood has stopped pumping and he is left to decay The me that you know is now made up of wires, and even when I'm right with you, I'm still so far away." - Track 7, "The Becoming"
"Scar you, break you, lose me, hate me, smash me, erase me, kill me, kill me, kill me" - Track 11, "Eraser"
"All the pigs are all lined up, I give you all that you want Take the skin and peel it back, now doesn't it make you feel better?" - Track 4, "March of the Pigs"
Regardless of what they mean to you, they still invoke a very disturbing imagery in your head no matter the cause. This album, to me, is a masterpiece. Its a disturbing, decaying, destructive concept album that is absolutely massive in its approach and is important to me beyond words. In fact, I'm a bit disappointed about how this review turned out, as I foreshadowed earlier; because my words do not do justice to how incredible it is. One of the best industrial albums ever written, Trent Reznor really outdid himself here and this is beyond doubt the best of his musical career. Buy it if you haven't already.
Since the album is basically meant to be listened to as a whole (since its a concept album), its difficult to pick standout tracks (especially since all of them are great songs), but if I had to choose highlights, they would be:
March of the Pigs, Closer, Ruiner, The Becoming, Eraser, Hurt
The only downside I can think of here is: don't buy the double-sided version. It has excellent quality, yes, and a great idea to have both the DVD and CD on each side, but its pretty much impossible to not smudge it when you pick it up to put it in the player. Either way, it doesn't detract to how great this album and band is.
Song rankings: Mr. Self Destruct 9/10 Piggy 8/10 Heresy 8/10 March of the Pigs 9/10 Closer 9/10 Ruiner 9/10 The Becoming 10/10 I Do Not Want This 8.5/10 Big Man with a Gun 7.5/10 A Warm Place 8.5/10 Eraser 10/10 Reptile 9.5/10 The Downward Spiral 9/10 Hurt 11/10