Album Review – The Downward Spiral

If there is one statement that can sum up this album, it is this: “Who needs therapy when you have Trent Reznor?” “The Downward Spiral” is a concept album, plain and simple. The music can be used to display different parts of the story, and helps express the feelings of the protagonist, and the feelings of Reznor himself. The story line found here has always been debatable, with many fans deciphering the lyrics in different ways. It is generally accepted, however, that the story follows a man who slowly descends into madness, eventually committing suicide. But then again, it isn’t very hard to be inspired when you write and record your album in the same house where actress Sharon Tate was murdered.

If this is beginning to sound miserable, then you really need to hear the music that accompanies this horrible story. “Mr. Self Destruct” opens with the sounds of a man being tortured, and transitions to the cynical “Piggy”. Then there’s “March Of The Pigs”, which has been described as the “most furious song ever to be a hit single.” Once his rant is over, it slowly transitions into the best and most depraved sexual song ever written, “Closer”. After “Ruiner”, where it becomes clear that Reznor has rejected God once and for all, he is left with two options: either things get better, or they don’t. If they don’t, it’s safe to say that God wasn’t the problem. With “Big Man With A Gun”, which provides a depraved portrayal of a world in which men have abandoned God and rule by the twin powers of sex and the gun, it’s become rather clear that the narrator is left with nothing, and is lost.

After this moment of dark and dreadful realization comes one of the two emotionally heartbreaking songs on this album. “A Warm Place” is miles away from the pounding hysteria of “Big Man With A Gun”. It’s a purely instrumental, ambient track which takes the listener back from the abyss into which he was staring deep into his own soul. “Eraser” features a return to the pounding music that led into “A Warm Place”, with Reznor begging “Hate me, Smash me, Erase me, Kill me”, in such a way that it has become clear that the story of “The Downward Spiral” will have no happy ending.

After launching one final desperate plea for redemption by visiting the only type of human with whom he can still identify (“Reptile”), the central character is left further repelled by humanity, leading to the inevitability of “The Downward Spiral”. This penultimate track on the album should by rights be the final track here. It tells the story of the man’s suicide, talking in a whisper of how the man puts the gun into his face (note the third person), while Reznor’s screams play on a loop in the background.
Is there anyone here who isn’t aware of Hurt? Covered by Johnny Cash when his death was imminent, the song is the ultimate suicide anthem (and ultimate “cutter” song), with Reznor’s character looking back at his life over a soft layer of ambience and acoustic guitars. The amount of symbolism contained in the lyrics here is quite outstanding, summarizing the entire concept of the album in one 6 minute song. Tragically, it is only after his death when he realizes in the last lines of the album that if only he were given another chance he would be able to save himself from all that has transpired, but by then, it is too late. One distorted guitar chord sounds, stretching out for what seems like an eternity, and, like that, the soul of the narrator is gone, and with him the story of “The Downward Spiral”.

Though this album may sound extremely depressing to the point of reaching a conclusion of “Why even bother listening to it?”, I would advise the contraire. It is a beautifully written album, both lyrically and musically. I have never heard such an album with extreme dynamic changes. My only word of caution is, if you do decide to check this album out and decide to raise the volume in order to hear the quiet parts, DON’T (unless you want to blow out your ear drums).

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2 Comments

  1. **DISCLAIMER: Due to the graphic nature of this album, we felt it was best to post the album review on this site rather than on the newspaper site.

  2. http://www.sfhsknightlife.wordpress.com is the newspaper site, just in case anyone has no idea what matt is talking aboot


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