In 1994 Trent Reznor emerged again from his own abyss of drug addiction and depression to give his wicked machine-like musical project Nine Inch Nails a second child: The Downward Spiral. As the title suggests, the record is a concept album about the fall of a man, slowly being caught up in this nihilistic spiral of depression and falling into a never-ending void.
Stylistically the project follows the narration conveyed by the expressionist lyrics: the first 6 tracks of the album show the angry and witty nihilistic sides of the protagonist (the acknowledging in “Heresy” of the fact that “God is Dead/And no one cares/If There is a hell/ I’ll meet you there”). The tone of the record shifts between violent atheist and dark existential shades. There is plenty of biblical and religious imagery and metaphors to be found throughout the whole project, as in “Closer”, where the protagonist finds an ephemeral shelter for his own messed-up ego in brutal and dehumanized sex acts: “I wanna fuck you like an animal/ I wanna feel you from the inside/My whole existence is flawed/You get me closer to God”.
The second section of the album is the more complex: after “The Becoming” and “I Do Not Want This”, in “Big Man With a Gun”, the metamorphosis of the protagonist into its own antagonist (“Mr. Self-Destruct”) is completed, as he finally gave up to the madness approaching inside his head: “Held against your forehead/And I’ll make you suck it/Maybe I’ll put a hole in your head/You know, just for the fuck of it”.
The record follows this existential turnover so the songs become less structured, with more production layers to be heard, showing also strange time signatures and a more complicated industrial approach to the rhythm section; so the music becomes increasingly insane together along with the narrator. In “The Downward Spiral” is the anti-climax of the record: the protagonist took his own life, and in “Hurt” a dissonant chasmic lullaby reminds us that no one can ever escape from his own life-tragedy.