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 in a nihilistic spiral of depression leading to a never-ending void.
Atheism and dark existential shades
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 atheism and dark existential shades. There is plenty of biblical and religious imagery and metaphors throughout the whole project. In Closer, for instance, 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 metamorphosis is complete
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 protagonist’s metamorphosis into its own antagonist (“Mr. Self-Destruct”) is complete. 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.”
Life as a tragedy
The Downward Spiral follows this existential turnover so the songs lose structure, and gain more production layers. They also show strange time signatures and a more complicated industrial approach to the rhythm section. The music thus becomes increasingly insane together along with the narrator. With the song The Downward Spiral, the record reaches its anti-climax. The protagonist took his own life. In Hurt, a dissonant chasmic lullaby reminds us that no one can ever escape from his own life-tragedy.
You can listen to The Downward spiral on Spotify .