Nine Inch Nails’ ‘The Downward Spiral’ at 25: All the Songs Ranked Worst to Best


Is there a extra menacing album to have penetrated the 1990s pop consciousness as profoundly as Nine Inch Nails’ second album, The Downward Spiral? Doubtful.

While NIN’s debut, 1989’s Pretty Hate Machine, actually put Ohio-bred industrial rocker Trent Reznor and his gritty, mechanical sound on the map, reaching No. 75 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, its comply with up was an entire completely different deal — it was so subversive, so regarding for fogeys that the federal government even acquired concerned.

Recorded within the Hollywood home the place the Manson Family murdered 5 individuals, together with actress Sharon Tate, the discharge turned Reznor into a large star, one identified for turning inward to unleash the demons from the darkish corners of his thoughts. It opens with the sound of a person being overwhelmed by a jail guard, sampled from the George Lucas movie THX1138. Fitting, because the LP is themed round violence and self-flagellation, dependancy and self-loathing. Then, after all, there’s the a number of references to “Pig,” one of many phrases written on the door of the house, again on the fateful night time in 1969, of their victims’ blood.

Revisiting the album 25 years later, one factor is evident: gritty and aggressive, however at instances tender an atmospheric, it’s a musical masterpiece that hasn’t dated sonically — its manufacturing worth is spectacular, regardless of 1 / 4 century of technological improvement in studio wizardry. Reznor is a grasp of his technological area.

Ranking its 15 tracks is hard—there are anthemic singles, haunting ballads, screeching guitar seizures, and atmospheric interludes. But right here we go… 

14. “The Downward Spiral”

It’s three:56 seconds of, maybe, essentially the most unremarkable atmospherics, acoustic noodling, and drowned-out electrical guitar tangles on your entire album. The LP's melodic motifs reappear earlier than being drowned out, however possibly that’s the purpose: Reznor is exhausted, and able to set the stage for the closing act — the album’s ultimate (and most stunning and confessional monitor) “Hurt.”

13. “Big Man with a Gun”

The most controversial track on the album can be one among its worst. Targeted by conservatives, together with Senator after which Republican occasion chief Bob Dole, the track is a near-clich├ęd blast of commercial angst. Reznor’s lyrics don’t fare significantly better: “I’m a giant man (Yes I’m)/ And I’ve a giant gun/ Got me a giant outdated dick and I/ I prefer to have enjoyable/ Held towards your brow/ I'll make you suck it.” Republicans, naturally, took this as an insult aimed toward them, whereas Reznor claimed it was a dis at misogynistic hip-hop acts.

12. “Reptile”

Following from the previous "Eraser" on Spiral, "Reptile" continues down a equally formidable musical path. At 6:51, it’s the longest track on the album; Reznor reportedly would have favored to have launched as a single. Again, it’s a collision of layered sounds — what number of tracks are actually right here? — proving once more his genius with the know-how at this finger ideas. When you hear this track, there’s no surprise Reznor went on to a really profitable profession in movie soundtracks.

11. “Eraser”

One of the extra experimental, arty songs on an album stuffed with ‘em, “Eraser” is an epic of sound design — patchwork melodies and layered vocals rise and fall, with a barrage of sounds taking middle stage, then recede into the darkness. Reznor is curt, screaming: “Need you. Dream you. Find you. Taste you. Fuck you. Use you. Scar you. Break you. Lose me. Hate me. Smash me. Erase me. Kill me.”

10. “A Warm Place”

This instrumental track — a, ahem, nod to the nice and cozy, secure place supplied by a heroin excessive? — is strictly as its inspiration would counsel: slow-burning, attractive, comforting, blissed-out. It’s three minutes and 22 seconds of relaxation, of cuddling and luxury, buffering the uncooked blasts in between.

9. “Mr. Self Destruct”

Once we get handed the opening beats (effectively, beatings), the track turns into a clattering razor edge with stabbing guitars. Reznor dials up the chills with pauses of plucking synths and just-under-the-surface roiling till — increase — the machine begins up once more: “I’m the needle in your vein/ I’m the excessive you may't maintain/ I’m the pusher, I'm a whore/ I’m the necessity you could have for extra.” There isn’t a extra on-the-nose track about Reznor’s ache and drug dependancy throughout this period.

eight. “Ruiner”

A sampler of sounds come collectively right here, sounding like a warped far-future model of Depeche Mode (a number of the classes have been produced by that band’s longtime collaborator, Flood). Skittering break beats, membership synths and grindcore guitars are tapped collectively, collage model. There’s even a guitar hero, Hendrix-in-Terminator-style breakdown: “You had all of them in your facet didn't you?/ You imagine in all of your lies didn't you?/ The ruiner's acquired lots to show he's acquired nothing to lose and now he made you imagine.” 

7. “The Becoming”

An instance of how melodic industrial music can truly be, a number of progressive — albeit nonetheless goose bump-inducing — melodies collide right here over burbling synths and screeching samples of screams. It’s good haunted home music: “He's coated with scabs and he’s damaged and sore/ The me that you recognize doesn't come round a lot/ That a part of me isn't right here anymore/ All ache disappears it's the character of my circuitry.” Bridging natural and non-organic music, Reznor is an element man, half machine.

6. “I Do Not Want This”

With a looping beat, created by recording Porno for Pyros drummer Steve Perkins within the studio, this superb cacophony of grinding guitars and slicing atmospherics finds Reznor unleashing on himself: “I’ve lived so many lives all in my head/ Don't inform me that you just care/ There actually isn't something, is there?”

5. “Heresy”

“God is lifeless/ And nobody cares/ If there’s a hell/ I’ll see you there.” Reznor goes all in on this grinding, dwell wire steam engine. He screams, squeals in a lullaby-like lilt, and explodes over chugging guitars and ice-knife synths. It’s quintessentially industrial.

four. “Piggy”

The theme is omnipresent: The phrase “Pig” was famously written on the partitions of 10050 Cielo Drive in Tate’s personal blood, and have become a calling card of the notorious murders (it was reportedly a reference to the Beatles’ White Album jam “Piggies”). In mild of this, Reznor named the house’s studio Le Pig, and launched this hypnotic, unsettling downtempo jam — that includes his solely look on drums — as a promotional single. 

three. “March of the Pigs”

Is there a scarier, extra intense track within the NIN catalogue? (And there’s quite a lot of scary, intense songs within the NIN catalog.) The mechanical blitz of this jam is downright pants-wetting. One of the band’s shortest tracks, clocking in in just below three minutes, the album’s first single has a breakneck BPM of 269. And they layer on the chills — first the drum beat, then the rising synths, then the all-out destruction and shrapnel guitar: “All the pigs are all lined up/ I provide you with all that you really want/ Take the pores and skin and peel it again/ Now doesn't that make you’re feeling higher?” Yikes.

2. “Hurt”

The album’s closing monitor is a haunting, eerie ode to the ache of heroin dependancy, an acoustic reverie surrounded by a rising digital gauze, piano, and, lastly, that refrain: “I’ll allow you to down/ I’ll make you harm.” It was nominated for finest rock track on the Grammys in 1996 (shedding to Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know”), however was confirmed as a timeless traditional when nation legend Johnny Cash launched a tortured, acoustic rendition in 2002, simply previous to his personal demise. 

1. “Closer”

You know the phrases — who doesn’t? Though written about obsession and interpersonal relationships, this dystopian dance monitor from the nuclear future grew to become NIN’s hottest track when interpreted as a primal name to animalistic mating. The Mark Romanek-directed music video music video solely bolstered that sentiment, with its monkeys tied to crosses, severed pig's heads and S&M gear.