On March 8, 1994, Trent Reznor released the second full length album for his group Nine Inch Nails, titled The Downward Spiral. It followed the industrial disco epic debut Pretty Hate Machine and the metal leaning of the Broken EP.
The album is easily the best of Nine Inch Nails’s long career, and still carries itself masterfully today. Ironically it was recorded and released at a low point for Reznor, who was in the throws of heroin addiction and at times writer’s block. Recorded at the Tate mansion in Los Angeles where the Manson murders occurred (which he named ‘le Pig’ studio), it’s a semi-autobiographical conceptual tale of the final descent of a man. It also is partially based on his personal conflicts with Robert Patrick, a band member who was also the founder of the band Filter. Other overarching themes of sex and violence, drug use, rage against the establishment of religion and society, and suicide are throughout. It’s powerful, nihilistic work.
Musically, the album is brilliant and dynamic. It featured guest work from Adrian Belew, Tommy Lee and Stephen Perkins, featured longtime Reznor collaborators/ band mates Chris Vrenna and Danny Lohner, and was produced by Flood with mixing by Alan Moulder. It was the first time Reznor incorporated the use of a Mac and Pro Tools into the sequencing and recording of an album. It’s a marriage of the synth leaning of Pretty Hate Machine with the metal distortion of Broken.
It’s one of the most influential albums I have ever listened to. In a period that I dealt with self loathing and confusion over my sexuality as well as my loneliness and depression, it resonated with me. I was still funding out who I was, and I was on the verge of coming out. I felt isolated and alone. This album gave me catharsis. It allowed me to embrace my sexuality. It allowed me to question things. It showed me that there was an outlet for pain, that things were not as bad as they seemed, and spurred me on intellectually and creatively as well as emotionally. It is a defining album in my life.
20 years on, this album still fucking rocks. So thank you Trent.