In the rush to cover the constant waves of new music, we all too often neglect discussing the releases that leave the most substantial impressions in our lives. As such, we recently invited some bands and artists to wax poetic about an album that was deeply impactful or influential to them, either musically or personally. The second guest to graciously offer a retrospective in this series is Chris H of antifacist blackened outfit Phryne. Read on!
Written by: Chris H
The first time I listened to The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails was in 2015. At that time, I was starting to find myself listening to heavier music, and I was venturing to discover all the classic hallmarks of metal. Industrial had always been interesting to me, but as a kid I was always too afraid of the dark imagery to really listen. When I sat down to listen to The Downward Spiral--the first industrial album I decided to listen to--and pressed play, I heard the sounds of a man being beaten in a strangely rhythmic fashion. At that moment, I was uneasy and wondering if I should keep going and listen on, but as the sample from the film THX 1138 crescendoed into a chaotic noisescape, I gave in and was transported to the grimy world Trent Reznor had created. “Mr. Self Destruct” is still one of my favorite album openers because of its raw attack and energy. It is the perfect beginning to the experience that is The Downward Spiral.
As the album unfolds, it becomes clear that Reznor is telling a specific story through the lyrics about a disaffected individual who is losing their connection to humanity and their own sense of self. It has a straightforward plot, but it’s Reznor’s presentation of the character through the first-person perspective that makes it so interesting. The most obvious emotion throughout the album is anger. The character’s anger towards religion in the song “Heresy” and the mysterious “Pig” in the song “Piggy” are apparent in the album's opening tracks. But there is a deep sadness under that aggression that makes it so visceral. I related to this feeling of expressing sadness and anxiety through rage, and it is ultimately what makes the album stick with me to this day.
Each and every song on The Downward Spiral stands out in its own unique way, which is especially impressive when you consider that the album is 14 tracks spanning just over an hour. But if I had to pick one song that I love the most it would be “Reptile,” with its heavy, pounding drum beat, guitars that evoke the feeling of insects crawling all over the room, and beautiful yet nihilistic lyrics such as, “Angels bleed from the tainted touch of my caress / Need to contaminate to alleviate this loneliness.”
The Downward Spiral represents a part of myself that I must face every day: my mental illness. It is a truly cathartic listen for me, and it has also had a massive influence on how I make music to express my own emotions. No other album has touched me the same way since, and I highly doubt one ever will again.
Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral was released March 1994 from Nothing / Interscope. All of Nine Inch Nails's assorted links can be found on their official site.
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!