On March 8th, 1994, Nine Inch Nails released their second studio album The Downward Spiral. The album wast the long awaited follow-up to 1989’s debut LP Pretty Hate Machine, and was produced by NIN frontman Trent Reznor and legendary post-punk producer Flood.
Although considered to be one of the greatest “industrial rock” albums of all time, the record defies genres, yet definitely showcases some post-punk and true industrial roots in its creation, evident with such as remix and video collaborations with Peter Christopherson of Throbbing Gristle and Coil, and an actual cover of Joy Division recorded around the same time.
The Downward Spiral was conceived while Trent Reznor was living at 10050 Cielo Drive—the home where Sharon Tate and three others wer murdered by the Manson Family. Moving into the house was a decision Reznor would later regret:
“While I was working on Downward Spiral, I was living in the house where Sharon Tate was killed. Then one day I met her sister. It was a random thing, just a brief encounter. And she said: “Are you exploiting my sister’s death by living in her house?” For the first time, the whole thing kind of slapped me in the face. I said, “No, it’s just sort of my own interest in American folklore. I’m in this place where a weird part of history occurred”. I guess it never really struck me before, but it did then. She lost her sister from a senseless, ignorant situation that I don’t want to support. When she was talking to me, I realized for the first time, What if it was my sister? I thought, Fuck Charlie Manson. I don’t want to be looked at as a guy who supports serial-killer bullshit. I went home and cried that night. It made me see there’s another side to things, you know”-Trent Reznor via Rolling Stone
Sonically, The Downward Spiral was heavily inspired by David Bowie‘s Low and Scary Monsters (standalone Bowie single “Crystal Japan” shares some tonal similarities to the fully instrumental “A Warm Place”).The album also features a sample of Iggy Pop’s “Night Clubbing” from his Berlin era album The Idiot in the now iconic piston-like percussion in the single “Closer.”
“Closer” is perhaps one of the most misunderstood songs of the 90s era, as unlike the surface interpretation of the song’s refrain, the song is more of a meditation on self-hatred and obsession, which could be expressed through drugs, s&m, and sex, among other things.
The video for “Closer” was directed by Mark Romanek and is one of the most iconic music videos of all time. It has been made part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
The video displays events occurring in a dusty laboratory setting with imagery relating to religion, sexuality, animal cruelty, politics, and terror controversial imagery included a nude bald woman with a crucifix mask, who covers her face with a Buffalo skull, a monkey tied to a cross, a pig’s head spinning on a machine, a diagram of a vulva. Reznor himself can be seen in the video wearing an S&M mask while swinging in shackles, and wearing a ball gag, as well as wearing goggles in a wind tunnel, or rotating supine on wires.
Watch the video for “Closer” below:
“Closer” was one of four singles plucked from The Downward Spiral, two of which were released as radio-only.
“Hurt”, the album’s definitive closing track describing self-harm and heroin addiction was immortalized by a cover by Johnny Cash on his album American IV: The Man Comes Around.
Here is another live version; the famous duet performance of the track from Nine Inch Nails’ 1995 tour with David Bowie:
The other radio-only promotional single on the record was Piggy.
The video for March of the Pigs was directed by Coil’s Peter Christopherson. with two versions being shot—the first one, however, was scrapped—and instead a live video was released, showcasing the band’s aggressive on stage energy.
Additionally, on Japanese Pressings of the Downward Spiral, the Nine Inch Nails cover of Joy Division’s “Dead Souls” was included. Here is a performance of Dead Souls from Woodstock 1994.
- “Mr. Self Destruct”
- “March of the Pigs”
- “The Becoming”
- “I Do Not Want This”
- “Big Man with a Gun”
- “A Warm Place”
- “The Downward Spiral