Saturday, March 9, 2019

Looking Back in Anger at Nine Inch Nails' "The Downward Spiral"

This album turns 25 today. I was working at a Record store when it came out. So it was interesting to watch an industrial album go mainstream, though MTV was pointing them in that direction with the videos from "Broken". It starts off with the hammering "Mr. Self Destruct" that I have seen them open with live a few times. I think one of this album's strengths is the lyrics and all the tortured honesty Treznor put into them. Then things simmer down into a sultry groove for "Piggy" which works off of a slinky bass and the refrain of "nothing can stop me now, because I don't care anymore". It pretty much sums up the slacker pathos of Gen X. In many ways this album helped define the 90s as much as "Nevermind" in fact I'll say it's a better album than Nirvana's hit factory which might have gotten more radio play as it opened the doors to grunge pop fodder. This album is more complex and layered. It is more importantly for us here at Abysmal Hymns...darker.

It funny going back to listen to this album, I can almost review it from memory. The synth groove to "Hersey" looks back toward the feeling of the first album. The only difference is the heavier pulse to the chorus of "if god is dead...".  "March of the Pigs" hit's you head on with a blitz.  I think it works better in the smoother groove it breaks down at the minute mark before he asks "doesn't it make you feel better". I however don't think it's as good as the first three songs. "Closer" is pretty much the "Iron Man" of this album. It's an iconic pop song for sure, but I can go the rest of my life without hearing it now. In fact I think "Ruiner" is a better song. I think the groove is better . It gets more chaotic and noisy before the anthemic refrain. If we are talking about songs better than "Closer" , then "Becoming" also goes on that list. Lyrically it rings more true. The chanted refrain of "it won't give it , it wants me dead, god damn this noise inside my head" is one of the albums best moments.

The beat to "I Do Not Want This" is fractured beyond groove. The vocals have to hold the song together, until the more metallic guitar comes in. "Big Man With a Gun" has a more 80s synth groove and almost feels more like a Ministry song.  "A Warm Place" is more of an interlude than a song. Though they make you wait for it the greatest moment of the album are the drums Tommy Lee of Motley Crue played to kick into "Eraser" . This is my favorite song on the album, with the song after that in the number two spot. The vocals are sedate at first but still have a great deal of emotion before things get big and explosive."Reptile" might be the album's darkest song. Lyrically it might be the best on the album.

Oddly the title track is an interlude rather than a song on this album. It ends with "Hurt" which if you are reading this I hope you know, if not go hurt yourself to see if you still feel. If you heard the Johnny Cash cover first then follow those same instructions. This took the power ballad out of the hands of Guns and Roses to show it could be done with half the hair spray. On our rating scale of 1 to 10, this is one of the rare albums that cracks the ceiling to earn an 11. The same volume you should listen to it at.

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