Music History Monday: Nine Inch Nails’ Downward Spiral Turns 20


The Downward Spiral is a very dark and bleak piece of art. It feels like the musical apocalypse. The entire range of musical emotion is on this album: the highest of highs and the deepest of lows. Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral turns 20 years old this year. Wishing happy birthday to one of the most influential albums in all of electronic, metal, and rock music is hard when it also one of the most disturbing albums I have ever heard.

Rolling Stone rates The Downward Spiral as the #200 greatest album of all time. This rating is fitting for an album of this repute. Nine Inch Nails have left a wide swath of influence on the American music identity. Trent Reznor, the lead singer, and his band have helped lay a foundation for electronically altered music.


The Downward Spiral was recorded on a Macintosh computer and edited with the basic software on the computer. Using these relatively primitive tools, NIN created something no one had heard before. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, the album was recorded in Sharon Tate’s home, where the Manson murders occurred in 1969. Yeah. I told you this whole album is dark.

The lyrical content of the album can be interpreted as the narrator’s downward spiral. It’s a concept album, and a damn good one. The songs cascade into each other with ever growing sadness and anger. At the end of this album, with the beautiful conclusion track “Hurt”, you feel an ominous presence in Reznor’s voice. Reznor was suffering from depression and addiction when he wrote the songs, which apparently worsened his condition by re-recording them over and over. It is safe to say that the narrator is not doing too well by the end.


The Downward Spiral is a darker, more brutal look at the mental state behind depression and suicide than traditional. And by darker, I mean literally pitch black.

Check out these tracks:

"Closer" - NIN’s most popular song of all time

"Hurt" - Powerful and emotional look at self-hate

"Piggy" - A slow, change of pace but you can cut the tension with a razor blade