The Downward Spiral

by Nine Inch Nails

Released March 8, 1994 via Nothing Records / Interscope Records

Originally reviewed on March 12, 2020

Top tracks (based on community voting)
Hurt (48%), Closer (48%), Mr. Self Destruct (33%)

The Downward Spiral is just that, the never-ending slippery slope that is mental illness. When you’re in that vicious cycle, nothing goes right and no matter how you try to approach it, nothing seems to be going right. Anguish is the centerpiece of Nine Inch Nails’ masterpiece, with the theme represented lyrically and instrumentally. Taking inspiration from a hell like setting of cold, rusted steel and the ruins of the industrial factories, Trent Reznor made Industrial music’s mission statement. He propels these tracks forward with spine tingling beats and a mastery of musical detail unmatched by most in his field. From walls of pure noise and pressurized machinery noises to haunting ambient scapes, this record epitomizes the phrase of Industrial and remains one of music’s most forward-thinking releases. – Jared (10/10)

The Downward Spiral is almost certainly Nine Inch Nails’ most ambitious and creative record, existing not only as their most impressive body of work, but also as what established them as a dominant force in the 1990s. While many contributors have come and gone, NIИ has always been the work of Trent Reznor, and his first foray into concept albums truly showcases his genius. Detailing a man’s rapid descent and destruction, The Downward Spiral depicts its protagonist suffering from depression that leads to inescapable madness and helplessness that ultimately drive him to suicide. No matter how many listens you give it, it remains incredibly haunting, emotionally powerful, and downright impressive in its ability to capture the darkest recesses of mental illness. And Reznor’s level of experimentation in his production – through the fusing elements of techno and dance with hard rock and heavy metal – creates a non-stop barrage of noise that serves as a perfect backdrop for such a chaotic and despair-driven spiral. One of the best concept albums ever recorded and undoubtedly a top-tier album of its decade. – Dominick (9/10)


The second studio album from industrial rock powerhouse Nine Inch Nails conjures up feelings of despair and downright existential dread, as Trent Reznor and Mark 'Flood' Ellis provide a soundtrack for detachment. Recorded in 10050 Cielo Drive – known for being the location of the Manson Family murders – The Downward Spiral is home to a sinister air. Feelings of overpowering negative sensation envelope the tracks, rendering it far from easy listening, but rewarding to an alarming degree. With Alan Moulder on mixing duties this album packs quite the sonic punch. His expertise have enhanced many albums including My Bloody Valentine's Loveless and The Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream. Music doesn't get much more hopeless and downright nihilistic. – Peter (9/10)


Hadley: 9.5/10 | Dominick: 9/10 | Daniel: 9/10 | Peter: 9/10 | Pax: 8.6/10