The Downward Spiral #1 (The Series I Have Been Dying to Write)

For anyone that is keeping track, this is my 50th post on this blog. As I said before, I made a rule that I couldn’t feature an artist twice before I got to this 50th post. And I did–no repeats. So now I am free to post whatever! Of course I will still feature new groups, but I have been dying to re-feature my favorite “group” of all time, Nine Inch Nails.

I am serious when I say that Nine Inch Nails changed my life–not just my taste in music but my life. This change mostly occurred from discovering the extremely powerful album The Downward Spiral. I argue that it is the best concept album in existence, but I might be a little bias. (If you have other contenders for that honor, please tell me about them!)

I knew I wanted to feature the entire album because each song is an essential part of the unfolding story, so featuring one song would not adequately describe the meaning and emotion behind the song. But I knew that no one would sit through an entire post about 14 songs. So over the next week I plan to discuss 1-3 songs in each post, detailing the overall concept of the album and how each song adds to the elaborate and deeply emotional story. I hope you tune in for all of them, or at least listen to some of them, since this album speaks to so many people on so many different levels. A word of warning though, this album is not a pop or even “normal” rock album. The Downward Spiral explores some of the deepest, most  unpleasant areas of the human psyche. However, it has helped me understand parts about myself that 8+ years of therapy could never do.


A little background before I get into the actual music (sorry! hang on a little longer, it will be worth it): The Downward Spiral was released in 1993 and was Nine Inch Nails’ third album. The main concept of the album is a man’s downward spiral of self-destruction. Yes, it seems unhappy and perhaps not even worth listening to, but believe me (from someone who has exprienced the lowest of low in her life) this song really resonates and actually helps one understand one’s self better.

#1. The first song, “Mr. Self Destruction,” introduces the listener to the main “character–a man that has many self destructive vices that are personified by “Mr. Self Destruction” Mr. SD is many different vices such as drugs (I’m the needle in your vein) and sex (I’m a whore). But Mr. SD also provides hatred, guilt, lies, addiction, and loneliness. Thus, Mr. SD is the man–the man is his worst enemy. One that he can never escape. One that controls him.

I picked a video with the lyrics since it is a little hard to understand Trent at first. But through the noise, comes this voice filled with so much emotion. Emotions of self-hatred, self-judgement. And who can truthfully state that these or similar thoughts haven’t clouded his or her head. How many can say they never have times when they felt inadequate and used something–alcohol, drugs, food, lack of food–to combat or dull those feelings of unworthiness. But, this behavior creates an endless cycle of guilt, judgement, and self doubt–a downward spiral.

#2. “Piggy” is the next song on the album. The song documents another step downward for the man. Although he was in a relationship, it ended in “broken bones” and him becoming increasingly alone. The man directs his anger at his former girlfriend, saying that finally he is alone now and no one can stop him, covering up his emotions of sadness and betrayal. This song is crucial in setting up his broken relationship with this women, a relationship that increases his descent.

The next post will feature 2 subsequent songs from the album. In the mean time, feel free to tell me your opinion on this album or other interpretations of the songs/album.



Filed under Industrial, NIN, Rock, The Downward Spiral, Trent Reznor

6 responses to “The Downward Spiral #1 (The Series I Have Been Dying to Write)

  1. Love this album and never really took the time to analyze the songs…but man oh man I can remember many times alone in my room listening to Hurt.
    The end of the album…when all the elements and melodys come back into play and that piano…
    I need to go listen to that right now.

    • I hope you did go and listen to it! I love how all the elements come together and surprisingly intermesh well.
      Also, I understand exactly about “Hurt.” I would listen to it mainly after my parents or therapist were disappointed in me and I felt like I was letting everyone down. So sad, and so hauntingly beautiful.

  2. JohnSmith

    “I argue that it is the best concept album in existence”

    Muah. I disagree. Year Zero. Even to this day I love it’s complexity. Just understanding there were three (3!) different vectors into the ARG (USB sticks in random washrooms, IATTB on the tour t-shirts, the thermally sensitive CD … “… can’t you see what’s right in front of you…”). I’ll say nothing of spectrometer readings showing The Presence.

    Then one has to know how to scan subnets to uncover other related sites? In conclusion, “Red Horse Vector”!

    • Before this comment, I did not realize the extent of the world NIN created on-line and in the video game to go with Year Zero. Or the different ways they distributed this information. It is an amazing concept Trent created, pushing the line as to what is music and can it be used for other things such as uncovering government conspiracies. The complex layers, the secrecy, and the link to the game does make it hard for a person to understand the message of the music in its totality especially years after the release. However, this is neither a good nor bad thing.

      I still believe that The Downward Spiral is an amazing concept album because it is readily accessible by people when they solely listen to the music. They can relate to the immense pain the narrator is going through: we all experience loneliness, self-doubt, self-loathing, and perhaps even suicidal tendencies. Thus, it is very different from Year Zero. But less of a concept album? I’m not sure about that. They serve difference functions, but both show the brilliance of Trent Reznor.

      NB: For people reading this comment and want to learn more about Year Zero and its layers of meaning, MTV (of all sites) has a good synopsis what is going on with the various websites, phone numbers, etc that are connected to the album.

  3. Kelly

    “How many can say they never have times when they felt inadequate and used something–alcohol, drugs, food, lack of food–to combat or dull those feelings of unworthiness.”

    As a former cocaine addict and anorexic (2 months sober/ED-free…but it’s only been 3 days since I got out of inpatient so don’t congratulate me yet…), I can’t say I’ve ever found a more raw, evil personification of addiction/an eating disorder.

    • I hope you are still doing well! The first few months after inpatient (for anorexia) was the hardest for me. It gets easier. And I agree. This album perfectly captures my addictions and the destruction that they can cause. I always have to reflect after listening to the album.
      PS. If you want to talk at all about ED recovery stuff or just have someone who has gone through the recovery process, please don’t hesitate to contact me at Really, no one should have to struggle with anorexia or drug addiction and I want to help in any way.

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