The Downward Spiral (halo)
The Downward Spiral (also known as Halo 8) is Nine Inch Nails' second studio album, though it is largely considered the third major release after the Broken EP, which consisted of entirely new material. It was released on March 8, 1994. It is likely the most acclaimed and well-known of the band's discography, and is said to have brought "industrial" music to the mainstream. A collection featuring remixes from The Downward Spiral was released as Further Down The Spiral on June 1, 1995.
Disc 2 (SACD Rerelease Only)
The original Japanese release includes "Dead Souls" between "Big Man With A Gun" and "A Warm Place."
The double vinyl release splits sides between "March Of The Pigs" and "Closer," "The Becoming" and "I Do Not Want This," and "Eraser" and "Reptile." Rather than completely separating the songs, the transitions are retained: "The Becoming" still contains the fade-in of the "I Do Not Want This" beginning, but fades out; the introduction of "Reptile" is tagged onto the end of "Eraser."
Trent Reznor has stated in various interviews some of the ideas and inspiration behind the album:
"The idea behind the album is of someone who sheds everything around them to a potential nothingness, but through career, religion, relationship, belief and so on. It's less muscle-flexing, though when I started it I didn't know what I wanted it to sound like. I knew I didn't want to be a full metal album, so I tried to address the issue of restraint. It was a long process."
"Thematically I wanted to explore the idea of somebody who systematically throws or uncovers every layer of what he's surrounded with, comfort-wise, from personal relationships to religion to questioning the whole situation. Someone dissecting his own ability to relate to other people or to have anything to believe in...With 'The Downward Spiral' I tried to make a record that had full range, rather than a real guitar-based record or a real synth-based record. I tried to make it something that opened the palate for NIN, so we don't get pigeon-holed. It was a conscious effort to focus more on texture and space, rather than bludgeoning you over the head for an hour with a guitar."
"I was really into electronic music at the time. David Bowie's 'Low' was probably the single greatest influence on 'The Downward Spiral' for me. I got into Bowie in the 'Scary Monsters' era, then I picked up 'Low' and instantly fell for it. I related to it on a song-writing level, a mood level, and on a song-structure level...I like working within the framework of accessibility, and songs of course, but I also like things that are more experimental and instrumental, maybe."
Reznor set out to make an album that was a departure from the Broken EP ("when I went into the studio, I knew that I didn't want to make Broken again"), which he described as "a real hard-sounding record that was just one big blast of anger." Instead, Reznor wanted to create an album "that went in 10 different directions, but that was all united somehow." Reznor brought in a number of guest performers to record, including Stephen Perkins and Adrian Belew. Perkins played a number of drum parts that were recorded live in the studio; these tracks were then turned into sample loops. Reznor took a similar approach to recording guitar parts. Reznor would record 20 to 25-minute long sessions of himself playing guitar on a hard disc recorder with a Studio Vision sequencer, then would cut out parts of the recording he found interesting for later use. Reznor said, "99 percent of the stuff we do–even vocals–is recorded into the computer [hard disk] first. We get an arrangement together and then dump it to tape." For "Mr. Self Destruct", Reznor ran the entire mix through the mic pre-amps of several modules plundered from an old Neve board.
Like other NIN releases, some songs never made it to the final album. In this case, some songs were "The Beauty Of The Drug", which was a general out take, and "Just Do It", which was a track prompting the album's protagonist to kill himself. The latter was axed at the request of Flood, who refused to have anything to do with it.
An article from Sound On Sound contains a list of some of the equipment used on the album:
"The studio was equipped with a 56-input Amek Mozart console with Rupert Neve modules, two Studer A800 Mk3 multitrack machines, Mac-based Pro Tools and a host of outboard gear, in addition to Akai S1100 and Kurzweil K2000 samplers; Prophet VS, Digidesign Turbosynth, ARP Odyssey, Oberheim Expander, Oberheim OBMx, Roland MKS80 and Minimoog synthesizers; Doepfer and Oberheim sequencers; a Mellotron MKIV polyphonic tape replay keyboard; a Roland R70 drum machine; and assorted Jackson and Gibson guitars."
Concept and Interpretations
There are numerous layers of metaphors that are present throughout the album, which leaves it open to wide interpretation. As a whole, The Downward Spiral is defined by Nietzschean concepts and a prominent theme of existentialism. It is a concept album in which the overarching plot follows the protagonist moving through his own "Downward Spiral", dealing with religion, dehumanization, violence, disease, society, drugs, sex, and finally suicide. Reznor has stated that the character is a representation of himself:
"...it was during that tour (Self Destruct) that problems started to arise. Prior to that I would have considered myself pretty normal. With the Downward Spiral, I can remember where I was in my head, what I was thinking, and I can remember writing that record, and the mindset. This record that was about an extension of me, became the truth fulfilling itself.
Most fans seem to agree that "Closer" (noted for its "I want to fuck you like an animal" lyric) has meaning deeper than its surface lyrics (note the desperate dependency expressed by the final line, "you are the reason I stay alive"). The narrator was not exactly modeled after Reznor's previous life, though he would later go through his own sort of "downward spiral" during the Fragility tour, battling issues such as drug abuse.
"A dissertation on The Downward Spiral"
This is a lengthy interpretation of the album's story written by two men back around 1998. Read it at:
Recurring themes and styles
To mark the album's tenth anniversary, The Downward Spiral was re-released on November 23, 2004 in two new formats:
The unmastered instrumental versions of almost all the songs on The Downward Spiral ("Ruiner" and "Big Man With A Gun" were not included) have been made available on remix.nin.com for streaming and free download.
Universal chose, without consulting Trent Reznor, to re-release the vinyl edition of The Downward Spiral as a part of their Back to Back collection celebrating the 60th anniversary of vinyl. Trent's opinion on this was posted on nin.com:
You may have heard there's a new re-release of The Downward Spiral on vinyl. I heard that, too. I have no idea what it is or what's on it because the band has had no involvement in it.
The vinyl was released on September 23, 2008, and has the same artwork and track listing as the original 1994 release.
For more information, see Self Destruct Touring Cycle
The album was supported by a major tour that lasted nearly two years. It circled North America a few times and also visited Europe and Australia. The shows were very intense and included well-programmed lighting and very aggressive performances, with many instruments being mangled in the process. A co-headlining leg with David Bowie, referred to as the Dissonance tour, took place in 1995. The tour culminated with a few club dates showcasing artists that were on Nothing Records. Portions of the tour were documented and released as part one of the Closure double VHS in 1997.
All of these songs have been played live. Obviously, they were featured during the Self-Destruct Tour, though "Heresy" was played only once in 1994 and disappeared from live shows until 2007.
On the Performance 2007 tour, The Downward Spiral era songs received more frequent play time. A particularly extreme example is the 2007/02/15 show in Madrid, Spain, when ten tracks from the The Downward Spiral were performed, the first seven of which were performed in their exact order on the album.
During the band's Webster Hall performance on August 23, 2009, the band opened the show by performing the album in its entirety which included the live debut of "A Warm Place" and the first performance of "Big Man With a Gun" in over 15 years. The same thing happened at the Hollywood Palladium show.
About "Wound" (used for the album cover):
"I had been thinking about making works that dealt with layers, physically, materially and conceptually. I wanted to produce works that were about both exposure and revealing and at the same dealt with closure and covering. Given the nature of the lyrics and the power of the music I was working with, I felt justified in attempting to make works that alluded to the apparently contradictory imagery of pain and healing. I wanted to make beautiful surfaces that partially revealed the visceral rawness of open wounds beneath. The mixed media work Wound was the first piece I tackled in this vein (no pun intended) and it became the cover of the album. It is made of plaster, acrylics, oils, rusted metals, insects, moths, blood (mine), wax, varnishes, and surgical bandaging on a wooden panel."
About "Future Echoes" (used for the inner cover):
"At the time of this commission I had also been reading and researching into ideas about transformation, transmutation and regeneration. I was interested in how a line of willow poles used as fence posts could come back to life to start growing as trees again (Rupert Sheldrake). Similarly Seamus Heaney’s poem ‘Requiem for the Croppies’ which relates to a true event in Irish history filled me with tears and wonder. In it Heaney describes how during the early part of the 20th century a group of farmers to the North of Dublin gathered in a field to march on Dublin to protest at yet more draconian taxes being imposed by the occupying English powers. The English had been tipped off and were in place hiding around the field where the farmers met. The farmers were ambushed, shot down and buried in a mass grave. The farmers had in their pockets barley seeds to chew on during the proposed march. The following year a crop of barley sprang up out of the grave where they had fell. At the back of my mind were also thoughts of the rebuilding of Europe after the 2nd World War, physically and politically. I remembered seeing film footage of women in Berlin, scavenging for bricks in the ruins, creating a daisy chain, passing bricks from one to the other in order to rebuild new houses out of the debris.
Deluxe Edition Credits