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Music: The Downward Spiral
"You can have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt
"
Nine Inch Nails, "Hurt"

The Downward Spiral is the Concept Album released in 1994 by Nine Inch Nails. Known for being dark, distorted and corrupted, the album tells a story of one man's falling out with God, society, violence, control, abuse, sex... and ultimately himself.

The story follows a man going on his own, well, downward spiral. The first track, "Mr. Self Destruct", is pretty much a synopsis of the protagonist's self-destructive personality. Then the spiral starts with "Piggy", when he loses his girlfriend, who was pretty much his only tether to reality, and then goes into a completely freaking insane festival of ear rape and horror. It goes on to talk (or rather scream) about his God Is Dead philosophy and his hate for religion in "Heresy", then establishes the fact that he's a chronic sociopath in "March of the Pigs".

After that it flashes back to when the relationship with his girlfriend grew into despair and how he was utterly dependent on her and the trouble that she gave him in "Closer" (this track gathered a serious Misaimed Fandom) and how he would give up everything just to abuse her insides. Then it returns to the current happenings, as "Ruiner" starts playing, which pretty much goes through his interactions with a virus-infected person known as the "ruiner", who he thinks has taken his place, but he suddenly realizes that he's becoming just what he hates as the utter fucking insanity and screams of the damned start stabbing away at what's left of your sanity by this track. And then he kills the ruiner.

It then goes from that to "I Do Not Want This", which is much less terrifying, as he further states the psycho-social battle he's fighting, that would be the battle against someone known as "the Machine", which would be a colder version of him that didn't have emotions and obviously, that scares the main character to death. This track is when you start to be able to hear the album decaying and rotting away as he gets closer to the bottom of the spiral. He fights and argues with the Machine, and eventually he decides he wants to "Know everything, be everywhere and fuck everyone in the world" and wants to "Do something that matters".

And then it goes into "Big Man With a Gun", which could be perceived as a rape scenario, or otherwise the protagonist going on a major power-trip, or actually him going insane and violent. The song abruptly ends and goes into "A Warm Place", which is both a sudden realization that what he just did both didn't work and was kind of a dick move and the calm before the storm (the storm being the bottom of the spiral). "Eraser" states that he wants to end his life — but he isn't ready to do the deed — and the great guilt he feels for all of the crap he's done in the past. The track abruptly ends and then goes into "Reptile", as he hooks up with a girl that he's not too fond of (this or maybe he just got himself a hooker) for the sex — and how he realizes this is rock-bottom for him.

The next track is the Title Track. This can be taken more than one way. Either you can go for the Exactly What It Says on the Tin ending and he killed himself as a voice, presumably the Machine, taunts him and narrates the event or you could say that this was simply a suicide attempt and he didn't succeed in killing himself and is still alive (and that's how he's talking to you during "Hurt"). The decay and rotting is at its height in this track, with the barely recognizable drums and guitar pounding away and the muffled final retaliation of our main character screaming "NO" and the highly distorted voice of the Machine taunting him as he attempts to end his life.

Then it goes into the final track, "Hurt". For about twenty seconds, there's this noise that sounds like some leftover white noise from the title track that quietly hums in the background. Then the lyrics start along with the instruments. Unlike most of the album, this track doesn't seem to take place directly after the track before it. It seems like it's at least a month or two later, stating the final ballad of our main character as he tries to hold on to what's left of his humanity and silently retaliate against the Machine, although he seems to have almost completely given up by this point. The album closes with him stating "If I could start again a million miles away, I would keep myself" and then it goes into a highly distorted and disconcerting guitar riff and he continues the sentence to state "I would find a way." For another minute or two, it just hold the metallic screeching of that guitar, possibly to signify that the Machine has taken over and all that's left is the cold metal, but then suddenly stops and plays the loop that played for the first 20 seconds of the track, possibly to say that the humanity is still in there somewhere.

Tracklist:

  1. "Mr. Self Destruct" (4:30)
  2. "Piggy" (4:24)
  3. "Heresy" (3:54)
  4. "March of the Pigs" (2:58)
  5. "Closer" (6:13)
  6. "Ruiner" (4:58)
  7. "The Becoming" (5:31)
  8. "I Do Not Want This" (5:41)
  9. "Big Man with a Gun" (1:36)
  10. "A Warm Place" (3:22)
  11. "Eraser" (4:54)
  12. "Reptile" (6:51)
  13. "The Downward Spiral" (3:57)
  14. "Hurt" (6:13)


Downward Spiraling Tropes:

  • Animal Motifs: "Piggy", "March of the Pigs", "Reptile".
  • Anti-Hero: The protagonist, who is named "Mr. Self Destruct" in the opening track.
  • Ate His Gun: The Unfortunate ending of the man's life
  • Arc Words: Nothing Can Stop Me Now
  • The Corruptible: The "ruiner" infected by an virus causes a widespread epidemic with an impact so big that the protagonist experiences more life difficulties than ever and many people turn against him for being interrogative and manipulative, which is why he criticizes himself for being the personification of whatever he hates, but...
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: ...he actually proves himself to be stronger than (and kills) the ruiner.
  • Downer Ending: Both the title track and "Hurt".
  • Driven to Suicide: Seems to be played straight in the title track, but it is revealed in "Hurt" that he just injured himself, and that the suicide attempt was a failure.
  • God Is Dead: "Heresy" and "Ruiner"
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: As the album goes on, the protagonist becomes increasingly untrustworthy for himself being the embodiment of all the things he doesn't like.
  • Intercourse with You: In "Reptile" he is to have someone else who feels nothing at all emotionally, but sexually tortures him instead. It is widely rumored that in "Closer" he feels closer to God by doing this through helpless victims to escape his former life. Reznor in interviews denied that "Closer" was about sex and instead suggested it to be an Anti-Love Song.
  • Last Note Nightmare: "Mr. Self Destruct" and "Hurt". "A Warm Place" is a Beginning Note Nightmare if you play the song on repeat.
  • Lighter and Softer: "A Warm Place" and "Hurt" note .
  • Lyrical Cold Open: "Mr. Self Destruct"
  • Mood Dissonance: "The Becoming" and "A Warm Place"
  • Mood Whiplash: The hard mechanical opening of "Mr. Self Destruct" is followed by the slow and softer "Piggy".
    • Which follows the God ranting of "Heresy" and then the rapid fire of "March of the Pigs".
    • Which is followed by the slow beats of "Closer" which follows the phallic take down of God in "Ruiner".
    • Which is followed by the self take down of himself in "The Becoming" and "I Do Not Want This"
    • Which is followed by the snap in sanity and the hard "Big Man With A Gun" followed by the calming instrumental "A Warm Place."
    • Followed by the torturing cry's of "Eraser" to the pulse wrenching "Reptile"
    • To the end of his life in "The Downward Spiral" to the dark and tearjerking ending of "Hurt."
  • Sampling: The kick drum sound of "Nightclubbing" is a sample of the song "Nightclubbing" from Iggy Pop's album The Idiot.
  • Sanity Slippage Song: The whole album
  • Sensory Abuse: The vocals and musical instruments used in The Downward Spiral are distorted to the point of harshness.
  • Stalker with a Crush: In "Mr. Self Destruct" and "Closer", the protagonist had a girlfriend while he was already notorious for his often disrespectful behavior toward people that he disliked. His flaws led to his girlfriend abandoning him.
  • Tempting Fate: Nothing Can Stop Me Now
  • Wham Episode: "Big Man with a Gun"
  • What Have I Become?: Mentioned word for word in "Hurt."
  • Yandere: The protagonist of the album is a male example of this trope, as demonstrated in "Mr. Self Destruct" and "Closer". "Reptile" has a female example.

Nine Inch NailsMusic Of The 1990sNOFX
Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous KilljoysAlbums IndexYear Zero

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