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 a Concept Album which was released in 1994 by Nine Inch Nails.

Though the exact story of the album is very ambiguous and open to interpretation (the following summary of the album's story being one of the many existing interpretations), the general concept of The Downward Spiral is that it chronicles a nameless protagonist's descent into an existential crisis which descends further into madness, his attempts to find solace in control (sexual or otherwise), and his disillusionment with and (symbolic, literal, or delusional) destruction of those to whom he was once close, God, society ... and ultimately himself.

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 "The Becoming" and "I Do Not Want This", the latter which is seemingly 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.

The album was listed at nr. #201 in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time, and is seen by many as one of the greatest and most important albums of the 1990s.


  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)


  • Trent Reznor: vocals, all instruments, drums
  • Chris Vrenna: drums, sampling, programming
  • Adrian Belew: texture generating guitar, ring mod guitar
  • Danny Lohner: additional guitar
  • Andy Kubiszewski, Chris Vrenna: drums
  • Stephen Perkins: drum loops
  • Charlie Clouser: programming

March of the Tropes:

  • Animal Motifs: While pigs are the most prominent (i.e. "Piggy," "March of the Pigs," the reference to swine in "Heresy"), other examples include "Reptile," a reference to insects from the aforementioned song, flies and cattle in the rapped sections of "Ruiner," and references to bees (and their honey) in "Closer" and "Reptile."
  • Anti-Hero: The protagonist, who is named "Mr. Self Destruct" in the opening track.
    I take you where you want to go
    I give you all you need to know
    I drag you down I use you up
    Mr. Self-destruct
  • Arc Words: Nothing can stop me now.
    • The references to pigs and some sort of machine also qualify.
  • Badass Boast: From "Ruiner":
    "You didn't hurt me, nothing can hurt me, you didn't hurt me, nothing can stop me now..."
  • Belief Makes You Stupid:
    • "Mr. Self Destruct"
    I speak religion's message clear
    And I control you
    I am denial guilt and fear
    And I control you
    I am the prayers of the naive
    And I control you
    I am the lie that you believe
    And I control you
    • "Heresy"
    He dreamed a god up and called it Christianity
    Your god is dead and no one cares
    If there is a hell I'll see you there
  • Bowdlerise: Probably one of music's most brilliant examples; the "crown of shit" line in "Hurt" was changed in the Johnny Cash cover to "crown of thorns", nodding to Cash's devout following of Christianity.
  • Bungled Suicide: According to some interpretations of the album's ending, this happens.
  • Careful With That Axe: Runs rampant throughout the album.
    • Special note goes to "Eraser", which has Reznor screaming "KILL ME" over and over until it dissolves into the manic instrumentation.
    • The Title Track has muffled sounds of Reznor screaming so loudly that it almost drowns out the Machine's talking.
  • The Corruptible: The "ruiner" (metaphorically) infected by a 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: Whether or not you believe that he killed himself, the album's conclusion still has him at the bottom of the spiral after his disconnection with everything including himself.
    • Without referencing the album's concept, the album's concluding with "Hurt" is an eligible example.
    What have I become?
    My sweetest friend
    Everyone I know goes away in the end
  • 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.
    • Maybe. The ending of the record especially is open to interpretation - "Hurt" is sometimes also seen as being essentially the character's dying moments, or as outside of the story arc altogether.
  • Drone of Dread: The sustained, gurgling bass synth in "Reptile".
  • Drugs Are Bad: "Mr. Self Destruct"
    I am the needle in your vein
    And I control you
    • Also, from "Hurt,"
    The needle tears a hole, the old familiar sting.
  • Epic Rocking: Five tracks on the album are at least five minutes long, with three of those five being over six minutes long. The longest is "Reptile" at almost seven minutes.
  • Fading into the Next Song: "A Warm Place" into "Eraser", "The Becoming" into "I Do Not Want This", "I Do Not Want This" into "Big Man with a Gun".
    • Some of the songs actually have bits from the previous song at the very, very start. "Piggy" has a bit of "Mr. Self Destruct", and "A Warm Place" has a very loud and abrupt bit that may or may not be from "Big Man with a Gun". These were fixed on the remastered version.
  • God Is Dead: "Heresy" and "Ruiner".
    Your god is dead and no one cares
  • 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.
    I want to fuck you like an animal
    I want to feel you from the inside
    I want to fuck you like an animal
    My whole existence is flawed
    You get me closer to God
    Through every forest, above the trees
    Within my stomach, scraped off my knees
    I drink the honey inside your hive
    You are the reason I stay alive
  • Jump Scare: As a result of Fading into the Next Song, "A Warm Place" has a very loud bit that may or may not be from "Big Man with a Gun" (the previous track) at the very start of the song, hugely contrasting its ambient natures.
  • Last Note Nightmare: "Mr. Self Destruct" and, to an even more harrowing degree, "Hurt."
    • "A Warm Place" is a Beginning Note Nightmare if you play the song on repeat. See Jump Scare above.
  • Lighter and Softer: "A Warm Place" and "Hurt" note .
  • 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 attempted end of his life in "The Downward Spiral" to the dark and tear-jerking ending of "Hurt."
  • One Man Song: "Mr. Self Destruct" and "Big Man With A Gun".
  • One-Word Title: "Piggy", "Heresy", "Closer", "Ruiner", "Eraser", "Reptile" and "Hurt".
  • Precision F-Strike:
    • "Closer" gave us one of the most iconic lines in music history: "I wanna fuck you like an animal."
    • "Hurt" has "I wear this crown of shit", which was changed quite wisely into "I wear this crown of thorns" in the Johnny Cash cover, referencing Jesus and Cash's dedicated Christianity.
  • Record Producer: Trent Reznor and Mark "Flood" Ellis.
  • Sampling: The kick drum sound of "Closer" is a sample of the song "Nightclubbing" from Iggy Pop's album The Idiot.
    • There's also the porn star sample on "Big Man With A Gun", among the many, many others (often distorted or processed to the point of being unrecognizable).
  • Sanity Slippage Song: The whole album.
  • Sensory Abuse: The vocals and musical instruments are distorted to the point of harshness.
    • Also, the end of "Mr. Self Destruct", with its distorted guitar texture (which sounds looped).
  • 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.
  • Subdued Section: In "Mr. Self Destruct", "Heresy", "Ruiner", "I Do Not Want This", "Eraser" and "Reptile" all have this dynamic.
  • Tempting Fate: The line "nothing can stop me now" in "Big Man With A Gun".
  • Title Track: "The Downward Spiral," though the title isn't mentioned in the lyrics themselves.
  • Uncommon Time: "March of the Pigs" has three bars of 7/8 time and one bar of 8/8 time.
  • What Have I Become?: Mentioned word for word in "Hurt."
    What have I become?
    My sweetest friend, everyone I know
    Goes away in the end
  • 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.