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.
- 1 Track List
- 2 Instrumentals
- 3 Inspiration
- 4 Recording
- 5 Concept and Interpretations
- 6 Writings on the album
- 7 Recurring themes and styles
- 8 Samples
- 9 Re-Releases
- 10 Touring
- 11 Live
- 12 Tributes
- 13 Artwork
- 14 Album Credits
- 15 External links
- "Mr. Self Destruct" – 4:30
- "Piggy" – 4:24
- "Heresy" – 3:54
- "March Of The Pigs" – 2:58
- "Closer" – 6:13
- "Ruiner" – 4:58
- "The Becoming" – 5:31
- "I Do Not Want This" – 5:41
- "Big Man With A Gun" – 1:38
- "A Warm Place" – 3:22
- "Eraser" – 4:54
- "Reptile" – 6:51
- "The Downward Spiral" – 3:58
- "Hurt" – 6:15
Disc 2 (SACD Rerelease Only)
- "Burn" - 5:00
- "Closer" (Precursor) - 7:16
- "Piggy" (Nothing Can Stop Me Now) - 4:03
- "A Violet Fluid" - 1:04
- "Dead Souls" - 4:53
- "Hurt" (Quiet) - 5:08
- "Closer To God" - 5:05
- "All The Pigs, All Lined Up" - 7:26
- "Memorabilia" - 7:22
- "The Downward Spiral" (The Bottom) - 7:32
- "Ruiner" (Demo) - 4:51
- "Liar" (Reptile Demo) - 6:57
- "Heresy" (Demo) - 4:00
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."
The unmastered instrumental versions of almost all the songs on The Downward Spiral ("Ruiner" and "Big Man With A Gun" were not included) were made available on remix.nin.com for streaming and free download. The site was eventually taken down and they can now be found on archive.org.
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.
Pink Floyd's The Wall was also heavy in Reznor's rotation during the making of the album. In a Q+A session before the 2017 Riot Fest show, it was revealed that David Lynch's use of sound in his films was an inspiration for the sound design of The Downward Spiral.
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.
The Mellotron MKIV used on the album (as well as on Broken) once belonged to John Lennon. Engineer Sean Beavan remarked to Sound On Sound in the above referenced article that it still had The Beatles' tape loops in it. Contrary to popular belief, it is not owned by Reznor. It was on loan to him from Interscope Records co-founders Ted Field and Jimmy Iovine.
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.
Writings on the album
"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:
- http://www.4degreez.com/nailz/ninterpretations/downspiral.html with feedback from several fans
- http://web.archive.org/web/20050920110644/http://www.sickamongthepure.com/files/2002/02/TDS/TDS.html archive of the article on SickAmongthePure
Into The Never book
In 2020, author Adam Steiner published a book called Into The Never: Nine Inch Nails And The Creation Of The Downward Spiral. The book's press release states that it "explores the creation and cultural impact of The Downward Spiral, one of the most influential and artistically significant albums of the twentieth century" and features "new interviews with collaborators and artists inspired by the album."
Recurring themes and styles
- The ending keyboard melody of "Closer" is repeated in the climax of "The Downward Spiral" and the chorus of "Heresy." A similar piano melody is played at the end of "Piggy." This recurring melody is a descending tetrachord pattern and, in music theory, would be an example of a lament bass.
- The lyric "nothing can stop me now" appears in "Piggy," "Ruiner" and "Big Man With A Gun." The same phrase would recur on later albums in "La Mer," "We're In This Together" and "Sunspots."
- Quite a few of the songs end by repeating the same line or set of lines: "Piggy," "Ruiner," "I Do Not Want This," "Big Man With A Gun" and "Eraser." These deviate from the traditional chorus-chorus ending in that these lyrics are introduced near the end, and they are not sung, but rather whispered or yelled.
- see also Samples In NIN Songs
- "Mr. Self Destruct" begins with a sample from the 1971 film THX 1138. It is taken from a scene in which a man is being beaten by a guard depicted on a holographic television. 
- "Closer" uses a heavily modified sample of a kick drum from the song "Nightclubbing" from The Idiot album by Iggy Pop.  It also uses a reversed sample of a guitar figure from "Take A Chance With Me" by Roxy Music.
- "A Warm Place" is based on the melody from David Bowie's 1980 single "Crystal Japan." Some hear it as a complete rip-off, while others argue that from a music theory point of view that the structure has significant differences.
- The looping female voice that appears on "Reptile" (approx. 5:06) is from the 1974 film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The strange mechanical sound before the drums start can be found in the movie Leviathan and the other sounds during all the song are found in Aliens (the escape in the vessel). Also, while not a direct sample, the ascending synth melody from 5:13 to 5:20 seems to be a reference to "Laura Palmer's Theme" from the television show Twin Peaks.
- "The Becoming" uses screams from the film Robot Jox and a reversed sample of the phrase "I know who I am" from the film Angel Heart.
- "Ruiner" samples "Beat Box" by Art of Noise, and the breakdown samples elephant noises from David Lynch's The Elephant Man and a buried scream from the film Parents.
- "March Of The Pigs" uses two buried scream sounds, sampled from the films Sorcerer and The Exorcist II: The Heretic.
- "The Downward Spiral" features a pitched-down sample of strings from the cue "Twins" on the score for Dead Ringers, and a watery sound from the film Alien.
To mark the album's tenth anniversary, The Downward Spiral was re-released on November 23, 2004 in two new formats:
- As a 2-CD "Deluxe Edition" (labeled Halo 8 DE). The first disc is an SACD/CD hybrid featuring the album in high-resolution stereo and 5.1 surround sound. The second disc features various remixes, b-sides, and other non-album tracks that were available around the time of the original release.
- As a DualDisc (labeled Halo 8 DVD-A). The CD side features a digitally remastered version of the album. The DVD side includes high-resolution stereo and 5.1 surround sound versions of the album as well as videos for "Closer" (director's cut), "March Of The Pigs" and "Hurt" (live). Also included is a gallery of artwork from The Downward Spiral era (though many photos of Closure artwork are also included) and a discography.
Back To Black Vinyl
Universal chose, without consulting Trent Reznor, to re-release the vinyl edition of The Downward Spiral as a part of their "Back To Black" 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.
Definitive 2017 Edition Vinyl
A vinyl reissue was announced in December 2016 and began shipping in August 2017, with further vinyl reissues of the other major NIN releases to follow.
Trent Reznor and NIN art director John Crawford set out to make the “definitive editions” of all the main NIN releases on vinyl. Reznor: "We want to present the catalog as it was intended to be, with no compromises. That means a careful remastering of the audio from the original sources, a careful and painstaking recreation of the artwork, pristine materials, some surprises and an insane attention to detail that you probably won’t notice… but it matters to us. No extra bullshit and gimmicks – the “real” records in their truest form available at a reasonable price."
This edition of the vinyl comes with a digital download card and a booklet containing photos and an essay about the album, written by John Doran. It also remedies the issue of retained song transitions that were split across sides.
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 during the warm-up shows 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.
I was also interested in how organic matter can provide clues for past lives and past events. One hair from a human head carries enough DNA for that person to be identified. Similarly our teeth, which, after death, survive longer than any other part of our bodies, are carriers of intimate details of past lives.
The piece I made focuses on teeth and their associative potential. A row of teeth is embedded in flows of salt crystals. Salt corrodes all but gold and glass; it is destructive as well as preservative.
The booklet contains closeup photos of a piece entitled "The Semaphore of Wings", which was made with plaster, acrylics, oils, wax, earth, blood, insects, wires, and feathers on a wooden panel. The typeface used on the album is DINEngschrift in lowercase (the same typeface was used on Hesitation Marks and in all caps on The Perfect Drug.)
The artwork was re-photographed by Rob Sheridan for the 2004 reissue. Reflecting on the experience in 2019, he stated:
I was beyond honored to remaster and reimagine the packaging for The Downward Spiral’s 10th anniversary deluxe edition in 2004. For the re-release, I wanted to take new photographs of the original Russell Mills art. Over the years, the artwork had changed: Textures darkened, twigs sagged, teeth fell out. Recapturing the art in its aged state became a perfect visual metaphor for something old becoming new again.
- Writing, and performance: Trent Reznor
- Management: John A. Malm, Jr. for Conservative (1994); Rebel Waltz, Inc. (2004)
- Assistance: Chris Vrenna, Maise
- Engineering (2004): Alan Moulder
- Additional engineering: Sean Beavan, Chris Vrenna, Alan Moulder, Bill Kennedy, Brian Pollack, John Aguto
- Additional sampling and sound design: Chris Vrenna
- Studios: Le Pig of Beverly Hills, The Record Plant, A&M Studios
- Continuity: Trent Reznor, Chris Vrenna, Charlie Clouser
- Mastering (1994): Tom Baker at Futuredisc
- All paintings: Russell Mills
- Photography: David Buckland, Rob Sheridan]
- Original package: Gary Talpas
- Deluxe Edition/DualDisc package: Rob Sheridan
- 5.1 mix: James Brown with Trent Reznor
- Assistance: Neal Ferrazzani
- Studio: Interscope Studios
- High-resolution mastering: Bob Ludwig for Gateway Mastering, Portland, Maine
- Publicity: Sioux Zimmerman for Formula
- Booking: Gerry Gerrard for Artists & Audience
- Merchandise: Jerry Long
- Road Management: Mark O'Shea
- Live audio engineering & coordination: Sean Beavan
- Lighting/Set design: Jan Pieter Nipius, Roy Bennett
- Live production management: Kevin Lyman, Ray Woodbury
- Legal: Michael S. Toorock
- Nothing Records: Tony Ciulla
- Adrian Belew appears courtesy of Caroline Records
- Stephen Perkins appears courtesy of Warner Bros. Records, Inc.
- Nine Inch Nails Live 1994–1996: Robin Finck, Danny Lohner, Chris Vrenna, James Woolley, Charlie Clouser
- Thank you: Interscope; Jimmy Iovine; Silvia Garcia; Susie Tallman; Peter Christopherson; Rick Rubin; Missy Worth; Brian Warner and Marilyn Manson; Brian Liesegang; the temporarily displaced Richard Bugg; Coco-Puff; Scott Hasson; Mark Tindle, Mike Morongell, Shelly Yakus and A&M; Cally, Jamie Spencer, Mark Marot, Chris Blackwell and Island UK; Paul Connolly; Alex Kochan; Ian Flooks; Mark Blasquez, Sean Wilhelmsen and Nadine's; Opcode Systems; Pat Stolpz, Martin Arthurs and Amek; Joseph Cultice; Handy Andy; Marina Chavez; Walter Cessna; Tina Montalbano; Carol Davis
We miss you Jeff Ward
©1994 Leaving Hope/TVT Music, Inc. ASCAP. All rights reserved.
Deluxe Edition & DualDisc Credits
- Deluxe Edition executive producers: Courtney Holt, Paul Bishow, KamranV
- Publicity: Dennis Dennehy
- Booking: Mark Geiger for WMA
- Legal: David Altschul, Ross Rosen
- Audio asset coordination: Michel Etchart
- Executive Producers for DVD-Audio: Courtney Holt, Jim Belcher, Paul Bishow
- Supervising Producer: Shari Young
- Producer for DVD-Audio: KamranV
- Photography and Design for DVD-Audio Menus and Gallery: Rob Sheridan
- Additional DVD-Audio Art Design by The DZN Group (www.dzngroup.com)
- DVD-Audio Authoring: Paul Angeli, DVD Labs
- "Closer": Directed by Mark Romanek
- "March Of The Pigs": Directed by Peter Christopherson
- "Hurt": Directed by Simon Maxwell
- Special thanks to: Leo Herrera; Jeff Anderson; Atticus Ross; Chandra Lynn and DigiDesign; Andrew Grad, West LA Music; Native Instruments; Tom Ryan, Gateway Mastering; Dave Casey, Apogee Digital; Monique McGuffin; Chuck Reed; Ed Goodreau; Jim Belcher; Vartan; Antone DeSantis; Ramon Galbert, Ingrid Erickson; Lee Edwards; Mike Ragonga; Tanya Grieg
- 1–4, 6–8, 10–13 written by Trent Reznor ©1994 Leaving Hope/ TVT Music, Inc. ASCAP. All rights reserved.
- 5 written by Ian Curtis, Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris; Fractured Music (all rights controlled by Zoma Music Publishers, Ltd., ASCAP/PRS) ©1994 Atlantic Recording Corporation for the United States and WEA International, Inc. for the world outside of the United States
- 9 written by David Ball and Mark Almond ©1981 Phonogram Ltd. (London)
- tds.nin.com (archived at Portrait of Decay)
- Sound On Sound article about the album and "Closer"
- Keyboard Magazine article about the the making of The Downward Spiral
- The Downward Spiral at nincatalog.com
- The Downward Spiral at Amazon
- The Downward Spiral at eBay