Review #122: The Downward Spiral, Nine Inch Nails

Karla Clifton
3 min readJun 29, 2021

#122: The Downward Spiral, Nine Inch Nails

Trent Reznor is the only permanent member of Nine Inch Nails, and you know who he is. At least, you’ve heard some of his music. Not only was Nine Inch Nails the weirdest ’90s rock radio staple, but he’s been scoring movies since 1994’s Natural Born Killers. Reznor also produced the scores for Lost Highway, The Social Network, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Gone Girl. He’s also created video game music, for Quake and Call of Duty: Black Ops. In short, Trent Reznor has his hands in a lot of cookie jars.

However, NIN has kind of a bad rap because of the Columbine thing. The Downward Spiral is a concept album about a depressed guy who eventually kills himself; very dark, but not crazy-out-of-bounds for industrial rock. Shooter Dylan Klebold happened to be very moved by this album and apparently referenced it several times in his diaries. I can’t find any articles where Reznor talks about it, so I assume that either nobody asks or he has no desire to talk about this horrible connection.

Which, fair enough! It’s certainly not his fault!

Another fascinating tidbit is that Reznor recorded most of this inside Sharon Tate’s home on Cielo Drive in LA. For those who don’t know, that’s where the very famous, very pregnant actress was murdered at the hands of Charles Manson’s goons.

He apparently ran into Tate’s sister while he was living there, and according to Reznor, “[S]he said: ‘Are you exploiting my sister’s death by living in her house?’ For the first time the whole thing kind of slapped me in the face.”

Well, all of that is…horrible. Just horrible.

This is still a great album, but jeez, that is just horrible.


“Mr. Self-Destruct” — The intro to this song is a sample from the movie THX 1138, and it’s audio of a man being beaten by a prison guard.

“Piggy” — I’ve loved songs about pigs ever since “Swine” by Lady Gaga. This song has the line “Nothing can stop me now,” which is apparently a recurring line in NIN songs. It sounds like a terrifying threat when Reznor sings it.

“Heresy” — Reminds me of Grimes! I love the guitar.

“March Of The Pigs” — That piano breakdown in the middle of this furious song!

“Closer” — This song was all over the radio when I was a kid and it used to really freak me out, because it’s about sex violence bringing him “closer to God” and ahhhh that’s not a radio-friendly idea! But it is kind of wild that this heavy rock band released a sexy dance song in 1997.

“Ruiner” — Eep.

“The Becoming” — These horror movie screams legitimately scared me, and I listened to this at 11 a.m.! What a hilarious song title, though — sounds like a Lifetime movie about a debutante.

“Big Man With a Gun” — Wow, I can see how the Columbine thing might ruin this album for some people. Little bit like how Charles Manson ruined Helter Skelter” for The Beatles.

“Eraser” — AHHH.

“The Downward Spiral” — It sounds like spiders themselves made this track.

“Hurt” — This song has had the weirdest afterlife of any song ever. This was released in 1994, and in 2002, Johnny Cash asked Trent Reznor permission to record a cover of this song. He released a video so freaky beautiful that Reznor has since said “that song isn’t mine anymore.” The original is also really cool and scary if you like to be scared.


“A Warm Place” — I like this one in the context of the album, but outside of that, it sounds like a movie soundtrack song.


I love, love, love Nirvana, but I’ve always thought that Kurt Cobain worship was a little ghoulish. There’s just no reason to make suicide cool. That’s how I feel about NIN worship.

But I don’t think that’s what Nirvana or NIN are trying to do. Some people are sad and like heavy metal music, so they make heavy metal music about how sad they are. That’s all. I see the solace in it.

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