Welcome to the dark side. No, not Star Wars style, but a lifestyle. This album is not just a great album for the purpose of a listening experience, it is also one of the darkest and most difficult psychological experiences in music you can come across. Sure, the idea of dark music had been around for some time. Yet, this release in 1994 shortly after Kurt Cobain of Nirvana’s suicide, showed the world how deep these sorts of emotions were.
It’s also a concept album so let’s get stuck into this dark and suicidal epic.
The intro song Mr. Self Destruct has the sound of a man being beaten, before going into a quiet/loud masterpiece of a song that sounds loud and epic. It talks about the struggle of emotions within in relation to self-harm. Yes, seriously. The quiet part in the midsection with those bass guitar notes is just awesome. It then surprisingly goes back into the main section of the song. The looped, discordant guitar riffs at the end sound twisted.
Next is the anthem based on The Beatles song on The White Album, named Piggy. There are some great rhymes and lyrics here. “Nothing can stop me now, because I don’t care anymore,” sums it all up. There is some rather freaky screaming like samples in it too. Yes, this is a twisted album. But it is really solid and excellent listening. The drumming at the end is unusual and awesome. This album is really great listening. The odd melody at the end combines with some acoustic guitar sounding parts. Freaky for sure.
Heresy is the anthem for those who are anti-religious. It’s Trent Reznor making a brilliant piece on the subject. Hence the title. The musicality of this album is really fantastic, even for people who do not follow this unusually dark music. The fact is that Trent Reznor is a musical genius. Period. If you are Christian, do not listen to this song. It particularly has a stab at that religion.
March Of The Pigs comes next. It begins with fast drums, a synth riff, and bursts into screamed vocals from Trent Reznor and noisy guitar riffs. The intermission in this song reoccurs, giving it a huge edge of suspense. Great and twisted music for those who love to be surprised. The textures and melodies are very much near perfect. It ends with quietly sung vocals and softly played piano.
Next is the sex anthem Closer. It samples the drums from Iggy Pop’s Nightclubbing and is a very original song about dirty sex. It needs to be blasted loud to be appreciated, much like the rest of the album. Surprisingly it is a literate and very personal sounding piece on the subject matter. It becomes more urgent sounding throughout. Some Industrial music textures build-up and release in the second half of the tune. It’s a little longer than you’d expect, but not boring. Towards the end, we have the notable reoccurring melody of the album. We will hear it again later on.
Following that is Ruiner. It kicks off with some pounding drum beats and tells the story of being called out as a liar. The ethereal section that then occurs with different lines referring to sexual desire is dark and scary. This is a very dark and twisted song about different and conflicting emotions. The odd-sounding guitar solo sounds freaky. The pounding drums then re-emerge and some whispered lyrics repeat to the end. Brilliant.
The Becoming starts off with fast piano, some samples of human screams, and various Industrial based percussion and melodies. Even for a song that is not a hit single, it sounds freaky and good. It talks about being stuck in a nightmare situation. The differentiation in the song is awesome, including the acoustic breakdown. Perhaps the lyrics refer to being something inhumane? A good song about becoming something more than human.
I Do Not Want This talks about becoming a failure and hating the result. It’s very negative and a great way to show how dark one can be with respect to life. Many people in this world still suffer from mental health issues, sadly. This is a great cathartic listen for some of those who may need it. The instrumentation here is awesome, as usual. The screaming in it is really good. Dark and compelling listening. After a great set of instrumental textures, we hear the lyrics that are repeated in a discordant way, going from whispering to screaming. Awesome.
The short and brutal Big Man With A Gun comes next, a dark and twisted piece about rape and threatening to shoot others with a gun if they do not acquiesce to the demands of said individual. Warped, yet fun. The guitar riff is insanely catchy. It becomes very loud towards the end.
The rather unusually mellow A Warm Place comes next. It’s a gentle and relaxing sort of listen for this album, featuring a whole load of ambient textures. No singing nor rock band noise, it is a melancholy piece that is good to hear. An excellent twist to the album, before the mayhem begins again. We hear the weird melody leading into the next track.
Eraser is where it really begins to become scary. The strange melodies lead into the loud drumbeat and catchy tune about losing the plot. This is seriously disturbing music, yet great listening all the same. The instrumentation here is really fantastic. It builds up to a climax of quietly sung lyrics, before going into a loud screamed song, likely about a murder-suicide. If you ever thought Black Sabbath was scary, try this, this is scary.
Reptile begins with some repeated clanking sounds before going into a robotic-sounding piece about sexual indulgence. Very detailed and creepy analysis about sexual desire and fulfillment of such desire. It’s a rather inhumane way of looking at such a situation. With satanic references as well, it’s scary. It’s rather long, but enjoyable in the context of this album. Warped listening.
The title track The Downward Spiral has a lot of clanking sounds at the beginning, before having the repeated riff that is the theme of this album played on acoustic guitar. This is seriously disturbing listening, even today. It then goes into one of the darkest songs you will ever hear, about suicide by gunshot. Seriously, just like Kurt Cobain’s death. This is a scary listen, along with the screaming in the background. It evens seems to say lyrically that suicide is a solution. It’s not, but a freaky listen anyway. It ends with a cymbal crash.
Finally, we are Hurt. It begins with a wind blowing sound and an anthem for the dispossessed. It is actually quite a beautiful listening experience, although it is the post-mortem. Johnny Cash also covered this song elsewhere, doing it justice. A very sad and lonely sounding piece about death itself.
This is likely one of the darkest albums ever made. It’s not easy listening at all. But it is a fantastic listen all the same. It is disturbing to hear, even today. If you want to be frightened musically, start with this album. Fans may wish to check out re-releases with bonus tracks available for listening as well.