The Downward Spiral (also known as Halo 8) is the third major release by American Industrial rock act Nine Inch Nails, released in 1994 on Reznor's own Nothing Records (a vanity label of Interscope Records). "Halo 8" of the official Nine Inch Nails halo releases, it is a concept album detailing the destruction of an undisclosed man; from the beginning to his climatic suicide. The album was a major commercial success that secured Nine Inch Nails as a force in the 1990s music scene, in particular following the release of the single "Closer" and its controversial video.
To record the album, Reznor rented the house located at 10050 Cielo Drive
in Beverly Hills, California
where actress Sharon Tate
was murdered by members of the Manson Family
in 1969. Reznor built a studio space in the house which he named Le Pig, after the message that was scrawled on the front door with Tate's blood by her murderers. Reznor told Entertainment Weekly
that despite the notoriety attached to the house, he chose to record there because, "I looked at a lot of places, and this just happened to be the one I liked most." Reznor moved out of the house in December 1993, after he said "there was too much history in that house for me to handle." After the album's recording, Reznor consulted with the landlords and had the house demolished shortly after.
Reznor made a statement about working in the Tate house during a 1997 interview with Rolling Stone:
While I was working on Downward Spiral, I was living in the house where Sharon Tate was killed. Then one day I met her sister. It was a random thing, just a brief encounter. And she 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. I said, 'No, it's just sort of my own interest in American folklore. I'm in this place where a weird part of history occurred.' I guess it never really struck me before, but it did then. She lost her sister from a senseless, ignorant situation that I don't want to support. When she was talking to me, I realized for the first time, 'What if it was my sister?' I thought, 'Fuck Charlie Manson.' I went home and cried that night. It made me see there's another side to things, you know?
Reznor set out to make an album that was a departure from the 1992 Broken EP, emphasizing "mood, texture, restraint and subtlety." He brought in a number of guest performers to record, including former Jane's Addiction and Porno for Pyros drummer Stephen Perkins and progressive rock guitarist Adrian Belew. Perkins played a number of drum parts that were recorded live in the studio; these tracks were in turn 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."
- The opening sounds of "Mr Self Destruct" are a sample from the film THX 1138 in which a man is being beaten by a prison guard.
- The frantic drumming on the end of "Piggy" is courtesy of Reznor himself. This is currently his first and only attempt at live drumming on a record, and one of the few "live" drum performances on the album. Reznor stated that the recording was from him testing the microphone setup in studio, but he liked the sound too much not to include it.
- When performed live, "Piggy" would end in a sing-along by fans.
- The drum track for "Closer" features a heavily modified bass drum sample from the Iggy Pop song "Nightclubbing" from his album The Idiot.
- The loop of screaming voices heard at the beginning of "The Becoming" is a sample from the film Robot Jox.
- The sample at the beginning of "Big Man With A Gun" comes from studio-altered recording of a porn star having an orgasm. According to the album booklet, this "sample" is titled "Steakhouse" and is credited to Tommy Lee.
- The sampled clanks at the beginning of "Reptile" can be heard in the film Leviathan.
- The strange sobbing sound in "Reptile" (at 5:06) originates from the movie-in-movie in Jörg Buttgereit's film Nekromantik.
The Downward Spiral
was released March 1994. The album debuted the following week at number two on the Billboard
album charts. The album was well-received by critics. Jon Pareles of The New York Times
wrote, "Every instrument, acoustic or synthetic, seems tuned to create the maximum aural abrasion," Pareles asserted that unlike other industrial groups like Ministry
and Nitzer Ebb
, "Reznor writes full-fledged tunes; he knows his way around melodic hooks, not just riffs. And while purists accuse him of selling out their insular genres, he actually trumps them; the music is no less transgressive, and possibly more so, because it sticks in the ear. Rolling Stone
awarded the album four out of five stars; reviewer Jonathan Gold praised the album as "music that pins playback levels far into the red", and concluded, "The Downward Spiral
is music the blade runner might throw down to: low-tech futurism that rocks. Entertainment Weekly
gave the album a B+; reviewer Tom Sinclair wrote, "Reznor's pet topics (sex, power, S&M, hatred, transcendence) are all here, wrapped in hooks that hit your psyche with the force of a blowtorch.
The album was ranked at number 25 in Spin's "100 Greatest Albums, 1985-2005", Spin also ranked it 11th on their "Top 90 Albums of the 90's ". Blender named it the 80th Greatest American Album. It was ranked #488 in the book The Top 500 Heavy Metal Albums of All Time by Martin Popoff. In 2001 Q named The Downward Spiral as one of the 50 Heaviest Albums Of All Time.
The album relays many Nihilistic
concepts, such as the chorus line in Heresy
, which exclaims: "Your god is dead/And no one cares. If there is a hell/I'll see you there."
It is a concept album
in which the overarching plot follows the character along his life's "Downward Spiral". While this character can be understood as a representation of Reznor himself. (Metal Edge July 2005)
...it was during that tour (The Downward Spiral) 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.
If one listens closely, one can hear lyrics in "A Warm Place": "The best thing about life is knowing you put it all together."
Tenth anniversary re-releases
The Downward Spiral
was re-released in 2004 to celebrate its tenth anniversary. It is available in two versions: as a 2-disc SACD
hybrid set and in DualDisc
on one side and CD
on the reverse). The SACD version is known as The Downward Spiral: Deluxe Edition
and the DualDisc version as The Downward Spiral: DualDisc
version consists of two discs. Disc one is a CD/SACD hybrid. It has the original album, digitally remastered, in SACD 5.1 surround
and SACD stereo
on one layer (only playable in SACD players), and regular CD stereo on the other layer (playable in normal CD players). Disc two consists of b-sides
contributions, and previously-unreleased demos
presented in SACD stereo and regular CD stereo. This version is labeled Halo Eight DE
The CD-compatible side contains the digitally remastered original album, which is playable on regular CD players.
The DVD side contains:
- 5.1 surround and stereo version of the original tracks, digitally remastered
- The Downward Spiral artwork (plays with the music in DVD-A players, viewable as a slideshow on DVD-Video players)
- Music videos
- "Closer" (available in 5.1 surround and stereo)
- "March of the Pigs" (stereo)
- "Hurt" (stereo)
- Discography, including selected bits of music from each album (starting with Broken) that run about a minute each
This is a North American release (DVD Region 1) and is labeled Halo Eight DVD-A.
Unmastered instrumental versions
On the free streaming site remix.nin.com, Reznor posted unmastered instrumental versions of the entire album (with the exceptions of "Ruiner" and "Big Man with a Gun").
- Identical to the original version, although 1 dB louder mix overall, track anomalies fixed (sounds from previous tracks creeping up on start of tracks)
- Includes SACD layer Disc 2
- Collection of remixes and b-sides. The last three tracks are previously unreleased demo recordings from the original album.
"—" denotes releases that did not chart.