When Nine Inch Nails released their second full-length album, The Downward Spiral, on March 8th, 1994, it immediately sent shock waves through the alternative music scene with its bold concept (Trent Reznor's dark examination of obsession, suffering and self-destruction) and even bolder industrial-rock sound and expert songcraft. Not long after, thanks to inimitable singles like "Closer," the album became a surprise mainstream hit and against all odds now ranks as one of the decade's most commercially successful albums, as well as one of its most artistically enduring. On the eve of The Downward Spiral's 25th birthday, we asked some of our favorite contemporary musicians to talk about their experiences with this pivotal record.
Below 3Teeth singer Alexis Mincolla recalls his early mind-blowing first listen to the album, how it changed his view of heaviness and the sequence of events that eventually led 3Teeth to work with Downward mixer Sean Beavan.
TALK ABOUT THE FIRST TIME YOU HEARD THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL, AND HOW YOU DISCOVERED IT.
ALEXIS MINCOLLA At the time I was a burgeoning 12-year-old MTV-generation metalhead listening to things like Sepultura, Pantera, White Zombie and all the other Headbangers Ball favorites. I remember going into my older brother's room and seeing The Downward Spiral CD and how it looked rusted and dirty in this sort of unsettling way. I remember borrowing it from him and popping it in my Aiwa CD player and having my mind blown to pieces. I had never heard anything like it, each song felt so radically different and yet cohesive. It wasn't heavy like the metal I had been listening to at the time but it had this sort of mechanical grit and sawing emotional context to it that felt so sincere that it made it heavy. I became obsessed with the experimental electronic industrial nature of it and I know true elder rivet heads are going to crucify for me saying this, but it was this album that sort of sent me on a backwards journey into the industrial music that laid the groundwork for albums like this.
WHAT DOES THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL MEAN TO YOU?
This album means a lot of things to me actually as it's not only a huge point of inspiration but also led me into developing an important working relationship and great friendship in my career. When it came time to mix our second record, we were exploring different people to work with and I thought, Why not ask Sean Beavan who mixed The Downward Spiral — as it was a sonic reference we kept coming back to. I figured the worst he can do is say no and I'm thick-skinned enough to take that. Lo and behold he loved the record, mixed the shit out of it, and we developed a great working rapport in the process. Sean also actually just produced our new forthcoming record so needless to say, I owe The Downward Spiral quite a bit.
THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL BECAME AN UNEXPECTED MAINSTREAM HIT, THANKS TO SINGLES LIKE "CLOSER." WHAT DID IT MEAN TO YOU THAT IT BECAME SO POPULAR? DID YOU FIND THIS EMPOWERING OR FEEL DISILLUSIONMENT?
I think it's great when something as genuine as an album like this cuts through into the mainstream. To me it restores a tiny bit of faith in humanity knowing that there is a big enough audience who desires substance in their music.
HOW, IF AT ALL, DID THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL INFLUENCE YOUR OWN CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT, OR THE WAY YOU THOUGHT ABOUT WRITING MUSIC?
I think it really expanded my horizons on what dark music could be. Like I mentioned before I was really hooked on metal at a young age thanks to my older brother and then this album came along and sort of sent me down a rabbit hole of industrialized techno-rock nihilism which eventually served as a great inspiration for me to start my own music project. I guess you could say I really went down that downward spiral.
THE VIDEO FOR "CLOSER" WAS CHALLENGING FOR MANY VIEWERS, AND WAS CENSORED BY MTV. TALK ABOUT THE FIRST TIME THAT YOU SAW THE VIDEO.
I was so obsessed with music videos at the time, I used to wake up extra early before catching the bus to school because they would still have the weirder late-night rotation of videos playing and no one else would be awake in my house to tell me to change the channel. So I remember sitting like a foot from the TV eating a bowl of cereal as that video played and feeling like someone was going to walk in and see me doing something I shouldn't. The whole thing was a lot for me process but like anything else that feels forbidden at the ripe age of 12, you sort of become empowered and fascinated by it.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE DOWNWARD SPIRAL TRACK, AND WHY?
That's a tough one but I'm going to have to go with "Reptile" because that massive mechanical robot-leg noise just fucks me up every time.
IS THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL SOMETHING YOU REGULARLY GO BACK AND LISTEN TO? OR DOES IT REPRESENT A CERTAIN PERIOD OF TIME IN YOUR HISTORY?
I'd say it's a pretty consistent staple in my music diet especially because it's such a good front-to-back record and it has an almost comfort-food quality to it for me at this point.