Nine Inch Nails' 1994 CD 'The Downward Spiral' is both the haunted, and the haunting. The sound of angst leading to anxiety, leading to anger, then disdain, building to alienation, hatred...and finally to the precipice of madness, sickness and despair. This is mind-shredding industrial techno-metal, cut ever so slightly here and there with the sound of an unprocessed human voice, an acoustic guitar - just to remind us of how over-the-top inhuman this epic work is. In those human moments, main man Trent Reznor's voice is as meek as a lost puppy on a rainy day in December, until he draws you in just enough to set you up - and then morphs into the sound of Satan's own shrieks from the bowels of hell...the juxtaposition a calculated ambush of your sensibilities.
Reznor, with a little help from his friends (such as avant-garde guitarist Adrian Belew, guitarist Dave Navarro, producers flood and Rick Rubin, and techno-wiz Chris Vrenna), crafts what Lou Reed long ago termed "metal machine music", only Reed's was unlistenable psychotic masturbation - Reznor's is musically resonant, structural and inviting, in the way that a great horror movie is inviting. You want to, but you can't turn away, you can't wait to hear what's around the next corner.
This is too f***in' good, in its strange, twisted way...possibly the soundtrack to man's inhumanity to man throughout the ages... to hypocrisy, to the atrocities commited daily around the world...in the name of god and what is right - imminent domain, their god is the right god, and your god is wrong and of the devil and doesn't exist...only their god and they are right, and they will cleanse the earth of you and your god and your ways, because they possess Divine Right. So say the Christians and the Jews and the Muslims and the Catholics and the Palestinians and the atheists and the Nazis...and us and them, and them and us...through time immemorial (you get the idea - atrocities in the name of religion - forgive me if I didn't offend yours in this list). They believe in their god, whatever or whoever it may be, just as much and as strongly as the others believe in theirs...and we are all, according to our kind, RIGHT, dammit!! The good church-goer and religious man who fondles little boys on Wednesdays; the family man with 3.2 kids, a lovely wife and home and a white picket fence who can only get it up anymore by stealing away to his little Lolita on the side; the loving mother who gags and blindfolds her kids and locks them in a closet for punishment; the loving husband who beats his wife and kids, but only in places that can't be seen beneath the clothing; the loving father, who loves his son just a little too much, regularly, after his wife is asleep; the loving son who will blow himself up today to kill more of the infidels; the council who will cut off a man's hands for the crime of stealing; the countless numbers of women who are sterilized to stop the birth of her race; the community leader who will rape again tonight. Hypocrisy ...atrocity...the little atrocities are as hurtful as the big ones...to the victim. (And, if you're offended by anything on that list, tough shit - get your head out of your ass.)
This music and these lyrics are harrowing stuff, indeed ("your god is dead and no one cares", "nothing can stop me now, I don't care anymore")...and meant to hit you right between the eyes and wake you up, all of your senses, in every sense of the word. What was, even on CD, more than a wall of sound - a full-blown wall of aural onslaught...is now an aural onslaught x 6!! Opened up and transparent to a startling degree, it loses none of its power, its ability to overwhelm, as it comes at you from all directions on this Hybrid SACD Deluxe Edition. Forget the DSD and PCM stereo versions here and go straight to the 5.1 multi-channel surround mix. As good as they are, the surround mix is light-years more impressive!
The 5.1 multi-channel surround mix is handled by James Brown and Trent Reznor, and mastered by the legendary Bob Ludwig. And, man oh man, is it AWESOME! The sound that was thickly layered into two channels on CD is now deconstructed and parsed among six speakers! Every layer remains, but, spread amongst six channels, each is more audible and recognizable...beyond nasty into viscerally, disgustingly delectable. There is nothing here that is pretty, at least as expressed musically - the talent and the mix are beyond pretty...hideously beautiful. Hear how lovely the shrieking winds of hell can sound in SACD 5.1 ("lovely" being, of course, in the eye and ear of the beholder). Disc one contains 'The Downward Spiral' in its entirety, in Hybrid SACD 5.1 DSD surround and two-channel stereo, and in PCM CD stereo (meaning it will play on any CD, DVD, or SACD player [5.1 in SACD player only with compatible digital receiver, pre-amp or processor having 6 channel analog input on rear apron]). Disc two contains 70 minutes of truly excellent remixes, b-sides, demos and non-album tracks (in SACD stereo and PCM CD stereo). This is a rare two-disc Deluxe Edition that contains a second disc well worth having and paying for! In fact, if you like NIN, and/or industrial-rock in general, Disc two is damn-well indispensable, it's that good! (Liner notes contain complete lyrics for album proper, and a bit of production information.)
(If any of our readers should happen to purchase this set in the new day/date release DualDisc format, we would love to hear from you. [Basically, the DualDisc is a CD on one side and DVD/DVD-A on the flip-side, allowing the disc to play in any player, ala the Hybrid SACD, but it's still a flip-disc, whereas the SACD is a one-sided disc.] However, in order to make the DualDisc thin enough for regular players, the Red Book CD standard playing time of 80 minutes per disc has now been shortened to only 66 minutes maximum per disc on DualDisc [on the CD side]. We would be interested in how the DuaDisc handles the 70 minutes of Disc two, or is it a standard CD only?. [This 66 minute limit does, however, beg the question, in general, of editing the numerous CD programs that are, indeed, longer than 66 minutes - oy, such a headache!] And, of course, SACD is NOT available in the DualDisc format - DVD/DVD-A only. Sony/Philips allow the SACD layer(s) to be decoded/reproduced by SACD players only. So, we would also like to know how the disc sounds on the DVD-A and/or DD 5.1 side of this monstrous creation...this Frankensteinian DualDisc. This writer predicts the early demise of a stupid idea in the DualDisc...Divx, anyone? AND, while we're at it, I'm just gonna lay it on the line, here: numerous big name recording engineers and golden-eared audiophiles [myself included] believe, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that SACD audio is demonstrably better than DVD-Audio - the difference to which SACD betters DVD-A is quite astounding!! Simply put, DVD-A is, at maximum, only 4 times the resolution of a regular CD, whereas the SACD is 64 times the resolution of a regular CD. Hmmmm, which is TRULY hi-resolution, eh ?! And what a difference it makes! A lower noise-floor, quieter background, much more open, transparent, three-dimensional sound, a more "natural" sound...in every aspect, every parameter. There, I've finally said it!! AND, the latest numbers show SACD discs outselling DVD-Audio discs by three-to-one! The public has chosen wisely, master Yoda! )
Here be some examples of what you can expect from the mix of 'The Downward Spiral' in 5.1 surround: "Mr. Self-Destruct" anchors the action up front w a bleed to the surrounds until about 1:00 - fuzzed-out guitars stab out of the surrounds as do muted voices; "Piggy" is a slow, hard, post-grunge pounder with an incessant 4 beat, slight surround effects, at 2:58 gargantuan drums from all around envelop the room; "Heresy" is full-on techno with the big beat, at :50 effects and nasty distorto guitars slam in the surrounds; "Closer" is rather like a disgusting Beetlejuice disco, burbling, gurgling industro-tech; "Ruiner" sprouts action from all around, anthemic; "Big Man With a Gun" starts with the big bam boom up front, ghostly wails in the surrounds, fuzzed guitar from all five speakers, enveloping; "A Warm Place" is an oasis in this dark, noisy place, an instrumental, all five speakers enclose you, deep bass and eerie organ repeatedly descend into hell up front, the most musical and comforting song on the disc, orchestral; "Eraser" features strange vocal moanings in the surrounds, huge drums up front; "The Downward Spiral" is mostly strange, quiet, ambient, at 2:25 the surrounds explode with a reverbed/tremoloed monster guitar thrash; "Hurt" (the song Johnny Cash re-worked and had a huge hit with, from his excellent 'When the Man Comes Around' CD) is very quiet, sparse, open and transparent, alot of "air", the lyrics are the star here, self-hatred, self-pity, achingly beautiful backing instruments, at 4:30 a quick, huge guitar chord strikes form all four corners, as if to end the album and awaken you from the nightmare. The over-the-top use of dynamics is highlighted throughout the disc.
Nine Inch Nails 'The Downward Spiral' on SACD is a masterpiece in both its content and its 5.1 surround mix. And, it's the perfect passive-aggressive tool! At the end of the disc, you are spent, by transferring all of your aggressive tendencies to the music, the sound, the noise. This disc just sucks it all out of you, so you don't really have to take it out on your boss, your spouse, or your (fill in the blank). By listening to NIN, you've gotten rid of it all. A passive way to the equivalent of brutality, without moving a muscle...without hurting anyone, except perhaps your inner-child. And that child will be all the less innocent for the experience. Don't listen to this one without a sense of humor and an anchor in reality - you might start drinking again. Everything about this disc is rude and ugly and nasty - and absolutely sickeningly beautiful! Do not miss this one!!