Release Date: March 1st, 2020
When Nine Inch Nails released The Downward Spiral in 1994, it was an assault on music no one saw coming. Its genre-blending sound, bleak themes, and no-holds-barred attitude helped launched Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails into the mainstream. 26 years later, it continues to inspire and connect with listeners due to its complex themes, stellar songs, and its willingness to talk about emotional and mental issues. The album’s difficult creation, inspiration, history, and influences are explored in Adam Steiner’s new book Into the Never.
It’s easy to write off The Downward Spiral as another angry record that exaggerates the narrator’s problems, but there’s so much more to it as Into the Never shows. Listening to it without much context, you can definitely hear how ugly, painful, and angry the record sounds. But this close study shows just how bleak and fucked up the record is. Steiner goes through the album’s story about the narrator, an extension of Reznor, attempting to better himself yet coming face to face with his own ugliness and falling down this spiral where he progressively gets worse until the only solution appears to be death.
Aside from the album’s narrative, Steiner gives us its history and the story of its creation using various sources, including reviews and other studies of the album, Reznor’s past interviews, and Steiners recent interviews with those who worked on the album. He breaks down each song on the album looking at their themes, how they were created, and personal ties to Reznor. He also looks at the overarching narrative happening throughout the album paying careful attention to its themes of isolation, depression, nihilism, and suicide. Learning what samples Reznor used on the album or how certain sounds were achieved is fascinating, but Steiner goes even deeper and looks at the album’s relation to movies, music, literature, and concepts that all made an impact on Reznor.
Steiner goes through each song on the album and discusses them in the context of Reznor’s influences, similar albums, movies, and literature. He talks at length about the Nietzschean philosophy found in songs like “The Becoming,” “Hersey,” and “Hurt,” how the shock and violence of horror movies influenced the sound of the record, the deep symbolism behind the image of the spiral that appears throughout the entire album, and compares “Piggy’s” use to “pig” to its use in Lord of the Flies, Geroge Orwell’s Animal Farm, and its ties to Charles Manson. All this shows there’s more to the songs than loud, abrasive noise. It also helps present the album in a different light. Steiner gives us ideas and concepts most listeners wouldn’t have picked on. And it’s intriguing to see how these songs that many of us have grown up with tie into larger ideologies. Still, some of the theories presented can be difficult to grasp at first. Because so much information is given in so few pages, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, even more so when philosophy talk is introduced. Steiner does his best to explain the concepts and how they tie into the album in a digestible way. Luckily, these sections don’t slow down the book and because they’re so interesting you’ll want to keep reading, even if you have to revisit chapters later.
To help us understand why the album continues to have an impact on listeners and music, the book looks at its context when it was released. It discusses The Downward Spiral’s influence on music, how it aggressively went against music trends, the controversy it caused, and its influence on other artists. We also learn about Reznor’s own influences when creating the album. He talks about the way artists like David Bowie, Manic Street Preachers, Brian Eno, and Pink Floyd made an impact on Reznor that he would later revisit on the album. Hearing about their relation to the record will encourage you to check out the songs for yourself.
We also get a glimpse at the man behind the record. While the book isn’t a biography on Reznor, it does briefly go over his upbringing, the start of Nine Inch Nails his ugly breakup with his first label, TVT, and the events that led to the creation of The Downward Spiral. Using various quotes from Reznor’s past interviews also provides insight into his headspace at the time, which was often dark and negative. Looking at this gives you a better idea of where the songs came from and how the album eerily foresaw Reznor’s own downward spiral. Steiner also looks forward and shows how the sound experiments Reznor crafted for the album would influence his later work on film scores.
Into the Never is an excellent, detailed study of not only The Downward Spiral’s creation, but also its themes, larger concepts, and the man behind it. Steiner gives us thoughtful insight about the album paying special attention to its cultural significance, its influence, and the huge role it played in Reznor’s life. He also presents the album in a different light by looking at it through a philosophical lens. It’s an engaging read packed with so much information clearly put together by a rabid fan. It really gives you a newfound appreciation of the record and shows how its transgressive themes and groundbreaking sound have stood the test of time.
Into the Never is out now via Backbeat Books.