Home Books Into the Never: Nine Inch Nails and the Creation of The Downward Spiral: by Adam Steiner

Into the Never: Nine Inch Nails and the Creation of The Downward Spiral: by Adam Steiner

The Downward Spiral remains one of the most exhaustively talked about albums in recent memory, to the point where the album’s latest vinyl pressing comes with a magazine-style think piece breaking down why it’s so great. While this doesn’t bar Adam Steiner from writing a book about the watershed Nine Inch Nails record, it does beg the question of what he could say in 256 pages that hasn’t already been said since The Downward Spiral dropped in 1994. While the book doesn’t cover much that NIN superfans won’t already know, Into the Never: Nine Inch Nails and the Creation of ‘The Downward Spiral’ is an auspicious resource for casual fans who want to deepen their knowledge about one of the defining records of the ‘90s.

Steiner wears his fan status on his sleeve, approaching Into the Never as a glowing album review as much as a cultural analysis. The book switches back and forth from chapters about Trent Reznor’s creative process and life events during the album cycle and chapters dedicated to specific songs. The amount of content centered on the music itself stakes out Steiner’s writing specifically for people who’ve listened to The Downward Spiral before. Those who haven’t heard the record will likely find these song breakdowns tedious, but those who can put sounds to the words may come away with new details to listen for in a densely layered album.

Into the Never benefits from its author’s ability to break off on broader tangents about art and philosophy without shrouding the book’s specific subject. Steiner circles back to comparisons to legendary bands like Pink Floyd, Manic Street Preachers and Tom Waits in order to place The Downward Spiral within a canon of generation-defining concept albums – making strong arguments for the way NIN mastermind Reznor both recalls and deconstructs such an album structure. Comparing an industrial metal album to the philosophies of Nietzsche might seem overdramatic, but Steiner showcases how NIN transcended labels like “industrial” to create something as profound as it was disturbing.

Readers don’t have to take Steiner’s word for it either, as he references numerous interviews with Reznor, his bandmates, his collaborators and yesteryear’s music critics to create a well-balanced appraisal of this section of Reznor’s life and artistry. Sections dedicated to recording in the Manson murder house 10050 Cielo Drive, collaborating with the cystic fibrosis activist and sadomasochist Bob Flanagan or Reznor’s close relationship with David Bowie help articulate just how massive this album is not just for transgressive music, and the man Reznor has become since then.

Into the Never could have worked more visual supplements into the pages. This lack is especially noticeable in the chapter about The Downward Spiral’s cover art, and whenever Steiner references paintings, photography or music videos. While there are a handful of pictures in the middle of the book, they’re not much to speak of since they’re not integrated into the book’s narrative. This isn’t to say this makes the book uninteresting, but it would’ve been great to have continual visual accompaniment for the written descriptions.

Into the Never illustrates how every facet of Reznor’s being went into the making of The Downward Spiral, from the artwork and packaging to his band’s stage presence. Even so, Steiner also offers some constructive criticism. His chapter about “Big Man with a Gun” brings up the thin line between moral ambiguity and moral irresponsibility, leading to more poignant discussion about The Downward Spiral’s unsettling association with the Columbine school shooting. Steiner’s willingness to emphasize less savory aspects of this album cycle paints the creator in a more human light, which in turn contextualizes his incredible creativity.

To that effect, Steiner frames much of this book as a cautionary tale about the dangers of method acting for the sake of compelling art. He delves into the ways the narrator Reznor made up to tell the story of The Downward Spiral began to cross over into his real life, to the point where he describes the years after the album’s release as recovery. Without getting overly preachy about “dos and don’ts” in such a complicated scenario, Steiner’s writing reveals important life lessons from Reznor’s journey – often from the artist’s own words.

Ultimately, Into the Never provides a compact summation of why The Downward Spiralhas aged like fine wine. This light, informative read is a fantastic crash course for NIN novices who want to dive into the abyss.

This light, informative read is a fantastic crash course for NIN novices who want to dive into the abyss.
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