Adam Steiner’s Into The Never captures the destructive and fascinating creative process that culminated in Nine Inch Nails’ (NIИ) The Downward Spiral, an album that shattered genre and instrumental conventions. Spiral is a difficult, at times torturous listen. But stay with it and you uncover one of the most important albums of the 1990s, a post-grunge melancholy that channelled the inner demons of frontman Trent Reznor while speaking on behalf of an entire disenfranchised generation. Similarly, Into The Never comes close to losing you at times, but with such an impressive blend of research and analysis, it makes for a phenomenal read.
Steiner uses vivid description to capture how the album “called self-destruct on the idea of genre-led music.” One of the book’s greatest strengths is how it uses the inception and reception of Spiral as a focal point from which NIИ, Reznor, and the wider world can be understood. Steiner offers more than a two-dimensional chronicle of a single album. Rather, it is a passionately written and strongly evidenced chronicle of a creative process originating decades before Spiral was ever even conceived.
While Steiner is unashamedly a NIИ fan, Into The Never is not a product of fandom, instead depending on an honest (albeit overwhelmingly positive) critical and historical assessment. At times, this manifests itself as humour. Steiner thinks that ‘Sanctified’ on NIИ’s debut album Pretty Hate Machine “verge[s] on bad poetry,” while ‘Eraser’ on Spiral is “an exercise in overkill.” Occasionally the book also starts to fall foul of these shortfalls, lengthy descriptions and moments of repetition disrupting the central arguments. Surrounding context, at times, also threatens to overcome certain parts of the book, but Steiner always recovers his focus just in time.
Into The Never convincingly ties together various influences present in Spiral, and in turn what the album itself helped to inspire, to present a full picture of why Reznor’s creation matters. Steiner does not dwell on the obvious; Skinny Puppy’s VIVIsectVI and Ministry’s The Land Of Rape And Honey, textbook examples of industrial music, are barely mentioned. Of much more significance to Reznor (and to Steiner) is how David Bowie and Pink Floyd came to shape the course of Spiral. The result is a far deeper, more provoking account of artistic vision than you might immediately assume is at play. More fascinating still is the use of Chuck Palahniuk’ Fight Club as a comparative point of interpretation (Palahniuk being a fan of Spiral and NIИ), just one example of how Steiner uses intertextual comparisons to further illuminate Spiral’s importance.
One central character, however, proves disconcerting. Although his role as a footnote at least would be hard to ignore, the Inclusion of Marilyn Manson (one of Reznor’s creative proteges for a time) feels uncomfortable given recent accusations and revelations. This is especially so when the book holds him up as a leader of the fight against oppressive control and paranoid manipulation, although in Steiner’s defence the book was written before the bulk of allegations against Manson surfaced. Leaving him aside, interviews (both previously published and original) really lift the book, offering a human edge and extra sense of significance to every chapter.
Into The Never offers is a must-read for fans of NIИ. For newcomers, it is a detailed and digestible case for why The Downward Spiral is a tour-de-force of soundscaping, musical distortion and emotional disintegration. Steiner’s analysis and fascinating points of comparison offer a resounding and educational tribute to one of rock’s most experimental odysseys, allowing his own passions to fuel what is nothing short of a masterful account.
Words by James Hanton.
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