Nine Inch Nail’s Ruiner, from their 1994 chronicle of misery The Downward Spiral, is a strange track – a clash of animal samples and processed drum loops, organ synths and tearing vocals, building and swelling to a searing intensity. And then, suddenly, it drops off, a plaintive mourn preceding the only guitar break in over an hour of pretty much unparalleled nihilism and despair.
What makes this solo isn’t so much what it is – although there’s a beauty in its simplicity, in its swampy reverb and decayed distortion – but how out of place it sounds. Within an album of mechanical precision, every beat meticulously arranged, it’s pretty much the only section that feels human, worn and tired and ever so slightly fragile. Sure, it’s melodic too, but this isn’t about shaking your limbs or pumping your fist: it’s the last glimpse of life in a man who’s breaking down.
And then it’s gone again, the echoed drums and portentous synths crashed back and Reznor’s whispered vocal looming sociopathically. The Downward Spiral often feels airless, suffocating and claustrophobic, but those fifty seconds are, however briefly, akin to the parting clouds and a cooling breeze. Albeit one that you can mosh to, of course.