ALBUM REVIEW : * * * * NINE INCH NAILS, "The Downward Spiral"; Nothing/TVT/Interscope

Great things have been expected from Trent Reznor ever since his electrifying performances on the 1991 "Lollapalooza" tour--and rock's new prince of darkness delivers great things indeed in an album that goes far beyond the anger and alienation of most contemporary rock.

Combining the seductive songwriting craft of Nirvana, the gear-grinding industrial howl of Ministry and the raw, unsettling language of William Burroughs, Reznor (who is Nine Inch Nails) leads us on a nightmarish journey to explore what he sees as an emptiness of the modern spirit.

"I am the pusher, I am the whore . . . I am the need you have for more," he taunts in "Mr. Self Destruct," describing an age in which obsessions and addictions have replaced morality and faith as the chief motivational forces. But "Spiral" isn't a celebration or acceptance of nihilism and decadence. It is, instead, an anguished cry for something to believe in during a time when such traditional support systems as religion and family have failed for so many.

"You can have my isolation . . . You can have my absence of faith," Reznor declares at one point in the album, reaching out with a hunger so uncompromising in its fury and despair that it makes all the headline-grabbing horrors of gangsta rap seem suddenly tame. "Spiral" is a major work that is likely to stand alongside Nirvana's "Nevermind" as one of the twin towers of '90s American rock.

New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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