Nine Inch Nails Best Albums
In preparation for their 2022 tour, we’re ranking the best Nine Inch Nails albums. With 14 full-length albums under their belt, NIN have an eclectic discography from grunge rock to metal to pop. The band swap genres but always touch on similar themes of struggle, addiction, and mental health. Early (or, OG) fans tend to dislike the later pop-synth-inspired records in a classic case of “their old stuff is better.” But we believe NIN should be celebrated for their ability to genre-switch and remain true to their values. Here are our Nine Inch Nails best albums:
Pretty Hate Machine
Sound-wise, this debut 1989 album has many of the synth, industrial, and rock elements we’ve come to expect from Nine Inch Nails, along with honest and emotionally-resonant lyrics. The singles released off the album were “Down In It,” “Head Like a Hole,” and “Sin.” Although the record did well overall, its promotion was muddied by lead singer Trent Reznor’s feud with his now-former record company. Additionally, a Black Mirror episode featuring Miley Cyrus singing an alternate version of “Head Like a Hole” drew a fresh wave of attention to the album in 2019.
The Downward Spiral
This 1994 concept album had an overall lyrical theme based on debilitating depression. Reznor’s raw lyrics detail a rapidly escalating mental health episode (a “downward spiral,” so to speak). Sonically, this album plays with industrial rock and heavy metal sounds, forgoing the heavy synth use on the band’s previous album. The songs “Hurt” and “Piggy” were used as promotional singles. Finally, Johnny Cash’s 2019 heartbreaking cover of “Hurt” and the accompanying music video only enhanced both the song and album’s long-term popularity.
This 2005 album, which included contributions from Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, produced the singles “The Hand That Feeds,” “Only,” and “Every Day Is Exactly The Same.” Though this album might not have been as highly-rated as its predecessors, it features long, sonically interesting songs and bracingly honest lyrics about Reznor’s struggles with addiction. It was also the band’s second album to hit number one.
This 1999 double album is known for its notable instrumental tracks, which cemented the band’s versatility around both sound and genre. The singles from this album were “The Day the World Went Away,” “We’re in This Together,” and “Into the Void.” Similar to The Downward Spiral in terms of featuring frank lyrics that touch on the themes of depression and addiction, this was the band’s first record to hit number one.
A very different album from the others on this list, this 2013 release brings back more of the synth we know from Pretty Hate Machine, and a more polished, less industrial rock sound. While the softer, more “accessible” sound was a disappointment for some fans, the album serves as a reminder that the Nine Inch Nails are true masters of genre, switching from metal to pop and back again seamlessly.