Three decades ago on October 20, a young Trent Reznor unleashed Pretty Hate Machine, blending new wave synths with industrial rhythms and rock guitars to help define a new sound. The Nine Inch Nails debut peaked at No. 75 on the Billboard 200 a little more than three months later, and eventually went triple platinum.
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But that was only the beginning. Since 1989, Reznor has gone on to release seven more full length albums, four major EPs, and a handful of other remix and live albums, while earning critical acclaim along the way. First came 1992’s Broken, an EP that captured what felt like the all-consuming rage Reznor was experiencing as he wrote and recorded during the height of NIN’s massive feud with record label TVT. But the anger paid off, with the recording peaking at No. 7 on the Billboard 200, going platinum in three months, and earning Reznor two Grammys.
Then there was 1994’s The Downward Spiral, NIN’s biggest release yet, which put the band on the map for an even wider base of listeners. A concept album which follows the protagonist’s descent into self-destruction, it was an instant hit, debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. The Downward Spiral went on to sell nearly 4 million copies, spawned various copycat bands, and even inspired Johnny Cash to cover the gut-wrenching album closer, “Hurt.”
While the later releases after have yet to match the commercial success of The Downward Spiral (2000’s The Fragile came the closest, with more than 2 million copies sold), Reznor continued to innovate and push musical boundaries. He has since released instrumental music (Ghosts I-IV, a preview of his Oscar-winning film scoring to come) and tested different methods of distribution, including offering one full record (2008’s The Slip) for free, and offering a trilogy of EPs at a pace of one per year from 2016 to 2018.
The thrice-Rock-Hall-nominated Reznor has generated a hell of a lot of notable music for fans to devour in the last three decades. It’s not easy to choose a favorite among this vast body of work, but that’s exactly what we’re asking you to do. So without further ado …
Now you’ve had your say, check out how we’d rank NIN’s major releases.