Nine Inch Nails is a hard band to categorize. Best known as the side project of the guy that created the award-winning music for Pixar’s “Soul,” it has something for everyone. Whether you only know that one Johnny Cash song they covered or obsess over collecting every Halo number, Trent Reznor has released eleven angsty, edgy LPs that we’ve ranked for your inner goth’s listening pleasure.
11. Pretty Hate Machine (1989)
The greats have to start somewhere. This second-rate Depeche Mode tribute with lyrics that appear to have come from a high school sophomore fresh out of the poetry class he got a C- in, in NIN’s case. And just listen to the production. Did they have GarageBand in 1988?
Play it again: “Head Like a Hole,” but that sick live version on YouTube where Trent screams “something’s gonna get broken!!!”
Skip it: “Down In It.” “Rain, rain, go away?” Lord help us.
10. The Slip (2008)
This album took about a week to make, and boy, does it show. Take the first “real” opening track, “1,000,000,” which features a riff Tool has employed dozens of times already. It lives in the shadow of the first Ghosts release, and suffers from being the most forgettable thing NIN has released. Even releasing this sucker for free didn’t help.
Play it again: “The Four of Us Are Dying” has a pretty sick beat. If it was on Ghosts I-IV (it’s an instrumental), it would have carried the whole project.
Skip it: “Discipline.” King Crimson’s mind-numbing track of the same name is far more worthy of the title.
9. Ghosts V: Together (2020)
The most inessential Nine Inch Nails project gets brought back during the pandemic after twelve years. A boring soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist. Many of the tracks here run over five minutes, and even that frantic drum break in “Still Right Here” can’t awaken us from the deep sleep this snoozefest put us in.
Play it again: The first seven tracks, on repeat, while you sleep.
Skip it: “Still Right Here.” The buildup ain’t worth the payoff.
8. Ghosts VI: Locusts (2020)
Released at the same time as Ghosts V, this one gets the edge as it sounds just a tad more Lynchian. Remember when Trent did the soundtrack to “Lost Highway”? Even that fuckawful sax mess “Driver Down” creams every single track on this bloated endeavor.
Play it again: “Another Crashed Car” is a nifty little experiment made entirely out of car noises. Trent, score the next Fast & Furious. That could kick ass.
Skip it: “When It Happens (Don’t Mind Me).” GOD, is this one annoying! If a panic attack had a sound.
7. Ghosts I-IV (2008)
The first Ghosts release is still the best, even if it runs an insulting one hour and fifty minutes. The Adrian Belew contributions on tracks 25 and 27 make for perhaps the most memorable moments over thirty-six fuckin’ tracks. And don’t get us started on “34 Ghosts IV.”
Play it again: The aforementioned 25 and 27, both of which have a Belew co-writing credit. Did you know the dude almost joined the 2013 live line-up? Damn you, Trent, that could’ve been cool.
Skip it: The one Lil Nas X sampled. You’ve heard it a million times before.
6. Year Zero (2007)
With an opening track named “Hyperpower!” (Trent’s exclamation mark, not ours), this “dystopian” “concept” album doesn’t give us high hopes. While it ends decently enough, this one is a thorough exercise in mediocrity. “Enjoyment Zero,” we call it.
Play it again: “Zero Sum.” A closer every Trump hater would be proud to jam.
Skip it: “Survivalism.” Legendary madman Aaron North was in the music video, but didn’t play on the track. Huge bummer.
5. With Teeth (2005)
The beginning of Nine Inch Nails’ downward spiral (ha, see what we did there?). After back-to-back masterpieces with “The Fragile” and, uh, “The Downward Spiral,” T-Rez started hitting the gym and making marginally less depressing music. Things would never be the same.
Play it again: “Only.” Get your Newton’s Cradle out for this one.
Skip it: “Every Day Is Exactly the Same.” As tedious as the situation the title describes.
4. Bad Witch (2018)
The first album in which Atticus Ross is an actual member, although calling this half-hour release an “album” is stretching it. Featuring a Death Grips-meets-jazz track, “God Break Down the Door,” is about the album’s only highlight. The instrumental tracks, however, are better than anything on the Ghosts projects, and the closer is a nice hat-tip to David Bowie. With a name like “Bad Witch,” though, this album just can’t hit the top three.
Play it again: “God Break Down the Door” for some saxophone AND breakbeats.
Skip it: “Shit Mirror.” A cringeworthy song title to kick off an album with a similarly cringeworthy title.
3. Hesitation Marks (2013)
Goddammit, this album gets way too much shit. Just because Trent traded the anger for minimalist grooves doesn’t mean it should be written off. Did you know Lindsey Buckingham plays on this one? Don’t miss the killer bass playing from Pino Palladino, either. But, again: Lindsey Buckingham. We rest our case.
Play it again: “In Two” to hear Lindsey “The Dude Who Was On Rumours!!!” Buckingham deliver a subtle, yet memorable, guitar line.
Skip it: “Everything,” a song even lamer than the entirety of Pretty Hate Machine.
2. The Fragile (1999)
You knew there were only two choices for the top spots, right? Even though the second disc is plagued by the godawful “Starfuckers, Inc.,” it takes a seriously fucked-up genius to have “La Mer” flow into “The Great Below.” We’re in the fetal position wishing she never left us just thinking about that one-two gut punch.
Play it again: “Even Deeper.” Dr. Dre cut time out of his Eminem-boosting schedule to work on this banger, and that sweet production is evident.
Skip it: Do we need to say it? Rhymes with “tar shuckers rink.”
1. The Downward Spiral (1994)
Okay, folks. We’re probably the 2,512th Nine Inch Nails ranking list to put this one at the top. But goddamn. We’ve got everything from regular NIN cohort Adrian Belew doing that weird texture-guitar at the end of “Mr. Self Destruct” to that Johnny Cash cover everyone loves at the end. Deep cuts like “The Becoming” are just as badass. Brian Eno wishes he wrote “A Warm Place.” Oh yeah, it was also recorded in the Tate house. That Manson voodoo ensures this bleak, nihilist hellscape nabs the top of our ranking.
Play it again: The title track, perhaps the most haunting NIN song ever (and that’s saying something), as well as the last original piece on the album.
Skip it: “Heresy” might have the edgiest lyrics Trent has ever penned – again, that’s saying something. Nietzsche would not be proud.