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What is the best Nine Inch Nails album?

Industrial rock pioneers Nine Inch Nails have released some of the most forward-thinking popular music made in the last three decades. Musical mastermind Trent Reznor brought together metal, industrial, pop and electronic elements into an unstoppable beast that dragged the genre kicking and screaming into the mainstream. The frontman recently made a rare Tweet revealing that a new Nine Inch Nails record is on the way this year. If you want to catch up on their best work it can be a little intimidating, with eight studio albums to the band's name. So to save you some time, Q-Asar have summarised their finest works below.

5. And All That Could Have Been (2002)


Live albums are usually for megafans only and are frequently packed with inferior versions of the band's studio work. And All That Could Have Been is the exception to this rule. The double album is cut into two discs: Live and Still. Live, which was recorded in 2000, features searing performances from the Fragility v2.0 US tour. Still comprises "deconstructed" versions of the band's songs. The songs on the first disc are in many cases completely different from the original studio recordings. Nine Inch Nails live is a wild and unpredictable beast. Still was also recorded in a live fashion, although not in front of an audience. The subtle and experimental songs on Still showcase a completely different side to the band. Highlights from the album as a whole include Terrible Lie, The Great Below and Gave Up. The accompanying live DVD release is also an excellent watch.

4. The Fragile (1999)


The Fragile is a sprawling masterpiece of a double album. It finds Reznor and the band at their most expansive and experimental. Returning Nine Inch Nails collaborator Alan Moulder produced the album alongside Reznor. Together they moved from a rough, dirty sound to a hi-fi production suitable for the extensive layering throughout the album. The Fragile is a 103 minute journey and takes you through a huge array of moods and styles. The best cuts include the epic wall of guitars in The Day the World Went Away, the catchy electronic rock/pop of We're In This Together and the piano-led sonic exploration in La Mer.

3. Broken EP (1992)


After non-stop fights with his label following his first album, Trent Reznor holed himself up in isolation to produce the Broken EP without any interference. The result remains the heaviest material Reznor has ever committed to tape. The frontman played all the guitar parts on the EP and despite not actually being a guitarist, he's quite the axeman. Third track Last mixes huge riffs with a savage vocal performance. Wish sounds like electronic punk from hell, while Physical (You're So) shows Reznor isn't afraid to get a little sexual in between all the heavy metal riffs. This technically isn't an album but it's still essential listening for anyone who considers themselves a Nine Inch Nails fan.

2. Pretty Hate Machine (1989)


The mainstream music world had no idea what was coming when Nine Inch Nails dropped their debut album in 1989. Pretty Hate Machine was way ahead of its time, mixing underground industrial beats, a punk rock attitude and unforgettable hooks. It perfectly encapsulates why Nine Inch Nails took industrial into the mainstream: Forward-thinking musical ideas mixed with genius pop song-writing. It remains my personal favourite Nine Inch Nails record although I have to admit Reznor was still forming his musical vision at this point. Some of the lyrics are cheesy and some of the beats were only acceptable in the '80s. Nonetheless the raw power of the songs cannot be denied. The finest moments include the electronic/metal assault of Terrible Lie, earworm hooks of Head Like a Hole and synthpop cut Down In It.

1. The Downward Spiral (1994)


Nine Inch Nails' second studio album saw the band mature into a stadium-packing monster. Reznor didn't pander to the mainstream in the slightest but nonetheless built a massive fanbase. The Downward Spiral remains the band's most chaotic and challenging work. The brilliance of the writing and the fierce intensity of Reznor's musical vision make it a non-stop ride from start to finish. The album reached the second spot on the Billboard 200 chart, and it's undoubtedly one of the most uncompromising releases ever to do so. Highlights include the thrashing electronic punk of March of the Pigs, the filthy disco groove of Closer and the beautiful, melancholy soundscape of A Warm Place. It's also impossible to go past the dark tale of substance abuse in Hurt, which remains one of Reznor's most enduring songs.