When Nine Inch Nails released Pretty Hate Machine in 1989, it played a major role in bringing the harshness of industrial music to the mainstream alongside bands like Ministry. However, its synthpop nature was quickly phased out in favor of a more metal approach, especially on 1992’s Broken EP. A much heavier album than its predecessor, it became infamous for becoming the first song in history to win a Grammy with the lyric “fist fuck”. Good times.
1994’s The Downward Spiral was a different beast entirely. Released the same day as Soundgarden’s Superunknown and Failure’s Magnified, its lyrical content came under fire by American conservatives like Bob Dole, and is a claustrophobic, harrowing experience that truly plumbs the depths of the human soul. Led by massive single “Closer”, the sometimes overlooked industrial blast of “March Of The Pigs”, and the despair of “Hurt” (which was later covered by Johnny Cash), The Downward Spiral is as much about musical experimentation and growth as it is nihilistic tendencies.
Of course, when you manage to get the likes of the legendary Adrian Belew to play guitar on the harsh album opener “Mr. Self Destruct”, and you manage to release an album that became a cultural touchtone of the ’90s, all bets are off. Rightfully declared a masterpiece upon its release, it’s sold almost 4 million copies in the USA alone, it was one of the first industrial albums to sell in huge quantities. And it’s still worth listening to today.