Apple Music 100 Best Albums

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The Downward Spiral

Nine Inch Nails


An extreme, downbeat mix of industrial noise and pop that became massive anyway.

Even at a moment when bands like Nirvana could become famous, The Downward Spiral felt extreme. Trent Reznor once called Nine Inch Nails’ second full-length album a “celebration of self-destruction in the form of a concept record that somehow managed to become a multiplatinum worldwide hit.”

Inspired by Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, and David Bowie’s Berlin trilogy, Spiral pushed the industrial pop of Pretty Hate Machine in unexpected directions, experimenting with torch songs (“Piggy”), disco and soul (“Closer”), and ballads of such unnerving fragility that listening to them feels voyeuristic (“Hurt”). Even tracks that found continuity with the band’s earlier music—like the stuttering hardcore of “March of the Pigs”—were drastically more aggressive, making the album’s quieter moments feel all the more exhausted.

The album’s sound is just as polarized, mixing digital and analog, sample collages with live, and naturalistic performances. If the album has a defining moment, it’s the climax of “Closer”: mechanistic synth-funk that gives way to a warped, solitary piano. After Spiral, artists didn’t have to decide whether to be a rock band or an electronic producer—Reznor had bridged the two.