Mandatory Metal: 5 Essential Nine Inch Nails Songs

Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, 1994; photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images

Heavy music is full of legendary bands boasting deep catalogs stacked with iconic songs — sometimes it can be hard to know where to start, or what to consider their best. With that in mind, we present the “Mandatory Metal” lists, which collect what we consider to be the definitive tracks from various members of the metallurgic pantheon. Up today, Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor’s insanely groundbreaking, influential and popular industrial-rock juggernaut that luxuriated in pain, profanity and offensiveness throughout the Nineties while finding strange beauty amid all the darkness on classic records like Pretty Hate Machine, Broken and The Downward Spiral. NIN are still going strong, exploring a new range of sounds and emotions, but in our opinion, these classic cuts are the band’s most essential. If you disagree, sound off on The Pit Facebook page.

“Head like a Hole”
ALBUM: PRETTY HATE MACHINE

Trent Reznor’s angst-ridden chant-along takes on corporate greed and the price of fame.
Sample lyrics: “Head like a hole/Black as your soul/I’d rather die/Than give you control.”

“Sin”
ALBUM: PRETTY HATE MACHINE

Relationship hell, with a dance beat.
Sample lyrics: “Carry out my sentence/Will I get what I deserve?”

“Wish”
EP: BROKEN

A total mental and emotional breakdown set to possibly the sickest-sounding guitar (sample) ever.
Sample lyrics: “I’m the one without a soul/I’m the one with this big fucking hole/No new tale to tell/Twenty-six years on my way to hell/Gotta listen to your big time/Hard line, bad luck, fist fuck/Don’t think you’re having all the fun/You know me — I hate everyone.”

“Heresy”
ALBUM: THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL

A scathing indictment of Christianity as a tool to wield power.
Sample lyrics: “Your god is dead and no one cares/If there is a hell, I’ll see you there.”

“Closer”
ALBUM: THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL

Sexy, catchy and profane as hell, it’s a smash-hit song and a strip-club classic that’s way deeper and darker than most listeners will ever understand.
Sample lyrics: “You let me violate you/You let me desecrate you/You let me penetrate you/You let me complicate you”