Nine Inch Nails, ‘Hesitation Marks’ – Album Review
If we’ve learned one thing this summer festival season, it’s that the world has missed the dark grandeur of Nine Inch Nails.
The industrial icons recently made their return to the stage after a four-year hiatus that saw mastermind Trent Reznor at his cleanest and most productive. During his break from NIN, Reznor got married, expanded his family, wrote film scores with constant collaborator Atticus Ross and formed a side band, How to Destroy Angels, with his wife, Mariqueen Maandig.
While Trent clearly has no shortage of creative outlets, the one-two punch of starting that new outfit and developing an even more focused approach to production was evidently enough to inspire new material from NIN.
On ‘Hesitation Marks,’ NIN’s eighth full-length, Reznor updates the group’s signature clicks and clacks, retaining their edge and losing some of the more outdated hallmarks. Despite his embrace of technological advancements, Reznor is clear in his intentions. ‘Hesitation Marks’ is every bit as inspired as NIN’s breakthrough second album, ‘The Downward Spiral,’ even though Reznor is a very different person than he was in 1994.
Reznor created his second LP when he was in a much darker place, and as the name suggests, ‘Spiral’ plays out like a cacophonous whirlwind signaling his demise. Conversely, on ‘Hesitation Marks,’ he often comes across as wickedly confident — almost jovial. Instead of sounding like a guy at the end of his rope, ready to pull the trigger, Reznor is the portrait of a man at peace with his actions.
Precise from the get-go, the LP opens with the brief ‘The Eater of Dreams,’ droplets of drum-pad hits falling at a militant clip. Second single ‘Copy of A’ loosens things up a bit, as Reznor wraps you in a blanket of sonic familiarity before lashing out once more with the album’s first single and missive to the world, ‘Came Back Haunted.’
“Now I’ve got something you have to see / they put something inside of me,” Reznor croons, at once incredulous and self-assured. Twisting, turning harmonies zigzag across the track as the underlying soundscape builds and builds and chants of “just can’t stop” fill the song to its brim, prefacing a weightless release.
Indeed, many of these tracks threaten to fall out from under you at any moment, and that makes ‘Hesitation Marks’ all the more accessible. In addition to being masterfully constructed and thoughtful, these 14 songs are as vulnerable as anything you’d expect from a band that, for more than two decades, has reflected one man’s struggles with religion, identity and ultimately himself.
Reznor’s constant questioning surely informed his sequencing choices, as several songs arrive at unexpected moments. The poppy ‘Everything,’ for example, feels incongruous sandwiched between the maddening percussion runs of ‘Disappointed’ and ‘Satellite.’ Yet even at its most uneven, ‘Hesitation Marks’ always offers something to grab and hold onto until the next abrupt ending.
And speaking of endings — this hardly seems like one. Reznor is clearly reinvigorated, and while he tapped Russell Mills, the man responsible for the ‘Downward Spiral’ cover, to create the artwork, he’s hardly rehashing the past. ‘Hesitation Marks’ signals the start of a new era.