Nine Inch Nails ‘Hesitation Marks’: An In-Depth Review

Fans have been waiting 5 years for NIN to release new material
Fans have been waiting 5 years for NIN to release new material

Historically, fans of Nine Inch Nails have had to wait with baited breath for the group’s founder and only true member, Trent Reznor, to release new material under the NIN moniker from one album to the next. Even after the great success of 1994’s The Downward Spiral, since then yawning chasms of radio silence from the NIN camp have followed every album release. After 2008’s The Slip, Reznor said he was calling it a day for NIN and moved on to concentrate on his myriad side projects. Earlier this year, however, quite out of the darkness in which he typically resides, news came straight from Reznor himself that he had been working on an album in secret and it was just about ready for release. Thus Hesitation Marks came to answer the prayers of Reznor’s unwaveringly loyal following and, as always, it was damn worth the wait.

We begin with ‘Eater Of Dreams’, a typically Reznorian dark-ambient introduction, before beginning earnestly and unapologetically with ‘Copy of A’  True to its name, ‘Copy of A’ sounds like Reznor has come full circle in that this song returns to the original dance roots of NIN’s 1989 excellent debut Pretty Hate Machine, but now bumped up into sonic overdrive. The song is an unyielding cycle of repeating drums, repeating bass, repeating vocals, and is thus as catchy as any conventional pop club banger, yet infinitely more sinister. A terrific beginning that paves the way for the song’s beefier and more attractive sibling, ‘Came Back Haunted’.

The lead single carries on the alt-dance genre of the preceding track, but with a greater technical complexity thanks to Reznor’s distinctive and evocative use of layering. Ignore any prejudice the slightly lame goth-rock name of the song might cause in you- the song is anything but and, after all, NIN wouldn’t be NIN without at least one hark back to Reznor’s past persona as fallen angel of the goth-rock world.

‘Find My Way’ is a study in classic NIN dark ambience, but is quite uninspiring as a result when compared to similar NIN tracks such as ‘The Four of Us Are Dying’ from 2010’s The Slip. There is a quick return to form with ‘All Time Low’, which oozes Reznor’s inimitable style of filthy funk. The term ‘infectious’ is thrown around alot in the world of album reviews, but this song is so catchy and the bass/drum hooks so grungy that it’s almost virulent.

Upon listening to ’Disappointed’, a showcase of Reznor’s synth wizardry, it begins to seem that Hesitation Marks is something of a mashup of NIN’s history of changing genre focus, with leaps from early dance-inspired beats to instrument-eschweing synthesisation, then back a step to screaming industrial guitar and drums, The track ‘Everything’ is something of an incongruity to this idea because much of what Reznor has created is brilliant and ironically ‘Everything’ is really quite crap; it is the weakest track on the album by some margin due to some strident vocals and flat, uninspiring guitar work that seems more suited to a newcomer to post-punk than to the man who single-handedly brought industrial music to the masses and preceded dubstep by about half a decade.

‘Satellite’ is much better and has the futurist feel of NIN’s 2008s technically brilliant Year Zero but upgraded with a thunderous bass system, which ‘Various Methods Of Escape’ carries on before reverting to a much more classic NIN sound as the song reaches its climax.

In ‘Running’ we again have PHM’s recipe for dance-track success, but at the same time made entirely new by the addition of a number of sounds of completely unknowable origin, which work in nice contrast to the next track. ‘I Would For You’comes as a terrific middle finger to the dying sound of modern dubstep, to which, as I mentioned, Reznor was a key influence; ‘I have only myself to blame’ cries Reznor over a cascade of brain-numbing drops that gradually, and tellingly, fade into an indiscernible buzz.

‘In Two’ signals the final stretch of the album by rather disrupting the flow of the past few songs yet, considering the album’s name, this is probably Reznor’s desired effect. Just as it reaches its crescendo, the song seamlessly moves into the stripped down ‘While I’m Still Here’, after which Hesitation Marks finally transitions innocuously into Black Noise’, a work of dark ambience that escalates into a bone-shaking shriek that takes the album full circle flawlessly.

While Hesitation Marks, taken as a whole, may seem like a history of the many musical caprices of Trent Reznor, almost every song is of genre indefinable precisely because they incorporate so many different elements. With a musical track record as diverse as his, Reznor could have quite easily just released a rehash of practically any of his previous work but Nine Inch Nails’ fans do not remain loyal over 5-year album gaps for no reason. Reznor can be described as many things, but complacent is not one of them; with Hesitation Marks, he has merged each of his past musical endeavours to form something entirely new, which is testament to the idea that Nine Inch Nails has, is, and always will be greater than the sum of its parts.


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