As mentioned in a previous blog (link at the bottom), Nine Inch Nails (NIN) are back with their eighth full length effort ‘Hesitation Marks’. Like with all previous albums, Reznor has once again changed the musical direction, whilst still maintaining the classic industrial NIN sound. Whilst a few fellow musicians, most notably long time collaborator Alessandro Cortini, help out, NIN is predominately Trent Reznor, receiving the credits of vocals, electronics, percussion, guitars and bass on most songs.
After the jagged, tension building introductory ‘The Eater of Dreams’, the album starts in earnest with the driving beats of ‘Copy of A’. The clean vocals and basic pop song structure, leave the track sounding the most accessible since the ‘With Teeth’ era. Unlike the albums two predecessors, ‘The Slip’ and ‘Year Zero’, the electrical noise and industrial clamour present across the record is warm and rich; almost acoustic compared against the previously harsher and cold atmospheres.
‘Came Back Haunted’, like many NIN songs starts off with a drum beat before layers build up exploding into the pummeling chorus. As the first single from the album, it is equally as accessible as ‘Copy of A’, with Reznor seemingly focusing his song writing into fast-paced electronic rock that hits the point and doesn’t get too lost beneath beeps, distorted noises, synths and hums.
The upbeat pop-like songs don’t stop there. ‘All Time Low’ sees Reznor breaking new ground, using a guitar line in the verse straight from funk, meanwhile an array of electronics tweet and chirp. ‘Everything’ is easily the most pop-like NIN have ever sounded; bright major chords dance around the beat and a refrain of ‘shake, shake, shake’ rings out in the chorus. If you aren’t smiling and nodding you head like Churchill the dog by the end, then I’m afraid there’s something wrong with you.
There are also more reserved tracks, requiring multiple listens to reveal themselves. The fourth track ‘Find My way’ sees Reznor revisiting textures that could have been taken directly from ‘Ghosts’. Although the oddly chilling backdrop is ever-present, the song deviates from Ghosts by finding a structure and melody, carrying itself easily to the finish. ‘Disappointed’ is a relatively sparse track featuring droning, grunge vocals and howling synths before opening up into something resembling a dance track. The first half of ‘Various Methods of Escape’ is one of the weaker parts of the album; not quite able to sustain the low key vocals on top of the drum beat in the verses and a chorus which is pretty non-distinct too. However the track brightens up half way through, providing the punch and interesting instrumentation which the first half was lacking.
‘Satellite’ kicks off the second half of the album with minimalistic beeps and an electronic drum beat. Reznor opts for a mix of whispered and distorted vocals, keeping what is one of the most linear tracks from dropping flat. ‘Running’ is a very engaging track, mixing musical styles at will, from moody soundscapes, through to club-like beats, via harsh guitars and out of breath refrains. ‘I Would For You’ continues the trend with an overload of bass in the aggressive verses, juxtaposed by a bright chorus, sounding like sections from two completely different songs. Finally the album closes with the stripped back ‘While I’m Still Here’ fading into aptly named ‘Black Noise’, with tumultuous distortion and sonic chaos.
‘Hesitation Marks’ is everything a Nine Inch Nails fan would have wanted it to be, short from being The Fragile Part 2. There are the accessible, stadium ready hard rock tunes, as well as the deeper textured tracks with all of the bizarre electrical noise as standard. Trent Reznor hasn’t made a greatest hits record though; the new sound is clearly different, relying more on dance beats and driving bass lines than isolated industrial sounds. The album isn’t a natural progression from ‘Year Zero’ and ‘The Slip’, but more of tangent, combining and updating the best aspects of ‘The Fragile’ and ‘The Downward Spiral’ into a more focused collection. ‘Hesitation Marks’ is easily the best NIN album this side of the millennium, equating beauty and aggression perfectly. My early visit to HMV was well worth it.
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