Sunday, 6 October 2013

Nine Inch Nails' 'Hesitation Marks' - Album Review

After putting the band on hold in 2009 I was surprised when, earlier this year, Trent Reznor annouced that he was working on a new Nine Inch Nails album and tour. Hesitation Marks is that album and it sees Reznor breaking some new ground and keeping his legacy fresh. For the last few years he has been working on his film scores and his other band, How to Destroy Angels, to great success but I am glad that he still feels Nine Inch Nails to be a relevant force in the music world. Each previous album has had it's own personal identity and Hesitation Marks is no exception. It is much more laid back than previous releases and relies more on electronics and ambiance than walls of heavy guitars and distortion. In this respect, it owes more to the softer side of 2007's Year Zero and 2008's instrumental work Ghosts I-IV than say the industrial madness of 1994's The Downward Spiral or the raw rocker that was 2005's With Teeth. I think that this album probably represents the mental state of Reznor at the moment. He seems much happier with his life currently and I am glad that he does not feel that he has to make angry music for the sake of it. Hesitation Marks has more of an optimistic feel about it than any other Nine Inch Nails release and that sets it apart from the rest. As with most of the band's previous albums, Reznor performs most of the material himself but a few choice guests make their mark here too. From the sublime - Adrian Belew (King Crimson) - to the rediculous - Lindsey Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac) - the guests on the album all add something to the overall sound. Despite it's slightly more uplifting nature, Hesitation Marks is still a pretty dense album and will probably take a long time to fully reveal all it's hidden secrets. It certainly has an air of mystery about it that keeps me coming back for more.

After the short instrumental opening The Eater of Dreams, which is a collaboration between Reznor and frequent live band member Alessandro Cortini, the album gets started with Copy of A. This is very synth driven and sets the tone for the rest of the album. The melodies in this song are very infectious - both Reznor's vocals and the catchy synth loops - and will stick in your head for ages. It slowly builds up, adding many layers of sound, in classic Reznor style and contains all the halmarks that made Nine Inch Nails so popular in the first place. Single Came Back Haunted follows and continues with the synth-heavy sound of the previous song. It is another ear-worm that follows the more tradition verse-chorus structure of pop music. The atmospherics get much denser during the choruses and give the illusion of 'heavy-ness' without using big guitars or drums. It also has a pretty crazy music video that was directed by alternative film-maker David Lynch. Find My Way is a classic Nine Inch Nails ballad in the vein of Something I Can Never Have (from 1989's Pretty Hate Machine). The distant-sounding piano is a trademark part of the band's sound and works well here. Reznor's slower, quieter tracks have always been strong and the foreboding atmosphere always creates an unease in the air. The next highlight is Disappointed. It is still very synthy but some distorted guitar gives the song a very disorienting feel in places. Reznor's voice sounds so strained here and he has always used that to good effect throughout his career. There are even strings on the track, and they work excellently! Everything is up next and this is really the only out-and-out rocker on the album. It is simple, to the point and does well to get the blood pumping mid-album. I imagine that this song would be very good live, as the crowd could really get into it.

Satellite follows and feels quite funky. Sparse synths and distored bass drive the song and it feels like something that could have been on Year Zero. Big bass has always been a big part of Nine Inch Nails' sound and I am glad that it is used to good effect here. It also has a pretty catchy chorus that sounds a bit like something that Depeche Mode might have come up with. After this song, the album goes down hill a little in my opinion. As with many albums, the first half has all the best songs and things get a little more uninspired from now on. Various Methods of Escape is quite cool though. The guitar-led chorus moments are excellent with Reznor employing some nice falsetto vocals in places, but the verses seem a little bland. It picks up again towards the end though when the guitars really kick in and we get another, bigger, chorus. I Would for You is also pretty good. Again, it has some nice strings adding atmosphere in places and actually features some live drums courtesy of Ilan Rubin (Lostprophets; The New Regime; Angels & Airwaves; Paramore). In Two and While I'm Still Here seem to fly past without being anything remarkable. I feel that many albums these days are just a little too long for their own good and a bit of fat-trimming here would have definately benefited the album overall in my opinion. Still, I do not think that this detracts from the quality of many of the songs here. The instrumental Black Noise brings the album to a static-filled close which seems appropriate. Hesitation Marks is an odd album and probably is not the sort of thing that many fans were expecting (or wanting) to hear from the band. However, those who have followed the band for a while should realise that each Nine Inch Nails album is different and it is best to listen with an open mind and go in not knowing what to expect. This is a very worthy album that, as I said earlier, is likely to reveal itself even more over time. Definately one to check out and invest some time in!

The album was released on 2nd September 2013 via Columbia Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Came Back Haunted.

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