5 years ago Nine Inch Nails (NIN) announced a hiatus—one that seemed indefinite as it was followed closely by a farewell tour. Bursting from the shadows comes Hesitation Marks, an all too appropriate title for a musical act perpetually flirting with its own demise.
After the release of their 2008 offering, NIN seemed destined to “Slip” from Alt-Rock royalty to ancient musical legend. Fans were left with (inevitably unfounded*) anxiety about the bands future (*after all, Reznor and company have averaged 3+ years between releases, so an “indefinite hiatus” should have been anything but). Perhaps the only thing more gut wrenching was the prospect of a new record after such a “long” absence.
Fans rejoice, Hesitation Marks is on point—lyrically, musically and artistically, Nine Inch Nails are triumphant. Reznor’s meticulous and demanding professional tendencies are evidenced by the high production value and the purposeful and intelligent—and most importantly, cohesive—layers that are at work. As is the case with the brightest of spots in the NIN discography, Hesitation Marks is conceptually driven and self-reflexive, while remaining macrocosmically aware and powerful. The personal is the collective, the mind is the body is societal hierarchies is a copy of a copy of a…
After the sinister instrumental “Eater of Dreams” introduces listeners to the tormented psyche that birthed the record, “Copy of A” begins to construct the dualities and multiplicities Reznor dedicates his album to. Taken at face value, it’s a track about consumerism and materiality and the mindless repetition we’re all subject too—but on a microcosmic level the pieces are all perpetual reproductions as well. The soul, the brain, the body, and the governmental institutions that put “your finger on the trigger” compose a churning, interconnected machine, like self-replicating Russian egg dolls.
The album becomes a piece of meta-musical brilliance as Reznor the artist becomes part of the overbearing political system, manipulating the layered composition of his music, and by extension his own mind–and his listeners. Moreover, there is hardly a style more fitting to the concept than the industrial electronica that NIN created and propagated. Still, Reznor isn’t content to regurgitate the same anxieties that artists have frequently grappled with. He disrupts cyclicality to produce cadence of something much more sinister and scathing: “I’m just / a copy of a / copy of a–”.
On an album (at least partially) concerned with waking from a socially induced reverie, Reznor is extremely self-aware. Famous for breaking down “the fourth wall” with his free releases, fan-mixed master tracks, and various artistic statements, this time around Reznor turns his album into a character. A character conceptualized by a character conceptualized by a—you get the picture. “Various Methods of Escape” describes the destruction of his album, and thus himself: “an effigy…a statement so bold” repeating, like a “line of lyric looping in [his] head”.
It is this kind of cohesive, narrative structure NIN fans have come to appreciate: music that is not only music in its own right, but an artistic experience and a cultural statement and Reznor hasn’t missed a beat these 5 years—literally, as Hesitation Marks in many ways dissects the past, present and future of NIN as much as it does Reznor’s own psychoses, or those social ones we’re currently contending with.
Sonically too, the album revisits the essence of Nine Inch Nails without sounding stale. The music is weighty; it’s dark and sinister and moves you physically–almost in anxious discomfort–as much as it does emotionally and intellectually. That’s not to say that the music isn’t enjoyable to listen to—those physical itches translate to real and true expressions of musical contentment. It’s impossible not to bob your head: nodding in conceptual agreement, and also musical satisfaction.
The album may not feature tracks as danceable as “Hand that Feeds”, or as high-energy as “1,000,000” but Hesitation Marks is a brilliant return for a group fans anxiously heeded. That being said, the album refuses to let you exhale in relief, begging for your undivided attention. It’s an artistic success (with an array of releases and accompanying cover art no less), and fans and audiophiles alike will be pleased with the thoughtful and poetic construction we’ve been given.
7.5-inch nails out of 10
Sample the lead cut from the album “Came back Haunted” below
- Nine Inch Nails Review Royale: Hesitation Marks (littlebylisten.com)
- What Have You Done For Us Lately, Trent Reznor? (fresh1027.cbslocal.com)
- Nine Inch Nails – “Hesitation Marks” – ALBUM REVIEW (jakobsalbumreviews.wordpress.com)
- Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks Review (thereviewbuster.wordpress.com)