Hesitation Marks review by Nine Inch Nails

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  • Released: Sep 2, 2013
  • Sound: 7
  • Lyrics: 9
  • Overall Impression: 7
  • Reviewer's score: 7.7 Good
  • Users' score: 8.2 (94 votes)
Nine Inch Nails: Hesitation Marks

Sound — 7
NIN was formed in 1988 by Trent Reznor, and since that time he has remained the sole creative force of the project and the only permanent member, preferring to use a touring band with revolving members. NIN released their first album, "Pretty Hate Machine," in 1989, which helped to popularize industrial music and start NIN on their path to be one of the most internationally recognized industrial acts in the world. Fast forward to 2013 and we have the release of their eighth studio album, "Hesitation Marks." There are 14 tracks, with a total runtime of just a little over an hour. While NIN retains its basic identity, new areas are explored with less distorted guitar than some previous releases and slightly more electronica elements vs. industrial. Notably, Trent Reznor worked with long-time collaborator, Atticus Ross, as well as Alan Moulder and using Adrian Belew (Frank Zappa, King Crimson, Adrian Belew Trio as well as having previously worked with NIN) as a studio musician for most of the guitar parts. Unfortunately, Adrian Belew will not be going on tour with NIN for the album.

The album opens up with a very short track (under a minute) called "The Eater of Dreams" which includes what sounds to be throat singing with a simple melody running over it. The second track on the album, "Copy of A," was first made available in August and sets the mood for most of the remainder of the album, tackling the subject of identity. The third track, "Came Back Haunted," has already been heard by most people as it was the most heavily promoted single from the album and has received a good deal of airplay on the radio, as well. "Came Back Haunted" is a great track in the way that it adds and removes layers to the music, with very dynamic textures. Next up is "Find My Way," which is definitely one of the most haunting songs on the album which builds to a crescendo before the abrupt end. The track "All Time Low" is the longest track on the album, clocking in at just over 6 minutes, and it is also the most dynamic track on the album. "Everything" has the most interesting sound to me, as the music is so happy it is almost bubbly which is really different for NIN, and ends on a very positive note, "I am whole/ I believe/ I am whole/ I am free/ I am whole/ I can see/ always here/ finally/ I am whole/ I believe/ I am whole/ I am free." It almost makes me wonder if Trent Reznor is on antidepressants, but honestly I still dig the song. "Satellite" is another really interesting track that kind of touches more on "With Teeth" type of NIN sound. The track "Various Methods of Escape" is probably the most demonstrative of the dynamics in volume that NIN is known for using, as the first time I listened to the album was fairly quietly, and the second time much louder and I picked up a lot more going on in the song than I had heard the first time. "Running" does a great job of musically feeling like running at a kind of weird gallop, with the line, "I'm running out of places I can hide from this" staying with me long after the track was over. "I Would For You" is the track most reminiscent of NIN's earlier work and definitely has the most teeth of any song on the album, though the chorus definitely goes more towards the new direction NIN has taken. When the track "In Two" first started I was momentarily transported to a long ago day when I first heard "Pretty Hate Machine." "While I'm Still Here" is possibly the most minimalistic track on the whole album, and this is another one that I turned up not to miss any of the more subtle nuanced stuff, and surprisingly it had some brass horns in it, which may be the first time NIN has ever used those instruments in his music before? The next track "Black Noise" kind of just continues where "While I'm Still Here" leaves off, and you could easily miss that the tracks have actually changed, but now a strong feeling of menace comes into the music building to a crescendo of tension before abruptly ending the album. As a whole the album was an awesome experience, and the production and performance are great throughout. This is just NIN doing what they do, which is to create great soundscapes and songs.

Lyrics — 9
Trent Reznor has never been the most accomplished vocalist, but instead he has been a very expressive vocalist and by this I mean his vocals act as an emotional vehicle for each track. Maybe the emotions he's pushing with his vocals aren't necessarily emotions that people want to confront, but that is what makes NIN who they are. The lyrical themes of "Hesitation Marks" focus on catharsis, self-awareness and identity and probably most bluntly on the track "Find My Way": "Now my path has gone astray/ I'm just tryin' to find my way/ Wandered here from far away/ I'm just tryin' to find my way/ You were never meant to see/ All those things inside of me/ Now that you've gone away/ I'm just tryin' to find my way/ I have made a great mistake/ Pray The Lord my soul to take/ Ghosts of who we used to be/ I can feel them come for me/ It looks as though they're here to stay/ I'm just tryin' to find my way." Another good example of the lyrical themes of identity, specifically centered on trying to find an original voice in the creative process is "Copy of A": "I am just a copy of a copy of a copy/ Everything I say has come before/ Assembled into something into something into something/ I am never certain anymore I am just a shadow of a shadow of a shadow/ Always trying to catch up with myself/ I am just an echo of an echo of an echo/ Listening to someone's cry for help/ Look what you had to start/ Why all the change of heart/ Well you need to play your part/ A copy of a copy of a/ Look what you gone and done/ Well that doesn't sound like fun/ So I'm not the only one/ A copy of a copy of/ I am little pieces/ Pieces that were picked up on the way/ Invented with a purpose/ A purpose that's become quite clear today." NIN lyrics have always succeeded in really getting into my head, and causing some kind of self-examination or observation of the world at large, and these continue to have that power.

Overall Impression — 7
In my opinion, NIN has always been amazing for the way they use both the sound and the emptiness in their tracks to pull emotions from the listener and to almost force the listener to empathize with the song. While "Hesitation Marks has less bite than some of their previous material, they still retain their core of pulling the listener in to the song. And while "Hesitation Marks" isn't the next "Pretty Hate Machine," "The Downward Spiral" or "With Teeth" it definitely sits nicely within the NIN discography. My favorite tracks on the album are "All Time Low," "Everything" and "I Would For You." I've personally enjoyed every album that Adrian Belew has been a part of with NIN over the other releases (except "Pretty Hate Machine" remains my favorite release), so it is unfortunate that he will not tour with NIN but I am happy he did take part in the recording of the album. I look forward to see what NIN does next, as this has been a very interesting album to listen to.

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33 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Good review! It took me a few listens but now I really like the album. Best songs are Copy of A, Came Back Haunted, All Time Low, I Would For You and Various Methods Of Escape.
    i love the album. its a great addition to all the halos. this is absolutely the best album trent has put together since the fragile in 1999. i like the rock-ability nin has had in the past decade, but this is some root nin. cant wait to see them in brooklyn!!
    I'll admit, I was skeptical when I heard "Came Back Haunted" and "Copy Of A", but I have to say this is easily the best NIN album since The Fragile. Those songs just don't work as singles; they have to be heard in context with the rest of the album. This album is actually much more focused than NIN's previous 3 records, and it actually feels like one big musical statement rather than a collection of songs (which is what his last 3 records felt like to me). One thing I really like about this album is that it feels fresh; it doesn't feel like Trent is repaving the road. It sounds new and different from his previous work, but still unmistakably NIN. Honestly wasn't expecting much from this album, but I was surprised in a good way! Keep it up, Trent!
    Completely agree with this, especially the musical statement/collection of songs part.
    The second half of the album is stunning. The few released I was a bit skeptical of and I still am not a big fan, but Trent really made something consistent and great with some of these songs. It may not be the angsty angry Trent but I think he finally stopped trying to connect back to his old days and moved onto something really new. Main criticism I have is that the song structures get repetitive at times.
    Absolutely loving this album so far. It has some really great tracks on it that are similar to older stuff and some new sounds. Listening to all the tracks in one go is a haunting slightly trippy experience which I love!
    My fanboy part is hoping that Trent's girlfriend cheated on him with Atticus Ross so he can start writing the usual NiN again... just saying...
    Been a fan since 91 at the tender age of 13 and agree with the many posters saying this is the best release since The Fragile. It just gets better and more interesting with every listen.
    Let me start by saying that I absolutely love this album. However, am I alone in wanting a return to acoustic drums?
    I wouldn't mind hearing some. I think the drums in The Downward Spiral were amazing. Eraser?! Shitballs, that just works.
    i also think that if you are a nin fan coming in, you will enjoy this a lot more than someone who has not really been listening to nin very long. nin isnt for everybody, lets be honest.
    Record of the year. A couple of flaws, but minor really, and people slag REznor for lyrical weakness but print out some lyrics by Kanye or Jay Z, I don't see that they're much better. 'All Time Low' and 'Satellite' make fear and loathing danceable and fun.
    Not my record of the year (that would be Like Clockwork) but it's definitely in the top 5, NIN still have it.
    A copy of a copy of a copy of a good Nine Inch Nails album. Trent... sorta lost it here.
    I sort of agree. I only gave it a quick listen, so maybe that will change. But on the first run through, I didn't really like it. Just didn't seem to grab my attention.
    It's a grower; there aren't any "real" singles on it, it has to be digested as a whole.
    It's tough to be blown away from the album on first listen, as the two preceding commenters note. You really have to give it several listens before you can say for sure what you think of it. My initial thoughts were that the album is front-heavy, but on subsequent listens I have come to rate the second half of the album much more highly, and now I think it may just be his best album since The Fragile.
    That was my exact thought too, I thought it was front loaded at first (which, in hindsight, is probably because pretty much all of the songs that came out before the release are on the first half), but now I really enjoy the whole thing.
    Like third(eye said; it's definitely a grower. I wasn't blown away on first listen, but now I can't turn the album off! I think the only two songs that jumped out at me on first listen were "Came Back Haunted" and "All Time Low." Oh, and "Everything" for, uh, other reasons... (I even like that song a lot now too). But give the album a few tries and then see how you feel about it!
    Just being weird here, but to me, it feels like a continuation of How To Destroy Angels latest release, which again, feels like a continuation of Year Zero.
    I see the similarities, but I don't know if I'd call them "continuations". If I had to pick one NIN album that this reminded me of, I'd pick Year Zero, but it's still a VERY different album.
    especially because year zero is a conceptual album based on a daydream of the continuation of our society, bringing the end of the world.
    i disagree, but see what you mean. if you put it that way you can make a case that any follow up music sounds like the previous, unless an artists does a complete 180