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.