Music, Print, Reviews September 18, 2013

Album Review: Nine Inch Nails – “Hesitation Marks”

by James Garcia

ninhesitationmarks1A scar left behind after an attempted suicide is known as a “hesitation mark.”

Trent Reznor’s hesitation mark is his infamous band’s latest LP release. Nine Inch Nail’s Hesitation Marks, released September 3rd, is the first release under the NIN name since 2008’s The Slip.

Reznor’s music was always so full of hatred, solipsism and self-loathing, I’m pretty sure everyone thought he was going to kill himself. Between his anger and past drug addictions, I think everyone is just surprised that he now has a supermodel wife, two kids and is a well-respected soundtrack composer (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Social Network).

Hesitation Marks is a strange reflection of his altered, perhaps “matured” mental state. Another striking difference from his previous albums is the lack of heavily distorted guitars, grinding bass guitars, and real drum kits (see: “March of the Pigs” from 1994’s The Downward Spiral).

Even from his debut album, Pretty Hate Machine (1989), he has always pushed electronic music by creating wildly dark digital samples. But he typically integrated it with metal instrumentation to create the searing soundscapes that blows holes in subs and breaks the minds of inmates. (The cutthroat “Somewhat Damaged,” from 1999’s The Fragile was supposedly on a list of songs used to brainwash Guantanamo Bay prisoners. “Tear a hole exquisite red / Fuck the rest and stab it dead.”)

This album is mostly electronic and the guitar work that is present is pretty low key, almost poppy (the third single “Everything” almost sounds like a pop punk song: “I am free / I am home” doesn’t sound like anything the Trent that made me hate everything would ever say) and real drum kits are rarely heard, with exceptions (such as in the buildup of “Various Methods of Escape”). But the moments are fleeting and never reach the heights of even the lesser angry tracks on previous releases. I wouldn’t call any of the songs bad, but none of them reach out and kick you in the taint.

The first single “Came Back Haunted,” which was officially released back in June, making diehard fans furious with anticipation, is probably the most edgy song on the album. It’s a damn good song, reminiscent of “The Warning” a brilliant track from Year Zero (2007). And the lyrics feel genuine still.

Reznor claims he was channeling the style of The Downward Spiral, but most songs on this album sound more like, strangely enough, Ghosts I-IV, which was completely instrumental and practically a nightmare-inducing soundtrack (a fantastic thing to put on in the background when you just need something sinister to drive your mood, without stealing focus with lyrics). “Disappointed,” “Satellite,” “The Eater of Dreams,” and “Black Noise” are really just that: black noise. It’s compelling and discomforting, for sure. But I am really missing the epic life-destroying songs like “Eraser” or “The Perfect Drug” (from the soundtrack of David Lynch’s film Lost Highway).

Speaking of David Lynch, the music video for “Came Back Haunted” is quite fun — as long as you don’t have epilepsy. I hate to admit it because of how much respect I have for Reznor and his work in and out of NIN and with only listening to the album about 10 times through so far, I feel a bit disappointed with this album. But in all fairness, I should have seen it coming…

“I said goodbye but I / I had to try / I came back haunted / Came back haunted / Everywhere now reminding me / I am not who I used to be…”

I hope everyone got tickets to see them in October in Denver. No? Well, fuck you too.

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