Nine Inch Nails, Hesitation Marks

Five years is short for a hiatus. More and more bands are finishing their careers later on and then coming back, say 10 or 11 years later. Some of them even just get back together for one 2 minute performance and then go back into hiding, as not to foreshadow what other artists have accomplished. When it comes to Trent Reznor, despite the hiatus he didn’t stop working. He scored two of the best films of the last five years with collaborator Atticus Ross. But it seems that Reznor couldn’t leave the Nine Inch Nails name behind (and why would he, since the past has proven its worth), and we’re gifted with Hesitation Marks , a record five years in the making.

Reznor has learned a lot and experienced different kinds of successes with his work alongside Ross, and it shows throughout the new NIN record. This is a cleaner, smoother style for the band. As a fan of the more ambient electronic music that Reznor has been working on lately (Ghosts included), I was pleased to hear a softer, more illustrious style abounding during Hesitation Marks. Several tracks lack the grinding guitars and intensity of previous recordings, but songs like “Copy of A” and the lead single “Came Back Haunted” are a brilliant new interpretation of what Reznor can accomplish under the name of NIN. There’s a deeper, more industrial electronic sound littered throughout the new record, something that was seen regularly on classic albums like The Downward Spiral and Year Zero , but in a different way. Where the previous records were in your face and forceful, songs on Hesitation Marks carry the sound through soaring synths and introspective lyrics.

The older style is definitely present, whether in the haunting atmosphere of “Various Methods of Escape” or the fast-paced nature of “I Would For You”. The latter features an off-tune guitar that quickly comes in and leads right up to an almost satisfying climax before Reznor’s screams cut it off. Reznor’s vocals also are better than ever, on tracks like “Find My Way” with some soft reverb over top a track similar to something right out of The Social Network. This new record reminds me a lot of the Atoms for Peace album released earlier this year by Thom Yorke. There are obvious differences and similarities, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn Yorke was in the studio with Reznor, as some of the beats and melodies bring that groove in. The final two tracks, “While I’m Still Here” and “Black Noise” bleed through into each other for a five minute climax that finishes with much anticipation.

This is an impressive comeback for Reznor and the NIN crew. What will be even more interesting will be to see the super group he’s put together to tour this fall and over 2014, with members of Jane’s Addiction, King’s Crimson, and Telefon Tel Aviv. It’ll be nice to see Reznor behind a microphone again, despite how much I love him behind a computer.

Justin Mabee