Nine Inch Nails: Hesitation Marks – album review

Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks (Columbia Records)  

CD / DL / LP

Out Now

Hesitation Marks is the eighth studio album by US industrial rock giants Nine Inch Nails & their first for 3 years. So after a 20 year career to where have NIN brought us? Read on to find out. 

Nine Inch Nails hit the hammer back with Hesitation Marks. Iconic front man Trent Reznor has refused to be pinned down to one genre. Some think of Reznor’s band as an institution on alternative rock radio. Others classify Nine Inch Nails as a heavy metal band. Still, die hard fans see the group as an underground industrial dance machine, a symbol of — now grown up — teenage angst. After twenty years of kicking out aggressive singles on rock radio and one more mainstream single “Closer”, what have Nine Inch Nails become?

Hesitation Marks tells us that Nine Inch Nails have fully established themselves as a long-term music project, poised for a continued and monolithic success. Joining the ranks of cross generational bands like Metallica, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin. Like it or not, Nine Inch Nails is an ever evolving juggernaut of mainstream rock and roll. Like Reznor’s role models — David Bowie and David Burne — the tracks on Hesitation Marks lay out an always accessible and edgy vibe.

Everything on the album sounds like the type of new ground only a pop music master could forge: new and familiar at the same time.

The album exudes philosophical confidence. Reznor and Ross examine what their music project could be without compromising musical sensibility. Nothing feels cheap or second guessed. The songs are carefully crafted and the sonics are perfectly balanced.

Nine Inch Nails have never been known for strong melodic content— there has always been the predominance of a D minor scale and heavy dance beats. However, Hesitation Marks has turned a lot of heads with the upbeatish song “Everything”. Many fans were disappointed by the new sound. How could a band, which had become their identity of rebellious anger, have written something that sounds so happy? “Everything” pushes Nine Inch Nails into a new musical space, which some fans thought was too mainstream, but the track works best as a piece of the album.

Hesitation Marks is meant to be listened to in its entirety, a linear experience, not on a track by track basis. “Everything” combines punchy thrash chorus’ with post-punk style verses and fits into the experience of listening to the album as a whole. It might shock the Nine Inch Nails diehards on first listen, but fans will be found dancing to it under the huge stadium lights of Nine Inch Nails colossal live show.

Keyboard player and programmer Atticus Ross has been a main stay in Nine Inch Nails for more than a decade. Atticus and Reznor also composed the soundtracks to The Social Network and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The duo, with the added studio tricks of prolific mixing engineer Alan Moulder, have shaped Hesitation Marks into a timeless record.

Guitar player Adrian Belew — who has worked with the Talking Heads, Frank Zappa, King Crimson, and David Bowie — makes a strong appearance on the record. Adrian also played guitar on the infamous William Shatner and Henry Rollins track, “I Can’t Get Behind That”.

Some of Belew’s best funk links can be heard on Hesitation Marks “All Time Low” and “In Two”. The latest from Nine Inch Nails hits all the categories that the band has been labeled over the years. Hesitation Marks is a dynamic rock and roll record with epic moments of slamming electro-clash and monumental song writing. It’s dark and fun as hell.

Nine Inch Nails website can be found here.

All words by Chris Demarcus. More writing by Chris can be found at his author’s archive.

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