Music Reviews
Hesitation Marks

Nine Inch Nails Hesitation Marks

(Columbia Records) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10
In his 25-year-career, Trent Reznor has found solace in rebellion. Whether it was his fight against TVT Records in the early 90s, his battle with addiction in the second half of the decade, his fight with pre-conceived notions of what he should sound like or his attack on the music industry all together, the mastermind behind Nine Inch Nails has taken on every obstacle and opponent in his path. With his latest release, Hesitation Marks, Reznor is tackling one of his biggest challenges: his own past. Nine Inch Nails' first album in five years is an attempt by Reznor to find the balance between the person he used to be when he recorded The Downward Spiral with who is he today. The album art by Russell Mills, who also supplied the images for that 1994 album, helps to create a solid line to the past. Just like that album challenged expectations as to what Nine Inch Nails can be, so does Hesitation Marks.
After the creeping The Eater of Dreams, Copy of A evolves from a bare bones beat to a cacophony of percussion and barely-perceptible guitars. Within one song, Reznor shows the EDM generation how they did it back in his day. Came Back Haunted follows with a jittery keyboard that leads into a definitive Nine Inch Nails chorus that fans will shout along to for years. Another future NIN nation anthem is I Would For You, one of those "romantic" Reznor songs that will recall The Fragile, though the organic instruments of that track have been upgraded with swarming synths and scratching guitars. The real star of the track, though, is the vocal performance, during which Reznor goes from low-key to scared to a full-on shout for the chorus.
"Ghosts of who we used to be/I can feel them come for me" Reznor sings on Find My Way, over touches of icy piano keys. Not only has the journey from yesterday to today left him disoriented, but he is not even sure if he's gotten through all the consequences for his sins. On In Two, he's not even sure if he can clearly separate the past with his current life, with lines like "it's getting harder to tell the two of you apart." While the heavy beats may feel like an amped-up version of How to destroy angels_, the album continually challenges as you move down the tracklist. All Time Low has a wriggling guitar part that leads to a seductive Reznor singing in falsetto or a low growl. It's easily the funkiest and sexiest track he's down since Closer. It's likely no coincidence that both songs come in at number five on their LPs. Further on, Running layers multiple rhythms, including what sounds like a shaker and steel drums, over sharp cutting guitars. Still, not all experiments are created equal. Everything, with its major chord punk-pop is an attempt for Reznor fit a square puzzle piece into a circle. The moment his singing comes in, along with those bright chords, it's difficult not to cringe a little. 
By the time the album fades into Black Noise, Reznor has once again flipped over the chessboard and started the game anew with Nine Inch Nails. While not his best album, Hesitation Marks shows that he has no intention to fall back on old formulas. He may often write about his various challenges, but it's through those experiences that he keeps challenging us as well.