Nine Inch Nails get back to basics on ‘Hesitation Marks’

Columbia Records/Courtesy

Related Posts

Nine Inch Nails’ Hesitation Marks marks a return to their roots.

In the Nine Inch Nails’ more than 20 years of existence, their albums have become time capsules for Trent Reznor’s life. From his youthful angst in Pretty Hate Machine to his period of drug addiction and depression in The Fragile, Reznor never has hesitated to explore the darkest void of the human condition.

After a three-year hiatus from the band, Reznor returned with a new album, Hesitation Marks, showing what NIN still has much to offer musically and lyrically. While it is not as emotionally raw as The Downward Spiral or as thematically resonant as Year Zero, Hesitation Marks is one of NIN’s more multifaceted and grounded works in recent memory.

From the beginning, the album retains the band’s signature industrial riffs and fast electronic beats in its first single, “Came Back Haunted.” The song’s seething chorus echoes a sense of brooding and apprehension — a major part of the band’s ethos.

While tracks like “Came Back Haunted” are reminiscent of older and more venerable albums such as The Fragile, other tracks are quite dissimilar and challenge the standard musicality of the band. “Find My Way” features a slow and sentimental ballad with religious imagery, alluding to God’s lambs that have gone astray. In an even more jarring departure from the band’s musical style, “Everything” is a fast-tempo, almost pop-punk song with seemingly optimistic lyrics: “I have survived everything.” However, the upbeat tone is quickly revealed as a facade, as Reznor’s vocals sound increasingly aggressive and raucous.

Hesitation Marks is a return to a major label, Columbia, which eschews the independent distribution method of the band’s previous two albums, Ghosts I-IV and The Slip. The band are releasing two versions of the album — the “Loud” and “Audiophile” versions — for online purchasers. Alan Moulder, the album’s mixer, stated on the NIN website that the “Audiophile” version will “retain the spatial relationship between instruments and the robust, grandiose sound.”

Reznor in the past has experimented with various online business models to offer fans incentives to buy albums. Among these were online packages in Ghosts I-IV that ranged from a free nine-track set to a $300 “Ultra-Deluxe Limited Edition” that included a vinyl set, the deluxe edition and two exclusive prints.

While the incentives for Hesitation Marks aren’t quite as elaborate, the “Audiophile” version gives the listener an opportunity to hear more authentic mixes that mimic the studio experience. This marks a subtle and closer musical relationship between the listener and the artist — a small but crucial step toward establishing more progressive and mutually beneficial models in the digital age.