Nine Inch Nails hammers back to basics with new album, members
Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor has made himself known for things beyond his diverse catalog of post-industrial takeaways. The aging vocalist has intentionally leaked concert recordings, carried on heated feuds with major labels and on one occasion, angered fatcats over at Fox News by issuing a foul-mouthed cease-and-desist letter. Albeit interesting and massive in scope, the material released under the NIN name over the last decade has remained two steps’ behind Reznor’s independent escapades. But with “Hesitation Marks,” the band’s latest release on Columbia, Nine Inch Nails thrashes back with sounds that attempt to win back their loyal fanbase.
Reznor, a Cleveland native, initially founded the group as his personal foray into industrial rock. “Pretty Hate Machine” (1989) saw qualities from pioneering groups of the genre, the avant-noise of Ministry and metallic sounds of German act Einsturzende Neubauten made accessible by Reznor’s seething vocals. But this profile grew tiring for the songwriter, who later developed tastes for electronica, classic alternative and, with 2008’s “Ghosts I-IV,” post-rock and ambient soundscapes. This attention-deficit behavior has resulted in Reznor being the only consistent member throughout the group’s 25-year history, but the metamorphoses have also filled the back catalog with ear candy, and “Hesitation Marks” is hardly a mere notch in the belt.
This light of positivity, which dimmed as a result of “The Slip” (2008), stems from reversion to the original Nine Inch Nails sound. During the band’s infancy, Reznor often translated as aggressive and primal, weaving intricate tales of death, destruction, fear and loathing. These same sounds populate “Hesitation Marks” while melding with life lessons Reznor has picked up in his musical repertoire. “Copy of A,” the album’s second single, melds pulsing, analog synth beats with Reznor’s outspoken views. Several deep tracks, namely “Satellite” and “Running,” follow in similar fashion.
But the album’s vibe doesn’t generate feelings of tiresome monotony. “Hesitation Marks,” like bits from NIN’s heyday, is eclectic enough to keep the listener from eagerly reaching for another title or hitting “next” on Spotify. But what makes this album so impressive – music aside – is the ethic it presents. For years Reznor’s material felt pitiful and void, a product of a songwriter trying to keep going despite a calling to temporarily cease operations for a time of reflection. The group’s 2009 hiatus came reluctantly to Reznor, who resigned himself to film soundtracks until he was able to fill his signature group with new faces. No matter how much the silence may have disillusioned the fanbase, “Hesitation Marks” is evidence of the band’s much-needed rejuvenation.
Contrarians have already pointed out that Reznor may have plans to recycle the act’s old sounds, others said this return-to-form represents a new Renaissance for the new wave-inspired behemoth. After stress, non-music affairs and creative stagnancy forced the group to founder, Nine Inch Nails has finally come up for air. And what a breath it is.