Nov 2013 05

Nine Inch Nails


Trent Reznor has been one of the more polarizing forces in modern music, propelling his band Nine Inch Nails to the heights of superstardom while enduring the ultimate depths of human experience. His 1994 album, The Downward Spiral still stands as a landmark outing giving voice to a troubled generation in need of a new sound to express its disdain. Through alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, critical scrutiny, and – what many would consider worst of all – backlash from his fans, he has always managed to survive and continue his creative endeavors, having earned himself numerous awards and accolades, and surely a place in music history. In 2009, after 20 years of the highs and lows of fame and especially the music industry, even going so far as to encourage audiences to freely download his music and material, he announced a hiatus for Nine Inch Nails. During this time, he married and undertook a new project with collaborators Atticus Ross, Rob Sheridan, and wife Mariqueen Maandig, under the name of How to Destroy Angels, as well as scoring David Fincher’s films The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Social Network, winning an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for the latter.

However, many suspected that it would only be a matter of time before Reznor would return to the brand for which he is most known, and sure enough in 2013, he proved those suspicions correct with the release of Hesitation Marks. Featuring artwork by Russell Mills (The Downward Spiral), and contributions from such notable guest musicians as Lindsey Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac), Pino Palladino (The Who), Ilan Rubin (Paramore), Joshua Eustis (Telefon Tel Aviv), and longtime collaborator Adrian Belew (King Crimson), Hesitation Marks signified not only the return of Nine Inch Nails, but also a paradigm shift in the sound, further emphasizing the act’s propensity for edgy sound design and melodic song structure with mass appeal. In lieu of an ordinary ReView of the record, ReGen Magazine spoke to various musicians and writers in order to cast a wider net on the public’s reaction to Hesitation Marks, supplying numerous unique perspectives on not only the album but on Nine Inch Nails as a whole.


“After 25 years of establishing himself as one of the pinnacle performers and shapers of the industrial rock genre as it is known today, Trent Reznor can arguably do whatever the hell he feels like. Hesitation Marks is a testament to this earned ability as Nine Inch Nails explores just how far out it can reach and blend and experiment. While it may not please the masses, Hesitation Marks is quite possibly one of Reznor’s most important works, showcasing not only his musical range but also the freedom he has earned. Bringing together such creative big hitters like Lindsay Buckingham, Adrian Belew, Pino Palladino, along with NIN familiars Alessandro Cortini, Ilan Rubin, and Joshua Eustis aides Reznor in his quest to venture out from his core sound, and these performers undoubtedly bring their own techniques and rich histories to the table.
Is this Nine Inch Nails’ most significant work to date? This writer says yes. While it may not establish a genre like previous albums have, Hesitation Marks is a milestone in Reznor’s creativity, originality, and freedom. It’s not a perfect album, but it’s wholly unique and masterfully constructed. Whether or not the fans embrace it, this is the state of something new and unchained for Reznor, and there’s no going back from here.”
-Zak Vaudo, ReGen Magazine


“Some think of Reznor’s band as an institution on alternative rock radio. Others classify Nine Inch Nails as a heavy metal band. Still, diehard fans see the group as an underground industrial dance machine, a symbol of – now grown up – teenage angst. After 20 years of kicking out aggressive single on rock radio and the mainstream single ‘Closer,’ what has NIN become?
Hesitation Marks tells us that NIN has been fully established 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, NIN is an ever evolving juggernaut of mainstream rock & roll. 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 without compromising musical sensibility. Nothing feels cheap or second guessed, the songs carefully crafted with perfect sonic balance.”
Hesitation Marks is meant to be listened to in its entirety; a linear experience, not on a track-by-track basis. It’s a dynamic rock & roll record with epic moments of slamming electroclash and monumental songwriting. It’s dark and fun as hell.”
-Chris DeMarcus, Stiff Valentine


“Upon hearing that Trent Reznor was set to make a comeback with a new album and tour, I was filled with mixed emotions. On one hand, a pioneer was returning to the stage, and on the other hand, Nine Inch Nails went out with a whimper due to weak releases toward the end. However, I have too much respect for Reznor not to give the new material a chance.
Upon listening to Hesitation Marks all the way through, I was shocked as to how unmoved I was by the entire album. Nothing really made me dance, move, sing, band or bob my head; the album was apathetic in itself. I considered the fact that I may have been expecting something else, something more NIN sounding; I wasn’t expecting another The Fragile or The Downward Spiral, but I was expecting to hear something more reminiscent of NIN. After hearing the album again, it seemed to be just a lackluster pop album with one good song, “Satellite.”
Aside from the newest album being a dud, Reznor’s attitude about the album was terrible. For years, he preached about illegal downloading and how it’s the right thing to do, and then turned around and told the world, ‘It’s $10 or go fuck yourself.’ That takes some nerve. I don’t blame him for signing to a label, but don’t be a hypocrite about it. Between NIN’s worst album to date and Reznor’s attitude about it, I honestly hope NIN hangs it up for good or comes back with an album so powerful it will make Pretty Hate Machine blush.”
-Grant V. Ziegler, ReGen Magazine/COMA Music Magazine


“Upon hearing that there was a new Nine Inch Nails album coming, we had the same hesitation as most people who are fans of The Downward Spiral era material. Having been disappointed by lackluster emotional expressions in the past, we were very surprised by what we heard in this new release. This isn’t just an artist trying to rehash past successes; this is genuine experimentation into musical realms that they have not tread on in quite the same way as before.
Listening to the band dip into interesting patterns of rhythmic progression and experiment with the range of textures in the sound while retaining a signature artistic “voice” is a large part of the pleasure of Hesitation Marks. While there may be a few tracks I could personally do without, overall, I think it’s a very good release. It’s nice to know that Nine Inch Nails still has solid albums left to give us.”
-Ben V., Ludovico Technique


“For the last 10 years or so, every time a new Nine Inch Nails album came out, I was always a little cautious. I tried not to be too optimistic; that’s only because it’s really been hit or miss with me for awhile. It seemed to me like the production team had kind of been in the soundtrack mode for a little too long as it was a bit too meandering and there were too many ‘soundscapes’ and not enough songwriting… which brings us to Hesitation Marks.
I love Hesitation Marks. It’s my favorite album since The Downward Spiral. There is actual songwriting and not just a bunch of random computer blips and blurps. The production and sound design is top notch. I like it because it’s not ‘safe.’ It’s varied and you might not ‘get it’ 100% on the first listen. Everything doesn’t sound the same from one song to another. There’s industrial funk on ‘All Time Low’ and acoustic guitars and a sax section on ‘While I’m Still Here.’ He’s singing falsetto on ‘In Two,’ and it just works. The only song that didn’t quite hit for me was ‘Everything,’ as it’s a little too major key and maybe a little too happy, while the choruses were just a little too noisy, even for Nine Inch Nails. But if Trent wants to put a semi-happy song in the middle of his album, who am I to fault him? Be happy, Trent!
Hesitation Marks is an album with depth. There are big moments and small, intimate moments, and everything in between. Thanks, Trent, for finding your way back!”
-Statik, Collide


“I listen to albums in such a different way from when I did 20 years ago… and so do others old enough to be around when Pretty Hate Machine came out, whether they realize it or not. People can’t hear Hesitation Marks, or frankly any other Reznor product, without a preconceived notion of ‘who it is’ that made what they are listening to, and that preconceived notion is based on interpretations of ‘who Reznor is.’ And since he’s such a complex figure, that’s one other reason why this album is so polarizing, because to some people, Reznor is a genius; to others, he is a god. To some, he is a sellout who ripped off Skinny Puppy and MINISTRY to get away from pop; to others, he is an innovator, and so on and so on. I told a friend recently that I thought the ultimate experiment for Reznor would be to put out a NIN record that was under a different name with a different singer and just get people’s reactions, not knowing it was him. It seemed silly, but like with U2, there is no way a fan can truly hear a new album from an artist once past a certain point, because there is too much history and expectation, whether they want there to be or not.
If something Reznor releases doesn’t hit me emotionally, I still at least appreciate it as a musician. Hesitation Marks has some really cool moments and some incredible gems that I know I’ll play over and over such as “I Would for You.” But as a record, I’m not sure I’ll play it beginning to end like I would Dark Side of the Moon, The Downward Spiral, Achtung Baby, or other epics that once I put in, I’ve got to hear the entire thing. But I don’t have to. Not every record has to be that way to be a good piece of work, and Hesitation Marks is a better record than most people could ever hope to make or release, with some clever moments and fun technological sounds and heartfelt phrases. If people could hear it the way they heard Pretty Hate Machine, before their brains developed their own ideas of who Reznor is to them, then they’d be saying it was an epic, genius record.”
-Bradley Bills, CHANT


“For many older fans, Nine Inch Nails and Trent Reznor feel like an old friend. You grew up together, you matured together, but eventually you grew apart. Nine Inch Nails was always one of your most popular friends, but that didn’t matter much to you because you still enjoyed your time together. One day, you notice that he’s spending more time with the popular crowd and he has less time for you and, slowly, he begins to act a bit different. As time goes on, you check in periodically on your old friend, catching up, seeing what he’s been up to, and unfortunately see how much has changed and how much you’ve grown apart. You admire his accomplishments, always wish him well, and may even feel a bit of pride in his success, but you still feel a nagging sorrow and longing for the friendship you once had. One day, your friend shows up with his new family and it casts your friend in this new light and you feel it to be a bookend to your time together and that your old friend is simply gone and the old times will forever just be a memory.
Still disheartened from his last visit, you feel little more than apathy when it’s time for your next catch up session, but when you show up, what you find surprises you. No family in tow and looking lean and vigorous, your friend suddenly seems to have the same spark you saw shortly before you grew apart and at first, you simply aren’t sure what to make of it. You still see evidence of the years apart in your friend, but he’s somehow managing to reignite an excitement in you thought long dead. He reminisces about old days and sounds very much like the friend you’ve missed all these years, but you’re still defensive and unwilling to set yourself up for disappointment. You know the way your friend is acting is sure to upset many of his newer friends and the thought of this puts a bit of a smile on your face. You enjoy your time together more than you have in many years but deep down, you still have a nagging doubt that this is little more than a temporary flirtation with the old days. Then the worry strikes you. Even though you’ve been hoping for this for such a long time, perhaps you’ve both changed, and now you might be the one who has grown apart from your old friend.”
-Trubie Turner, ReGen Magazine


“My thoughts on Nine Inch Nails’ Hesitation Marks can pretty much be summed up by the first lyrics that you hear in the album. ‘I am a copy of a copy of a copy.’ For many years, Trent and Nine Inch Nails have been imitated not only by the electronic scene, but also from the metal, punk, emo, pop, IDM, and ambient musicians. I think this album is his way of imitating those people trying to imitate him and coming out on the other end with something that raises that bar yet again. This album is not dated, trendy, nor ahead of its time, and yet I feel Trent and company have yet again pushed the boundaries of originality and creativity.
You only have to look as far as his choices of remixers who show up on the bonus disc of the Deluxe Edition of Hesitation Marks to have him prove this point even further. In his fascinating selections of Todd Rundgren and especially Genesis Breyer P-Orridge (which excited the ‘industrial purists’ and seemed to score Trent some ‘industrial’ creditability once again), he chooses two artists who have also been often imitated and copied throughout their careers and yet they too reinvent themselves and their art with every new release.
This album is not The Downward Spiral, Broken, or even Year Zero simply rehashed; it is instead, the sum of all of the best parts of his back catalog and deserves an open minded listen or two. If you can do that, then I’m sure you won’t ‘hesitate’ to pick this album up.”
-David Schock, WTII Records


“Change and growth in an artist’s work should reflect the change and growth the artist has experienced personally. When an artist grows, matures, and changes, it becomes very apparent if the work doesn’t grow with it. What started out fresh becomes stale; what was novel becomes trite. Anyone who expected The Downward Spiral Part Two: Respiraling is going to be sorely disappointed, and also likely could probably give a shit less about artistic growth. The people who want Nine Inch Nails sound-alikes can fall ass backwards into them with a few clicks of a mouse – the people who want to hear the musical progression of a real person should check out Hesitation Marks. It’s far from perfect – many of the songs engage in overlong, self-indulgent codas, for instance – but to decry it as sub-par simply because Trent is less angry or aggressive than he used to be is absurd. Imagine Trent Reznor is your dad. Would you want your dad acting the same way he did 25 years ago when he was in his prime? Getting drunk all the time and having sex with the neighbor’s wife and possibly your girlfriend? No. That would be terrible, and Trent trying to act like he’s in his 20’s again would be equally terrible. Give the album a shot, or go fuck yourself.”
-Donald Beach, ReGen Magazine


“It has become fashionable to view Nine Inch Nails as irrelevant to modern industrial, and that opinion is as valid as any other. But NIN has transcended the industrial genre to become something singular; something similar can be said for The Cure and goth, Depeche Mode and new wave/synthpop, The Clash and punk, David Bowie and ‘70s art rock. Nine Inch Nails is rediscovered by every new generation of musicians, just like Led Zeppelin and The Cure, and the music they listen to is nevertheless the product of what came before. Hesitation Marks paints a clear picture as to where Reznor seems to be as an artist. Some of the minimal instrumental music NIN created in The Fragile period was really compelling and rendered beautifully live, and that guided him toward Ghosts, scoring, and How to Destroy Angels. That direction is still present on Hesitation Marks, as is the influence of collaborator Atticus Ross. It’s hard to know what impact Mariqueen Maandig Reznor has had, but if her playlists on Spotify are any indication, what she listens to at home has had an effect on Trent and NIN.
‘Copy of A’ and ‘Came Back Haunted’ are both based on minimal step-sequencer based loops that do not appeal on first listen, but both tracks build layers of strong vocals that are one of our favorite Reznor signatures. ‘Finding My Way’ and ‘Various Methods of Escape’ clearly reflect the HtDA material and are our favorite pieces of songwriting on Hesitation Marks, but both are probably too moody for first or second singles. In ‘All Time Low,’ I hear the influence of the Welcome to the Monkey House era of The Dandy Warhols in the funky falsetto verses, an album that Reznor plugged in enough interviews about a decade ago to turn us onto it. ‘Satellite’’s tight, funky intro really reminds of Pharrell Williams’ production and arrangement, though it’s doubtful that this was the intent; it’s a catchy statement on the current state of unmanned drones and digital surveillance that sounds fresh from NIN. ‘Everything’ certainly has been a lightning rod – major scale vocals from Trent Reznor are jarring at first, but it’s unfair to equate it with ‘Take a Picture’ era Filter pandering to new metal radio. After a few listens, the open strumming vibe of the verse and bridge remind us of the Von Bondies or Franz Ferdinand, and the clean descending guitars lining the chorus scream of The Cure, while the vocal harmonies are perfectly executed, though they sound so strange from NIN.
Hesitation Marks is not the most accessible NIN album for us, but it might be for a younger generation. The album is packed full of great music that challenges the NIN audience and, predictably, not everyone is up to it.”
-Rob & Tasha, More Machine Than Man


“Nine Inch Nails has always been a love/hate with me; the ‘thing to do.’ To deny that Trent Reznor has been massively influential on the industrial scene post-1989 isn’t even worth arguing – he simply is the influence. If you want to prove this, ask anyone who doesn’t get beyond cursory industrial/electronic music if they know what industrial music is, and you’ll probably get, ‘Oh, you mean like the ‘fuck me like an animal’ guy, right?’. He is responsible for a string of memorable songs that created a dedicated mass of followers in the ‘90s and into the 2000s, and that is where the majority of my issue comes in: He’s created a formula that has been repeated by bands in industrial ad infinitum. You can’t escape The Downward Spiral. You will hear a band in 2013 that is a Nine Inch Clone. You definitely know no less than five someones in the same band that sounds exactly like The Fragile, minus all of the inspiration and talent that comes from being Trent Reznor, and not simply being influence by him.
This is what makes Hesitation Marks stand out to me and why it has become not only a favorite in my collection, but one of my favorite albums of 2013. It’s not the Nine Inch Nails formula, and it seems almost intentionally distant from the days of ‘Head Like a Hole,’ ‘Starfuckers Inc.,’ and ‘Closer,’ and more in step with his recent soundtrack work and How to Destroy Angels. On the positives, ‘Various Methods of Escape’ is easily my favorite thing he has ever done. His more house influenced moments seem positively genius. His mixing, production, and mastering are (as always) the top of top notch. On the other hand, either through intention or accident, the entire album seems chaotic and disorganized, as if he’d thrown everything against the wall, waited to see what stuck, and still took everything that fell onto the floor. But even with its missteps, Hesitation Marks still feels vital, like it’s a living piece of music; proof that something that can be flawed and still accomplish what it set out to do. I’ll be interested to see if this becomes a watershed moment in the NIN catalog; a push farther into more experimental territory and farther away from what defined his sound in the past.”
-Eric Sochocki, Cryogen Second


“When Trent Reznor waved goodbye in 2009, a frightening void has emerged in the wake of his last worldwide tour, heralding a closure to a career that actually brought many to the borders of the industrial scene and the genre itself closer to mainstream recognition than many thought possible. Alas nature abhors a vacuum, and in 2013, his new album must awkwardly force itself somewhere between the angst, the lyrical chaos, and the alt-rock conventions of the band’s previous albums. It is unmistakably made up of the same heavy clashing textures and droning whizzes penetrating otherwise clean and precise melody lines that defined many of Reznor’s hit tracks and there certainly is enough depth and complexity to these seemingly shallow pop-esque tunes. And boy, is it all technically impressive! The biggest nuisance, however, is that the redundancy of this material does not invite scrutiny and might numb even diehard fans. ‘Find My Way,’ ‘All Time Low,’ and even ‘Came Back Haunted’ blatantly recycle one too many a NIN staple. Echoing vocals, distant chimes, and melancholy piano leads define Hesitation Marks as a familiar, comfortable, but dull experience. The new Nine Inch Nails indeed sounds like an album conceived by a musician that exhausted most of his trademark ideas and was forced to rearrange them again, without the driving, conceptual ingenuity that defined even the poorly received Year Zero.
Ultimately Hesitation Marks serves merely as a reminder of NIN’s lasting input and almost every track fills the listener with nostalgia, connecting in one way or another with records prior to Reznor’s forced comeback. Nothing leaves an impression of its own, nothing provokes excitement for the music yet to come, and uniformly all of it will be prone to disintegrate in listeners’ heads with scary immediacy. Some will find themselves in disbelief just how disaffecting Nine Inch Nails return is and this feels so much more saddening than letting the band go when Reznor first decided to leave.”
-Damian Glowinkowski, ReGen Magazine


“I remember listening to the Talking Heads’ ‘Psycho Killer’ for the first time. My first instinct was to tune that fucking guitar. I wanted to fix the thing about the song that honestly made me uncomfortable. The song left me riding on razorblades because of that goddamn guitar. I was nervous, fragile, more than anything; I was in a bad mood.

But I realized that I loved it.

The Talking Heads used what I knew about tonality to make me nervous and uncomfortable. My first listen to Hesitation Marks left me thinking that this album was more clever than that. If MINISTRY’s From Beer to Eternity was a simple and unqualified dip into the MINISTRY pool, Hesitation Marks is a jagged wire fence around the Nine Inch Nails pool. Not only does it mangle your preconceptions; it makes you feel uncomfortable for having them in the first place. Here, they use everything you know about the band itself to make you nervous and that is altogether more remarkable.
It wouldn’t have been difficult to give ‘Came Back Haunted,’ for example, a classic Nine Inch Nails mix, like something you might hear on Pretty Hate Machine, but instead it’s slightly awkward, uncomfortable, in its own head. In fact, at 4:20, it becomes the Casio version of a great Nine Inch Nails song, until the guitars fall into that same shaky tuning and lazy picking. It’s sleazy and it refuses to be what you think it should be.
And ‘Find My Way’ could build into a powerful psychoballad – pumping, full of guitar wailing and noise venom, big anthemic drums and screaming. We’ve heard that before from NIN and we might expect that now. Instead, it becomes infected by ghosts, scary, internal, scared.
And that exact same guitar from ‘Psycho Killer’ could have been resurrected for ‘All Time Low,’ doing the exact same job. It makes us worried. Indeed, everything is not okay. This is a self aware album that recognizes that Nine Inch Nails long ago helped change just what “okay” actually was for a generation of people. This is falsetto Nine Inch Nails with arpegiatted harps twinkling across the sky telling you that this just isn’t okay.
This is tiny Italian drum machine sounds rippling under plaintive vocals that don’t seem to care one way or another what the drums do. So many songs build this way – accidental – without telegraphing themselves to the listener in any way. On ‘Disappointed,’ this is a complete deconstruction of everything the Beatles did, using the same sounds in some places. This is rubber wrapping around ideas to make songs. And if you try to listen to ‘Everything’ without ‘Disappointed’ before it, it may make no sense. In an alternate universe, this is the time between the Beatles and the Cure and it broke them both.
So much Nine Inch Nails ends up being for your head or for your feet. And you can almost split them down the middle that way. This is for someplace altogether different. This is for the part of your body that you use to time travel and go away. And this is not the album that you can show non-NIN fans why you love this band – because it’s not for them; it’s for you!”
-Jim Marcus, GoFight/Die Warzau


Track list:
Disc 1 (Standard Edition)

  1. The Eater of Dreams
  2. Copy of A
  3. Came Back Haunted
  4. Find My Way
  5. All Time Low
  6. Disappointed
  7. Everything
  8. Satellite
  9. Various Methods of Escape
  10. Running
  11. I Would for You
  12. In Two
  13. While I’m Still Here
  14. Black Noise

Disc 2 (Deluxe Edition)

  1. Find My Way (Oneohtrix Point Never Remix)
  2. All Time Low (Todd Rundgren Remix)
  3. While I’m Still Here (Breyer P-Orridge “Howler” Remix)

Nine Inch Nails Website
Nine Inch Nails MySpace
Nine Inch Nails Facebook
Nine Inch Nails Twitter
The Null Corporation Website
Columbia Records Website
Columbia Records MySpace
Columbia Records Facebook
Columbia Records Twitter
Purchase at:
Amazon CD (Standard)
Amazon CD (Deluxe)
Amazon MP3 (Standard)
Amazon MP3 (Deluxe)
Amazon Vinyl
Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)


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