The year is 2009. NIN frontman Trent Reznor reveals to the world that the iconic band is done, and that this tour will be their final performances. The Wave Goodbye tour crosses oceans, continents and practically sells out internationally. As an audience, we witnessed some of the most emotionally charged performances that the group had ever delivered; the expression on Reznor’s face during (and immediately after) the finale of ‘Hurt’ at their Sonisphere show is something that has remained with this reviewer even four years on. So, it was with great joy that the news broke of the new album Hesitation Marks earlier this year. Some readers may remember the review of the first single from the new album, ‘Came Back Haunted’. Clearly there was some disappointment in this, and led to a very ‘hesitant’ review of the full album. Fortunately, it took only minutes to change everything.
Hesitation Marks marches in with a short intro, using the familiar industrial groans and creeps that any previous fan will be more than accustomed to. Following on from this is a glorious beginning to the album, ‘Copy of A’. For any fan of the older work, this will provide no end of sinister smiles and the start of some small headbanging motions. The single actually feels right at home now it’s surrounded by its brethren, it’s like it now makes sense. But then again, listening to NIN has always been something of a mood changer. It’s not a band that can be dipped in and out of like so many others, there has to be some real time and commitment given to fully appreciate the atmosphere created by Reznor’s genius. A shuffle function isn’t recommended here; but instead a full, uninterrupted walk through of this new world.
Getting to the track following ‘Came Back Haunted’, we now approach the album’s first slower tempo and ‘thinner’ track. By no means does this make ‘Find My Way’ a weak addition, if anything it instantly shows the high levels of contrast that such a band are capable of. Such a track could fit in straight away in a film soundtrack, something that isn’t unfamiliar ground to Trent and crew (their songs have been used across many silver-screen features, such as The Crow, Natural Born Killers and The Machinist), and leads well into the slow beginning of ‘All Time Low’. It’s here that the tempo comes back, driving the album onwards and forever downwards into the real pit of human emotion. It’s no secret that classic albums such as 1994’s The Downward Spiral became something of a soundtrack to a generation of teenage anger and angst, cementing Reznor as a musical God in the eyes of many across the planet. With the release of Hesitation Marks, we not only see the same level of anger in Reznor’s powerful lyrics and music, but we can feel it reborn. There are some tracks that almost infringe in a strange way onto other genres with a (dare it be said) happier thread (listen to the second verse of ‘Everything’ for an example of this), but it obscurely doesn’t belittle the album. There’s definitely enough here to cause old and new fans alike to rejoice, tracks such as ‘I Would For You’ have that same of power of older tracks such as ‘The Only’ (from the album With Teeth), and in the deluxe edition you even get some tasty remixes of the new tracks. It’s clean, it’s loud, and it’s definitely filling a sizeable gap that has been left since 2009.
In short, for anyone who was even slightly concerned that NIN had seemingly lost their touch, don’t be. If you still feel a bit angry, a bit lost, a bit confused and just overall a little bit of a teenager, then listen to this and celebrate. But try not to take it out on your boss when you get to the office.