‘Hesitation Marks’ represents a renewed energy, at an almost unmatched level, packaged into something of a musical scrapbook; Trent Reznor’s audio fingerprint. It even eschews his traditional rage and anxiety in favour of more resolute and rational statements, with a greater degree of certainty and finality than anyone’s come to expect. As a whole it’s secure and consistent in a blippy, mechanical march but under closer inspection it beats and pulses in a deceptively organic way.
‘Copy of A’ picks up where ‘The Slip’ left off five years ago, with the immaculate sombre synth-led procession through anxiety and self-questioning. It’s the first hint of an album that abandons a typical sensory assault and pursues a drip-by-drip poisoning over its fourteen tracks. As the momentum builds Reznor increasingly satisfies dormant urges, re-introducing the ‘Pretty Hate Machine’ funk in ‘All Time Low’. While the sinews of ‘Year Zero’ stretch onto the bones of ‘Satellite’, ‘Everything’ represents a jaw-dropping deconstruction of pop-punk. Black-disco meets a shadowy dancefloor nirvana in a jittering paranoid climax for ‘Running’. Strange marionettes brought to life in the hands of a master puppeteer. The depth is such that each listen reveals a new quirk from guitar gnashing saw-wheels, to bubbling bass lines, the tracks are layered tapestries of a career that rarely comes close to repeating itself.
This new dawn illuminates a more barren landscape than before, but the landmarks are stranger and more imposing. As a whole ‘Hesitation Marks’ is sparser than previous albums, and certainly less reliant on the chaotic crashes of guitars. It’s cinematic and thrilling, each track features peaks and troughs that pulsate in a mesmerising rise and fall.
After 24 years of cutting up body parts with static and distortion, this release marks them all being sewn back together. ‘Hesitation Marks’ is Reznor’s Frankenstein. The most complete archiving of everywhere Nine Inch Nails has been, but more than that a jaw-dropping preview of everywhere it can go.
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