Hesitation Marks

Not the Actual Events EP – Nine Inch Nails

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 7/10

When Trent Reznor announced last year that we would indeed get new Nine Inch Nails music, I was ecstatic. Throughout the year, Reznor shot down any rumors of new NIN material. After months of speculation, he finally gave us new music. It’s not a new album, but it’s a taste of what’s to come. But rather than being a release that displays his best work, it’s more like something to shut up NIN fans and let Reznor work in peace.

Though trying not to make comparisons, the opening track “Branches/Bones” sounds like a leftover from Hesitation Marks. It’s brief, but the upbeat rock oriented music is similar to material from Reznor’s previous album. It kicks off the EP with a rush of energy thanks to the non-stop guitar riff that plows through the song. The music is loud and jarring sounding like it’s being played through blown out speakers. The track is decent at best, but it’s not that notable. At least it’s decent at kicking off the EP.

All the songs are solid, but very few of them stay with you afterward. “She’s Gone Away” and “The Idea of You” are good, but don’t grab you by the throat and pummel you like other NIN tracks. The only song that stands out is the eerie “Dear World.” Whether it’s the synth groove or the creepy opening vocals with Reznor singing “Yes, everyone seems to be asleep” this was the only song I actually remembered from the EP. The song has dark undertones as if something horrible is about to happen. Reznor’s monotone manner and the cold, robotic music makes it seem like something from an 80s dystopian film. There’s also a hypnotic air to it. The way Reznor speaks quietly seems like he’s trying to put you under a spell. It’s one of the coolest and unnerving tracks on the EP.

One thing the EP excels at is creating this dark, claustrophobic feeling. Songs like “She’s Gone Away” and “The Idea of You” have gritty music that puts you on edge. The former has a slow droning drumbeat as if ushering in some unforeseeable doom. And the way Reznor’s wails after the chorus gives it a haunting atmosphere. Everything in the song sounds so foreboding. The latter song has quiet vocals as if Reznor’s on the verge of breaking. Then chaos unleashes during the chorus when everything clashes together for a destructive mood.

The closing track “Burning Bright (Field on Fire)” continues the musical trend of impending doom. With the booming, fuzzy music it sounds like the end of days is coming. Just like with the rest of the EP, the music is the high point of the song. It instantly draws you in. The singing and the lyrics are where things get weird. The chorus of “break through the surface and” is fine on its own, but for the verses, Reznor does this weird spoken word style. Instead of being smooth, it sounds like a random rant. His flow goes against the music making it disjointed and off-putting. Near the end, the music and singing clash together creating a jarring wall of noise. It’s another solid song but doesn’t really hit that sweet spot for NIN fans.

Reznor’s always been a master of electronic music and it’s no different on this release. Each track has gripping music and is a mix of cool grooves with cold, metallic sounding electronic soundscapes. It’s the highlight of the EP. The same can’t be said for the lyrics which are forgettable. In his time, Reznor has crafted some of the most anguished filled, aching, and heartbreaking songs. Little of that is on display here. The lyrics seem meaningless and difficult to pinpoint what he’s trying to get across. Lines like “Still can make out pieces with the opening sewed shut/Yeah, parts of me are slowing down, time is speeding up/Spiders crawling everywhere, infected Japanese” (“Branches/Bones”) come off as forced. As if he’s trying too hard to be poignant and unnerving. They’re not as engaging or thoughtful as they are on past NIN releases. Hell, even the lyrics on Hesitation Marks are better. This makes it seem like Reznor rushed out this release to stop fans from asking about new NIN music.

The EP is solid, but does it really jump out at you? No. The songs don’t punch you in the gut like we expect from NIN. If anything, they’re fairly decent rock songs with some electronic elements. The EP isn’t terrible, but it’s far from Reznor’s best. There are bits and pieces of past NIN releases in the song, like elements of The Fragile, but few of them leave an impression. You’ll find yourself struggling to remember most of the songs after listening to it a few times. Very little about it is notable and there’s little to say about it. The strongest point is the music, but the lyrics fail to be engaging. For fans longing for a NIN release, this isn’t going to satisfy them for long. Still, it does make me excited for what NIN has in store for us. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too long for more new music.

Hesitation Marks- Nine Inch Nails

Nine_Inch_Nails_-_Hesitation_Marks_Digital_Album_ArtRelease Year: 2013

Rating: 9/10

Trent Reznor has been stirring things up this year with the return of Nine Inch Nails. Ever since its announcement, it has been one of the most anticipated albums of the year. Since being compared to his prior release The Downward Spiral it had high expectations to live up to and luckily, it went above and beyond them. Here you won’t find the tortured, broken Reznor like on other releases. Rather, he is looking back trying not to be that person and worried about fighting his demons all over again.

While there are some references to the 1994 release, it’s a relief that this album isn’t a repeat of that one. There are songs like “Disappointed” and “The Eater of Dreams” that have the similar heavy, industrial sound as the one found on that record, but this release is completely different. Yes, it has the classic heavy NIN sound, but the subject matter and themes are all new. Just about all of the songs are about Trent and his drug addled past in some way. Its an album about not letting your past haunt you, about trying to beat those demons and making sure they don’t come back. And when compared with that album, this one isn’t as aggressive and intense as The Downward Spiral.

Just as with other NIN albums, this one is stellar with each song being a hit. Two of the standout tracks here are “Copy of a” and “Came Back Haunted.” The first song has this great heavy, techno industrial inspired music that kind of sounds like something that should be in an old school video game. Just as with most of Reznor’s music, there are so many layers here. Every time you listen to it, you hear a new element or a new sound that you didn’t catch before. “Came Back Haunted” has more of the synth electronic sound that really pulls you in to the song. The music here is pretty similar to dance sound found on his debut. This is where we start to see the references to his past with lyrics like “Everywhere now reminding me/I am not who I used to be/I’m afraid this has just begun/Consequences for what I’ve done, yeah.” Also found here is a small nod to “Closer.” Toward the end of the track the three note riff from that song softly plays underneath the rest of the music. It’s not much, but it’s a cool little reference to his past.

Aside from these tracks, there are plenty of other great songs with one being “Satellite.” It has an upbeat sound with a groove to it that gets you moving. The music buzzes and vibrates throughout as Reznor talks about spying on you. The theme of having your every move monitored really fits with the recent controversy regarding the NSA and Edward Snowden, yet he manages to make being spied on sound so damn good. This is definitely one of the catchiest songs on the album. But what’s interesting about Reznor singing “I know you’re up there somewhere” is he doesn’t sound threatening or creepy; instead he sounds cunning and snarky. “In Two” is a fast paced, erratic track that sounds like Trent is trying to start a riot. What’s cool is that he has so many different sounds here. During the bridge he sounds like a robot master while during the chorus he goes into this eerie falsetto. Then the music abruptly gets soft with whispering vocals before the intensity comes back.

“Everything” stands out from the other tracks only because it’s the most upbeat one on the album. In fact, it might be the most upbeat song Reznor has ever done. Compared to the dark sound we expect from NIN it takes you by surprise, but after a while it grows on you. Actually, there’s an interesting duality going on here. During the verses it’s bright, upbeat, and positive with Reznor singing “I survived everything.” But during the chorus the music gets intense as Trent lets his insecurities about staying sober show through. “Find My Way” is a somber moment on the record with creepy, ethereal music humming throughout the track. It’s a slower number with him trying to find his way back from addiction and depression. The evolving music keeps the listener’s attention.

Overall, the album gets 9/10. This is one of the best Nine Inch Nails albums released in the latter half of their career. Every song is amazing with moments that remind you of his past work, yet the music is new and exciting where it doesn’t sounds he’s ripping himself off. The theme of the album is also refreshing. No longer is he talking about how depressed he is or how lonely he is. Rather, he talks about looking ahead and doing his best to not let those inner demons get a hold again. This release shows that Nine Inch Nails isn’t done yet; they still have some tricks up their sleeve.