While I’m Still Here – Nine Inch Nails – (Breyer P-Orridge ‘Howler’ Remix)
Nine Inch Nails
61:57 min • Columbia Records/The Null Corporation • August 30, 2013
Walter Beck reviews
Five years after The Slip and the “retirement” from touring, Trent Reznor has resurrected Nine Inch Nails and released their eighth studio album Hesitation Marks. Standing as one of the best albums he’s done since 1999’s The Fragile, it seems like Reznor has found his voice again after the dissolving of his label Nothing Records, the minimalism of 2008’s Ghosts I-IV, and the rush job of The Slip.
Opening with ‘Eater of Dreams’, a brief instrumental of low-end distortion, blips, beeps, and noise, the tone of the album is set as a return to the roots of American industrial music, stripped back and mean in tone.
The first proper song on the record is “Copy of A”, the second single from the album. Backed by a rapid minimalistic electronic drum beat, Reznor steps into his original frustrated role,
I am just a finger on a trigger on a finger,
Doing everything I’m told to do.
Always my intention my intention my intention,
Just doing everything you tell me to –
The track is backed not only by the electronic drum beat, but a droning distorted background, double tracked vocals, and thick, but subtle guitar sludge. It doesn’t have the explosive guitar work of some NIN’s earlier work, but that seems to be the point, it’s not a release, but rather a sonic building of frustration.
‘Came Back Haunted’ is the next cut on the album and was the first single from the album. Developing from the first song, this number sounds like it could have come from NIN’s first album Pretty Hate Machine; the classic mix of noise and distortion with Reznor’s rhythmic, angry voice penetrating the track.
I don’t believe it,
I had to see it,
I came back haunted,
I came back haunted –
‘All Time Low’, the fifth track, ups the ante in terms of thickness and distortion of sound; soaked in dense noise, and Reznor’s nearly swinging vocals, this cut harkens back to the violent desperation of his mid-90’s work. But rather than a screaming guitar to exorcise his demons, Trent has found solace in the machine-made noise, turning it into almost a funk-grooved powerhouse.
The sixth cut, ‘Disappointed’ keeps the intense electro rhythm, backed with blips of noise, but this time, Reznor’s vocals are buried for much of the song, sounding almost as they were recorded behind a door, only bursting out loud and clear in sections. Using the caged sound of his vocals as another instrument on the song, Reznor allows his artistic frustration to come through in a much more intense and personal way.
The second half of the album starts with ‘Everything’, the third single from the album and one of the first songs recorded for Hesitation Marks. Starting with a very basic sounding synthesized drum beat before moving into an almost joyous toned wall of sound guitar riffs, this comes off as Reznor’s tongue-in-cheek ‘Fuck you’ to his critics and naysayers, saying he has lived through it all and is ready for more.
Wave goodbye, wish me well,
I’ve become, something else (something else, something else, just as well) –
“Satellite” pulls the album back into the darkness a bit with a thumping, heavy rhythm, but still with a thread of humor in it. Reznor has moved into his own head, taking on the role of a control machine, being one step ahead of the human shell that is himself.
The eleventh track ‘I Would for You’ is the album’s dark ballad, backed with low-end noise and rhythm and Reznor’s more subtle vocals. It becomes a grotesque declaration of love, to whomever that may be, and while it’s not the self-destructive love of the iconic ‘Hurt’, it stands as an emotional strong point of the album.
The album comes to a close with ‘Black Noise’, a minute and a half instrumental of beeping, bleeping rhythm and building distortion that abruptly ends the record in silence.
Hesitation Marks is a bold-step forward for Reznor; he’s no longer the angry young man who created the violent masterpieces of Broken and The Downward Spiral, he’s a middle-aged musician who has lived through hell and back and is trying to find his voice again. By stripping down his sound and using a back-to-basics approach, he has started on the journey to a new era in Nine Inch Nails. Whatever may follow this album, Hesitation Marks stands as a very strong start.