Nine Inch Nails’ Hesitation Marks is an unsettling work of art.  While it lacks some of the edge of NIN’s earlier works – the bitterness that seeped out of The Downward Spiral is more restrained here – Trent Reznor’s latest album is still excellent on its own merits.

ninThe album creeps into existence with “Eater of Dreams,” unnerving the listener before bursting into the mesmerizing duo of “Copy of A” and “Came Back Haunted.” What follows is a descent into the mind of a tormented individual, filled with darkly catchy beats and moody soundscapes.

Almost as impressive as the masterful production is that Reznor is able to sing about isolation and angst without seeming trapped in adolescence. In a digital world in which online communications have the capacity to unite and isolate simultaneously, Reznor’s work feels increasingly relevant, and his chilling poetry is as potent as ever. The paranoid “Satellite” especially hits a nerve.

There are several standout tracks, but their impact increases exponentially when heard in the context of the rest of the album. The songs have a slow-burning intensity; this is a record where new details are revealed with each additional listen, making it all the more compelling.

Originally published in The Fulcrum as part of “Playback,” by Simon Monis, James Lewicki, Austin Webster, Madison McSweeney, and Ashley Rowe; September 23, 2013

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