Like all major Nine Inch Nails albums, With Teeth has a deeper unifying theme - a story or concept told in musical form. In this case, it concludes the narratives of The Downward Spiral and The Fragile, as an autobiographical account of someone struggling to maintain their newfound sobriety, and rediscovering the wider world after many years of blinding excess.
On the surface level, however, With Teeth is NIN founder Trent Reznor's most accessible work since his '80s electronic rock hit Pretty Hate Machine. Mixing board trickery and layered sampling takes a back seat, as the sound is dominated by comparatively conventional hard rock guitars and 'live' drums (mostly provided by Foo Fighters and Nirvana's Dave Grohl). Trent's trademark synthesizer experimentalism is still there, accompanying the guitars and bassline to create instantly catchy melodies.
With Teeth feels more focused than any previous NIN release, absolutely intent on delivering a hard rock sound. There are no instrumental tracks, no forays into dense industrial metal, and segments of low-key mood generation are rare (most notably right at the start, and in the superb album closer Right Where It Belongs, which spiritually if not musically evokes earlier hit Hurt). For the most part, it's track after track of loud and memorable rock songs.
And yet, although it's arguably the best point of entry for a new listener into Nine Inch Nails works, there's something missing when compared with the earlier albums. The more concise recording ethos steals much of the musical depth and variety of its sprawling, dense, multi-headed predecessors. Grohl's hammering drums are arguably *too* dominant and rob the album of some subtlety - occasionally they feel incongruous, particularly with the melodic bonus track Home. With that said, as his recent Oscar win proves, Reznor's extraordinary gift for composition, melody, evocation and production transcends genre, and is strongly in evidence here. It's a new chapter in his life, and the listener is swept along for the ride.
For many fans, With Teeth was a step too far from the industrial-derived style that brought Nine Inch Nails to fame. As a hard rock album, however, it's one of a kind, and unforgettable.