NINE INCH NAILS: YEAR ZERO
When I started this review, I had every intention of only reviewing the album Year Zero, not the massive marketing campaign going on that has every NIN fan’s panties all bunched up. However, after a couple of listens I decided I had to discuss the hype; it is after all, an integral part of the album, believe it or not. By now everyone knows that Year Zero is a concept album that takes set in a totalitarianally (it’s a new word, don’t bother looking it up) governed future with a giant hand called “the presence” which reaches down from the sky and does something really reaching like a giant hand would do… Ok, whatever. So I don’t get that part. What I do get is that the future has a resistance, and in a stroke of genius Trent Reznor is setting up his fans to be that resistance. Think about it; songs appear on USB drives in restrooms obviously planted as part of a marketing scheme. Songs are posted and shared and then the record companies attack the fans, making them the resistance. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if the full album leak was facilitated by someone in the NIN camp as a continuation of the ploy. The fans collect the art illegally now, as the resistance does in the future. Onto the music…
Finally a Nine Inch Nails album that starts off on the right foot! “Hyperpower!” with it’s marching beat, industrially (yes I used the word “industrial,” sue me) distorted guitars and militaristic background chanting sets the stage. The next two tracks, “The Beginning of the End” and “Survivalism” (see, Trent makes up words too) both affirm that sobering up has helped Trent recall how to write damn good rock tunes, which, prior to With Teeth, he last did consistently on Broken and sparingly on The Downward Spiral and The Fragile. “The Good Soldier,” while not a heavy number, is worth noting if not only for it’s annoyingly catchy bassline but also because it’s one of the standout tracks on the album
Things don’t really get as noisy as he’s been claiming until “Vessel” and “Me, I’m Not.” These tracks, while catchy in their own rights, focus more on somewhat experimental noise than melody, which in the cases of these songs is hardly a bad thing. “Capital G” comes up next and immediately makes Reznor’s Public Enemy reference make sense. “My Violent Heart,” which in my opinion is one of the highlights of the album, gets back to the noise but with an undeniably anthemic chorus. The rest of the album is full of beeps, cut and pasted beats, glitches and generally noisy, industrial mayhem all wrapped up in (mostly) cohesive songs. I don’t mean to harp on the industrial reference, but it is what it is and it’s mostly good.
One thing that I love about this album that I also loved about With Teeth is the sense of empowerment that Trent is rocking these days. Seemingly gone are the days of “my life sucks, please feel sorry for me” that stopped appealing to me once I survived puberty. Unlike some other NIN fans, I was stoked to see Trent man-up a bit. Obviously this album is something of a commentary on the state of the present by laying out a possible future which demonstrates a more pervasive social awareness than we’ve previously seen out of the usually self-obsessed Mr. Reznor; in fact, the album seems to imply a sense of community and social responsibility. Take the chorus on the final track “Zero Sum,” which continuously repeats the phrase “Shame on us,” implying that we now are responsible for that which is to come. That said, there is no shortage of the usual angst and anger that NIN fans have come to know and love. This album should appeal to old NIN fans, although it may not win many new ones.
(four out of five horns)
Year Zero will be released on April 17. Pre-order Year Zero from MetalSucks.net for only $9.99!