We Face Our Consequence, This is The Beginning of The End
Written: Apr 7, 2007 (Updated May 3, 2009)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
The Bottom Line: Year Zero is a Haunting, Chaotic, & Enthralling Masterpiece from Trent Reznor & Co. Not for the Faint of Heart.
Throughout the history of the industrial-outfit Nine Inch Nails and its leader Trent Reznor, NIN has always been a band that's always against the grain and often take long periods of time between new albums. In the years between 1989's Pretty Hate Machine and 1994's The Downward Spiral, NIN went on a two-year tour that culminated with a spot in the inaugural Lollapalooza tour in 1991 followed by a brief opening stint for Guns N' Roses. Around that same time, Reznor fought contractual problems with TVT Records and released the Broken EP in 1992. Following the release of The Downward Spiral that was supported a grueling, two-year tour, Reznor did a couple of film soundtracks, produced Marilyn Manson's Antichrist Superstar, and went into a period of manic depression. 1999's double-album The Fragile was released following a two-year period in the studio where despite debuting at #1, the album fell off the charts quickly as Reznor struggled to keep the album alive during another tour.
It was around the tour for The Fragile that Reznor's state of mind became troubling as he sank back into alcoholism where after the tour. Reznor went to rehab and took time off between Fragility tour and the release of 2005's With Teeth. After the failed side-project for Tapeworm with Maynard James Keenan and a lawsuit with former manager John Malm Jr., Reznor released With Teeth in 2005 which rejuvenated the band's commercial fortunes and during the band's 2006 tour with Bauhaus. Something strange happened, Trent Reznor was starting to write new music at a furious pace. Returning to the studio following the tour, Reznor and longtime collaborator Atticus Ross and producer Alan Moulder were in the studio for the next few months while doing work on the DVD for Beside You in Time. The unthinkable was starting to happen, Reznor broke the five-year gap between albums rule and was ready to release a new one for called Year Zero.
Produced by Reznor and Atticus Ross with mixing by Alan Moulder, Year Zero is NIN's fifth studio full-length album that marks another change in direction from Reznor. Whereas 2005's With Teeth was a NIN album that had the familiar yet aggressive industrial sound NIN has been known for, Year Zero is a far more different album that strays away from With Teeth's commercial intentions. Taking some of the abrasive styles of Broken along with the art-rock collages of The Downward Spiral and The Fragile. Year Zero relies less on the metal-guitars of previous albums and more on electronics and art-rock collages. The album is also more groove and bass driven with noisy, electronic production and beats that isn't just reminiscent of the work of Public Enemy. The album also harkens to the dark groove of the British art-rock band Primal Scream, notably their 1997 album Vanishing Point.
Another change from previous albums is that Reznor's moody, dark lyrics have also taken another direction. Rather than going into an introspective approach from Reznor, the album is merely a concept album. One of the themes that Reznor explored in With Teeth was politics in songs like The Hands That Feeds and Right Where It Belongs. For Year Zero, Reznor doesn't sing about himself anymore but rather the current political climate and how it pertains to the world. It is there that Reznor has set the album in 2022 where the world has gone into chaos and all hell has broken loose. While writing about dark imagery and emotions is nothing new to Reznor, the new approach however does differ largely from previous albums. The result is a chaotic, bleak, yet enthralling industrial-rock masterpiece from Trent Reznor and co. as NIN is back and ready to kill.
The opening track is an instrumental called Hyperpower! With a harsh, cadence-like drumming, the track sounds familiar to another NIN instrumental track in Pilgrimage from 1999's The Fragile. Unlike Pilgrimage, Hyperpower! sets the stage of what is to come with voices of chants and marches accompanied by a droning, metal-like guitar. While there are no lyrics, the tone of the track plus the voices in the background does present an imagery of the world gone horribly wrong. Even as the track gets a little crazy with the guitars and drums as they begin to get more dangerous. The first song is The Beginning Of The End with its Knack-like drumming and driving guitars as Reznor's serene vocals lead the way with his dystopian lyrics. The guitars become more haunting as it's accompanied by the bass with Reznor becoming more engaging with his vocals. The lyrics says it all from what the title suggests.
The first single from the album is Survivalism with its bass-droning synthesizer accompaniment and noisy keyboard backgrounds as Reznor serenely sings the song's the song's verse about the lack of control with its assaultive chorus of "I got my propaganda, I got revisionism/I got my violence in hi-ultra def realism/All a part of this great nation/I got my fist, I got my plan, I got survivalism". The chorus is accompanied by soft yet heavy snare beats, droning guitars, and backing vocals by Saul Williams. The Good Soldier is a funky-bass driven track with soft, clap-like beats and Reznor's amazing vocals as he sings lyrics of a soldier who has lost sense of reality as he is fighting. During the verse, there's a droning guitar while in the chorus, he is accompanied by a chiming, melodic keyboard track and a shimmering synthesizer. The song conveys the sense of a soldier trying to believe in a world that has lost faith.
Vessel opens with a blistering noise of synthesizer and beats that pops up every few seconds as Reznor sings with a very direct vocal as he is accompanied by noisy, bass-driven synthesizer. Then comes the chorus of "Oh my God, can we go any faster? Oh my God, I don't think I can last here" as the lyrics convey the sense of escape with Reznor with a very engaging vocal in the chorus. The song is filled with layers of guitars, beats, and keyboards as the concept becomes more alarming. Next is Me, I'm Not with its groove-laden bass track and reverb beats as Reznor revels in the sense of emotional and mental disintegration as a character is starting to lose his head as he attempts to fight. The song's bass-groove is then accompanied by a shimmering bass track and soft, siren-like keyboards during the chorus as the song is later accompanied by a noisy siren in its coda.
Capital G is a more rhythmic track that is almost like Michael Jackson's The Way You Make Me Feel in its beats. Yet, this song is much darker with lyrics that relates to a Big Brother like character with snarling guitars in the chorus and rhythmic yet funky vocals by Reznor. This is another standout with lyrics about the lack of care about leaders and such and corruption as Reznor proves his maturity in his lyrics. My Violent Heart starts off being led by a thundering bass beat and a bass track where its soft and sung in a spoken-word rhythm by Reznor. The lyrics convey the sense of violence that's about to erupt where its chorus is accompanied by this noisy, beat-driven track where it's like a Public Enemy track unleashed. The song goes back and forth yet its dark imagery and angst plays true to the dystopian concept that now leads to a sense of rebellion. The Warning opens with distorted, rhythmic beats and a very strudy bass line as Reznor goes into a hollow-like vocal approach where he sings about an epidemic coming through this rebellion. This track is also another standout with its drum-n-bass like approach that features a snarling guitar.
God Given arrives with its layer of electronic beats and noisy waves of guitars and keyboards in its funk-like rhythms. Reznor then sings softly in its funky rhythm as he asks the people to sing along to its amazing chorus with a shimmering synthesizer where a rebellion has been formed with God on their side. It seems Reznor is leaning towards God but as someone that people needed instead of something that has often been misinterpreted. Meet Your Master is a slower yet heavy track with its hammering beats and droning bass line where the lyrics play as a counter-reaction to the previous track. The chorus is then accompanied by a snarling guitar as this song is truly one of the meanest on the album. The Greater Good is a dark, bass-driven track with a soft, siren heard in the background as Reznor sings silently with dystopian lyrics as the track is then accompanied by a chiming, melodic keyboard.
The Great Destroyer arrives with its sputtering bass-beat tracks and an accompanying guitar track as Reznor sings the rebellion going underway as Reznor recites a line "Right on time, the end is near" as he then goes to the chorus for a second time where the last line "I hope they cannot see I am the great destroyer" that becomes a huge wave. Then the track is accompanied by a layer of noise of beats and electronic gadgets where everything starts to go into chaos. The instrumental Another Version Of The Truth arrives with its haunting piano track accompanied by buzzing of electronic backgrounds as if the war has just ended and there is nothing but emptiness. The track then gets louder with its buzzing as Reznor's melodic piano playing conveys the sense of loss as the piano plays on through the second half.
In This Twilight arrives with its harrowing noise of electronic distortions and Josh Freese's live drumming as Reznor then sings the lyrics of its aftermath. Then comes this amazing chorus accompanied by its bass as Reznor displays an amazing vocal range that's been unheard of in previous records. The lyrics in the chorus where there's a remnant of hope in this aftermath. This track is easily one of the best songs NIN has ever done. The album closer Zero Sum arrives with its rhythmic beats filled with distorted layers of electronics and synthesizers as Reznor sings silently with an accompanying piano. The lyrics conveys the aftermath and what the people in the war are trying to figure out what to do next. The beats and piano then get a little louder as it starts to wind down with Reznor softly singing "Shame on us, doomed from the start/May God have mercy on our dirty little hearts/Shame on us, for all we have done/And all we ever were, just zeroes and ones". The song continues where it starts to wind down with the piano starting to be slower and somber for the end.
While this is just part one of an entire concept that is to be accompanied by another album and a possible film. Year Zero as an album is just purely amazing. The album, like The Fragile, isn't something that has to be appreciated in first listen. It takes more than that to really soak in and really get into it. Plus, the dystopian concept with its imagery and tone really adds new dimension to what Trent Reznor can do. The production of Reznor and Atticus Ross is truly amazing for the layering of sounds and sense of chaos heard in the album. This isn't the kind of album for someone who wants to hear some upbeat songs or something catchy won't find it here. It's really NIN's least commercial album ever yet that doesn't make it accessible to mainstream audiences. There's songs in there that will appeal for radio as the current single for Survivalism has given NIN their fourth straight #1 Modern Rock single.
In the end, Year Zero is hands-down not just one of NIN's best albums but one of the year's best as well. NIN fans no doubt will consider this as one of the best while it does mark as a departure from Trent Reznor and co. Casual music fans will need to take note that it's very different from previous albums while does have something to offer. Yet, for anyone who's into stuff like Fergie or Nickelback should stay away from this because it would only hurt their ears. For anyone feeling disenfranchised, feeling like the world doesn't make sense at all, or wanting something to hear that truly plays to the current state of the world. Year Zero is the album to get.
Pretty Hate Machine/Broken Era (1989-1992): halo 1 - halo 2 - halo 3 - halo 4 - halo 5 - halo 6
The Downward Spiral Era (1994-1997): halo 7 - halo 8 - halo 8 DE - halo 9 - halo 10 - halo 11 - halo 12
The Fragile Era (1999-2002): halo 13 - halo 14 - halo 15.1 - halo 15.2 - halo 15.3 - halo 16 - halo 17 DE - halo 17 DVD
With Teeth/Year Zero Era (2005-2007): halo 18 - halo 19 - halo 20 - halo 21 - halo 22 - halo 23 - halo 25
Ghosts I-IV/The Slip Era (2008): halo 26 - halo 27
Soundtracks/Miscellaneous: (The Crow) - (Natural Born Killers) - (Lost Highway) - (Tomb Raider) - The Limitless Potential - (Strobe Light)
Promos: (seed 1) - (seed 2) - (seed 3) - (seed 4) - (seed 5) - (seed6)
Live Shows: (NIN/Bauhaus/TV on the Radio-6/7/06 Atlanta, GA Hi-Fi Buys Amphitheater) - (NIN/Deerhunter-8/13/08 Duluth, GA Gwinnett Arena) - (NIN/Jane's Addiction/Street Sweeper Social Club-5/10/09 Atlanta, GA Hi-Fi Buys Amphitheater)