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Trent Reznor's beginning
of the end

Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero
3 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: April 20, 2007

Review by Tony Bonyata

Trent Reznor's never been a particularly happy lot. Pain, isolation, aggression and despair have always been integral elements of his band Nine Inch Nails' sound and subject matter. So it's really no shock to hear that on NIN's sixth full-length album Reznor is once again haunted by the many demons that continue to torment him.

Year Zero is a concept album, which as Reznor explains, "takes place about 15 years in the future. Things are not good. If you imagine a world where greed and power continue to run their likely course, you'll have an idea of the backdrop. The world has reached the breaking point - politically, spiritually and ecologically. Written from various perspectives of people in this world, Year Zero examines various viewpoints set against an impending moment of truth."

With Reznor's vision of a world filled with cocking rifles, gunfire in the streets, biological warfare and the dropping of the bomb, it would seem as if it really was 'the beginning of the end,' as he sings with a sense of detachment on the song of the same title; one rife with goose-stepping rhythms and manic synth squalls. Toss in spying satellites, governmental propaganda and civilian paranoia and what we have here is a modern amalgamation of H.G. Wells War of the Worlds, George Orwell's 1984 and Terry Gilliam's brilliant 1985 black comedy "Brazil," all set to an apocalyptic soundtrack of industrial soundscapes and pummeling beats.

"Hyperpower!," the instrumental opener, immediately defines the albums' dark theme with chaotic synths, menacing guitar and a ghostly call-to-arms chant buried just below the ensuing mayhem. "Survivalism" utilizes a similar structure from the group's defining effort, 1994's The Downward Spiral, while "My Violent Heart" starts off with a sinister whisper before erupting into a twisted, bludgeoning industrial groove as Reznor defiantly screams, "On hands and knees we crawl. You cannot stop us all. Our blood will stain. We will not go away."

Always keen on utilizing elements of texture, timing and space, Reznor digs a couple of foxholes of solitude as the shrapnel around him continues to fly. "The Greater Good" with its flapping, rubbery bass line, scratching electro-blips and odd melody chiseled out on what sounds like a West African balafon tuned by aliens, makes for a perfect interplanetary jazz experience. And while "Another Version of the Truth" enters on the tail of a brooding dark cloud, the song eventually gives way to a beautiful, serene piano that points toward a sense of hope. Reznor also manages to tie in a gimmick with this record, which shows he may have a sense of humor after all (even if it comes off a bit morose). On the back of the CD there's an official looking seal of warning from the U.S. Bureau of Morality with the message of "Be a patriot - Be an informer" along with a phone number you can call to inform them if you know of anyone who has engaged in subversive acts or thoughts. I won't spoil the punch line by giving you the number to call (you'll have to pick up the disc for that), but the creepy, cryptic message makes for an unsettling laugh.

While musically this isn't Reznor's masterpiece (my money's still on 1999's The Fragile), on paper - with foreboding Orwellian themes that touch a little too close to home with all of the turmoil throughout the world today - it certainly is his most adventurous effort to date.

Watch Nine Inch Nails' - "Survivalism" video

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