Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero Review 
Posted by James Munson on 04.18.2007
Latest offering from Trent Reznor is an elaborate concept album about the end of the world. The themes are dark, the music is ominous, and the production, as usual, is phenomenal.
Given his track record, this album shouldn't have seen the light of day for at least another two to three years. Not that there's anything wrong with this, but Trent Reznor is a habitual recluse and takes as much time as possible in completing each album. Sometimes, the result is a glorious, bloated mess with a smattering of hidden gems (The Fragile) and other times it’s a pulverizing industrial rollercoaster (The Downward Spiral).
Year Zero is every bit as digital and sonically thrilling as Reznor’s last studio effort, 2005’s With Teeth. In fact, in some areas, the instrumental composition on Year Zero surpasses the live-band setting that With Teeth introduced and the end product is a spacey, digital record that neither Gravity Kills nor Stabbing Westward could even attempt to pirate when both bands were in their prime. The major theme running through Year Zero is dystopia, not unlike that of George Orwell’s in 1984. Reznor’s back, he’s pissed off, and he’s got a lot to say.
Unfortunately, on a handful of tracks, what he says – or the enunciation of his words - is rather laughable. Like Placebo, Nine Inch Nails almost assuredly puts out commendable records, but their singer/songwriters consistently fall short in the lyrics department. Where on the last record, Trent proclaimed, “There is no fucking you, there is only me” and “I am a big boy and I will swallow it all,” he mutters the insult “mo-tha-fu-ckers” in the most absurd manner possible on the 80’s synth-pop, Bush-bashing “Capital G”.
On other tunes like “Vessel”, a track which musically resembles Marilyn Manson’s “Dried Up, Tied, and Dead to the World”, Reznor kind of talk-raps, “Oh my God, I don’t think I can last here.” Call-to-arms-like first single “Survivalism”, which sounds exactly like the soundtrack to the castle level in Super Mario Brothers, features the lyrics, “I got my fist, I got my plan, I got survivalism.” The pulsating, start/stop “God Given” shows Reznor encouraging the listener (or audience) to “Come on, sing along, everybody now!”
However, the overall grim tone of this record and its thematic view of government as tyrannical and totalitarian work to Reznor’s advantage in most cases. On the first song (not counting the first instrumental track), “The Beginning of the End”, the starting drum beat sounds like it should kick into “My Sharona”, but instead leads into Trent Reznor setting the vibe for the album with, “Down on your knees, you’ll be left behind/This is the beginning.” The stunning, spacious “Me, I’m Not” broods on while Reznor whispers, “You’ve got something I need/Kind of dangerous/And I’m losing control.”
“My Violent Heart” starts off sluggish and then builds into a haywire distortion mess of blips and bleeps akin to The Jesus & Mary Chain. The almost entirely drum machine-driven “The Great Destroyer” is probably the most beautiful track on the record and showcases Reznor’s falsetto/multi-tracked vocals much more effectively than on “All the Love In the World” from With Teeth. “Zero Sum” is a flawless, slow-burning album closer, in very much the same way that “Hurt” was for The Downward Spiral and “Right Where It Belongs” was for With Teeth.
It’s nice to see Trent Reznor keep busy. Since taking a vow of sobriety, he’s become a non-stop touring animal, producing/working with other exceptional artists like Saul Williams, TV on the Radio, and El-P, and taking shorter spans of time between his own band’s records. Year Zero isn’t The Downward Spiral nor is it Pretty Hate Machine. He will never make records like those ever again and there’s no need for him to. Reznor has enough fuel for his fire and, with an album as solid as this one, let’s hope his winning streak doesn’t run out.
The 411: More cohesive than With Teeth yet not quite like anything Reznor has made before, Year Zero works as the most confident, sonically rich collective statement he’s released in years. As he’s warned in interviews leading up to the album’s release, Year Zero is “not a particularly friendly record”, but, then again, in a musical climate saturated by Fergie and Nickelback, it’s hard not to give him credit for creating a daring, aggressive album.