On 'Zero,' Nails rail with a vengeance

By Sarah Rodman for The Boston Globe on April 17, 2007

According to Trent Reznor, the future's not so bright. This will come as no surprise to Nine Inch Nails fans, who have heard the band's frontman bang the drum machine loudly for nearly 20 years in service of his bleak yet danceable worldview.

Nor will it shock those who have followed the murky viral marketing campaign that has surrounded NIN's new album, "Year Zero," out today.

First there were the cryptic messages on tour T-shirts, leading fans to a website about a mysterious drug supposedly being added to the water supply. USB drives with song leaks and clues were found in European concert venue restrooms. Eerie phone messages and more websites soon came to light, all spinning the vision of a future world in which the government has told terrible lies, eliminated civil liberties, begun ethnic cleansing, melded church and state, and opened a "Bureau of Morality."

This Byzantine scavenger hunt created buzz for "Year Zero" and jollies for members of Nine Inch Nation with time on their hands. But listeners don't need to be detectives to enjoy the top-notch concept album it advanced.

On "Year Zero," Reznor furthers his vision of the future, 15 years from now, and it looks and sounds suspiciously familiar. The leader signs his name with a "Capital G," the church hands down "God-Given" judgments, and troubling threats regarding violence perpetrated on Earth and one another fall from the sky.

The future-is-now premise is, of course, Reznor's ultimate point. He works up his trademark froth, whispering, speaking, and screaming about war, gluttony, greed, arrogance, racism, jingoism, and collective intellectual sleepwalking. He takes on different points of view -- that of the people suffering hallucinatory side effects from the water, of members of the rebellion, of sheep who go along to get along -- but the overarching venom is directed at leaders who lie and the populace that anoints them.

With all the inventive Internet hype, you'd expect the album to be musically mindblowing. But the songs -- which range from full disco-industrial-complex fury to less captivating midtempo drones -- fall squarely into the futuristic, fuzzy, funk-metal category of NIN's previous outings.

In other words, it's classic Nine Inch Nails with a few extra-disturbing flourishes. These come in the form of rhythm-track gotchas -- scratches, thumps, screams, and other percussive hiccups that bolt out of the dark corners -- that ghoulishly complement the nightmarish scenarios. But at its core, "Zero" is the same satisfyingly rip-roaring rage, different year.

Transcribed by JessicaSarahS

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