This apocalypse grooves to a beat

By Glenn Gamboa for Baltimore Sun on April 17, 2007

Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor can do amazing things with anger, angst and industrial dance beats. And on "Year Zero" (Nothing/Interscope), Reznor uses those building blocks to create a dark, desolate world - one he has said is set 15 years in the future, at the edge of the looming apocalypse, but also unfortunately mirrors today's world a little too closely.

For others, that would be quite a concept to tackle, but for Reznor - whose best work has dealt with destruction, both personal and global - the themes of "Year Zero" are definitely in his wheelhouse.

He hangs satiric attacks on President George W. Bush and the Republican party in "Capital G," sneering, "The biggest problem with the way that we've been doing things is the more we let you have, the less that I'll be keeping for me" over a catchy synthesized groove that sounds like Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel" possessed by an industrial demon.

And though the tempo of the songs on "Year Zero" doesn't vary much, paced mostly like soldiers trudging through mud, Reznor proves to be much more flexible vocally and musically than he has in the past. On "God Given," he pierces the wall of funky bleeps and bloops with a delivery that goes from spoken-word to electro-gospel and back again. He shows off his new wave roots on "The Great Destroyer," which sounds like a Duran Duran pop hook paired with white noise and synthesized feedback, and "In This Twilight," which mixes a Joy Division-styled dirge with more conventional rock. On "The Greater Good," Reznor sings entirely in hushed tones over screeches and creepy toy piano loops.

But when Reznor wants to blow out a big rock anthem, he can still do that too. The first single "Survivalism" rages on like something off of 1992's "Broken" with surging guitars and a scream-along chorus, as Reznor once again turns what should be cold electro-pop into something fiery and tribal.

To let fans know about "Year Zero," Nine Inch Nails is using a unique viral marketing campaign, complete with hiding USB jump drives containing the new songs in strategically exotic locales and a network of mysterious Web sites (anotherversionofthe truth.com and thepriceof treason.net) to give fans some new material and a some back story for the future world Reznor imagines. It's a clever plan, but when an album is as well-crafted as "Year Zero," it's not really necessary.

YEAR ZERO. Nine Inch Nails' rage against the machine. In stores today. Grade: A-.

Transcribed by JessicaSarahS

View the NIN Hotline article index