Album reviews: Year Zero, by Nine Inch Nails (#1)

By Anthony Hillman for Helium on April 25, 2007

When Nine Inch Nails embarked on their warm-up tour of Europe in February, people noticed that highlighted letters on the back of one of the tour shirts spelled out the phrase "I am trying to believe". This led to the discovery of www.iamtryingtobelieve.com, which kick-started one of the most intriguing Alternate Reality Games in the history of that particular format of marketing.

Following in the footsteps of the creators of hit TV show Lost, and video game Halo 2, Trent Reznor's "World Of Year Zero" now spans countless websites discovered by finding hidden messages in leaked tracks, or even in the album's artwork. There are "resistance" meetings held in Los Angeles, and even phone numbers people can call to be threatened by the fictional Bureau Of Morality. Yes, Year Zero was a nerds dream come true before it even hit the shelves, but one question was left unanswered. That is, will the music be good enough to stand up on its own, or will the casual fan uninterested in the World Of Year Zero and it's continuously growing history be left baffled?

Thankfully for the casual fans, they have nothing to worry about... opening with the instrumental track HYPERPOWER!, Year Zero lets you know who's boss right away, pummeling you with metal riffs which are followed by a surprisingly upbeat track called The Beginning Of The End which acts as the prologue to the main lump of the story. First single Survivalism is exactly what you'd expect from Trent Reznor, but from there it all takes a dramatic turn beginning a roller-coaster ride of beats, digital noise, pop hooks and beautiful melodies. Reznor has always been the expert of combining elements that shouldn't work together, and somehow making them work, but never has he done it to such an extent. Instead of his usual method of coming up with an entirely new sound for each record, Reznor takes what he's learned from each record and combined all of the best parts. There is the pop immediacy of 2005's "With Teeth" album in Capital G, the grandiose and epic soundscapes of 1999's "The Fragile" in Me, I'm Not, and the experimental industrial noise of "The Downward Spiral" is never far away. Where this album shines is in the songs where all of these elements are combined... for example The Great Destroyer starts off sounding like it could be a single with it's poppiness, but then halfway through an enormous burst of noise takes over for the rest of the song. I interpret that as what Trent Reznor imagines the end of the world sounds like, as the tracks after this are the melancholy trilogy of Another Version Of The Truth, In This Twilight and Zero-Sum which manage to simultaneously convey a sense of sadness and of hope. Has humanity learned the error of its ways? Will they be given a second chance to start over again? We'll have to wait for next year's follow-up to find out, but this record is so full to the brim of greatness that it's sure to keep you occupied until then.

Transcribed by Lt. Randazzo

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