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Year Zero

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  • Don’t be fooled, “Year Zero” sounds nothing like previous Nine Inch Nails releases. Perhaps its because the whole album was constructed on a lap top music making program. Perhaps because Trent Reznor has evolved as a human being. Perhaps its because “Year Zero” is part of a bigger picture, a concept album that depicts a story set in a dystopian future where the government oversteps its boundries in a post apocalyptical cyberpunk world. Perhaps because the planets and stars were aligned at the perfect moment.
    Whatver the case may be, “Year Zero” sounds worlds apart from all of the previous Nine Inch Nails outings, and for the better. Yes, it sounds much different from “With Teeth”, a less than stellar, yet enjoyable album. “Year Zero” sounds nothing like “The Downward Spiral”, even though a select few are comparing them. And it certainly sounds nothing like “The Fragile”, NIN’s most versatile and complete recording.

    One thing that you must remember is that all previous Nine Inch Nails albums convey a vary dark world and very self-depricating lyrics, bi-polar depression rantings, sickness and healing.
    Unlike all of his previous albums, “Year Zero” features lyrics that have nothing to do with Trent Reznor’s problems. It is a concept album, and an awesome one at that.
    Maybe its because I am in love with anything cyberpunk, to which this album directly relates, in both sound and lyrics, that I find awesome. Or maybe its because Trent is evolving as an artist and as a human, shedding the depressing and darkness allowing for a more cohesive vision to protrude through. I don’t know.
    That is not to say that “The Downward Spiral” and “The Fragile” are not amazing projects, because they are. Personally I feel that “The Fragile” is the best album Nine Inch Nails has released, with “The Downward Spiral” coming in second. But there is something about “Year Zero” and its concept that is most intriguing.
    Yes, the most amazing thing about this album is that Trent is not regurgitating the same ol’ thing again. “With Teeth” was the same ol’ stuff we have heard him sing a thousand times. That is why its not really all that amazing, we have heard it before.
    No, “Year Zero” features lyrics depicting a particular event or narration from a particular persons viewpoint within this grand story that Trent has created. And that makes “Year Zero” the best.

    People are going to draw major conclusions, stating that “Year Zero” is a direct relation to the present state of our world, with President Bush and the Patriot Act, the war….on and on.
    While I agree, the present state of anything is going to affect anyone creating art, it only served as a catalyst. Distopian cyberpunk stories have been around since the early 80’s, maybe even before that.
    I have always had a vision that Trent Reznor could conjure up a great story, and here it is. Well part of it. Rumor is, that this is part one, and there is possibly a movie too. I can only hope!

    Another thing that makes this album so monumentous, and it IS monumentous, is the lengths Trent went to hype this album up. The flash drives with leaked material and pure noise containing messages, secret messages on tour t-shirts, the web sites with all the little tidbits and back stories. Its a very clever marketing scheme, and a fun way to involve all of the fans in a little game of discovery, which it did. The internet was all buzzing over the sites and flash drives and hidden messages.

    OK, enough of all that, onto the album…
    “Year Zero” features music entirely displaced in the Nine Inch Nails catalogue. But at the same time it fits perfectly. The reason I say that it is displaced is that there are barely any guitars or screaming involved. Much more emphasis is placed on regular singing, and the music is comprised of Trip-Hop/electronic/noise. Break beats are melded with semi-industrial beats to form an awesome and original sound.
    Yes, I said Break Beats! There is a small tinge of influence from Hip-Hop/Trip Hop going on in the beats, along with Trent’s passion for Industrial drums.
    Ambient and other electronic sounds pervade each track. The best way I can describe it is that this is PURE lap top music in all its glory and greatness. What I would consider “futuristic” music.
    There are no definable “sadness” parts or “depressing” melodies to be found on “Year Zero”, a nice change. I cannot express how happy I am that Trent has decided to try something different. On the same note, Trent’s signature instrument, the piano, doesn’t come in until “Another Version of the Truth” (beautiful piano by the way, just beautiful), the third to the last track on the album!
    It is awesome to hear a Nine Inch Nails album that doesn’t overkill with guitars and screaming.
    Evolution, baby.
    Oh, “The Great Destroyer” probably features the most guitar work on the album. But compared to albums like “The Downward Spiral” and “The Fragile”, the guitar work is tamer than a Sonny and Cher song.
    By the way, “The Great Destroyer” features one of the finest “noise” freak outs I have ever heard.
    Like I said earlier, the whole album was comprised on a lap top computer program, and you can certainly tell. Well, at least I can, being that I make music on lap top program as well, and I can spot out the sound. Igf you are familiar with computer music programs, then you will be able to discern the different sounds in each song and the type of effect and manipulation Trent used to achieve that particular effect.
    Trent even stated himself that most of the songs were created out of doodling on said computer program, and all of the songs were crafted in little time.
    If anyting, the great amount of noise featured on “Year Zero” takes place of the massive distorted guitars of previous albums, and it sounds perfect. The whole musical atmosphere of “Year Zero” perfectly depicts a dystopian, cyberpunk world. There are some guitars featured, but they are sparse, and they never overwhelm the album. Overall, behind the break beats, there is a deep ambient mood pervading this album, and lots of layers to peel away. Random blips and bloops, dissonance and noise creep around each corner, but they always fit within what is going on.
    On to Trent’s lyrics…
    Very political. Very very political. But that is the essence of the story, not necessarily reflecting present day world issues, but at the same time, is.
    One thing that is of note, the song “Meet Your Master” sounds like it wouldn’t be out of place on an earlier Nine Inch Nails album, however it still fits within the mythos of the concept.
    I haven’t quite put together the whole story featured on the album yet, it seems that the album most likely takes place in America, where the government is getting out of control. Control is the word, trying to control thoughts, actions, everything. The government has put a chemical in the water that controls everyone. Basically, everything is falling apart. Themes of war play a big part as well.
    There are seeds of dissent as well, groups that are trying to fight the government.
    There is a mysterious being called the Presence, featured on the cover of the album, however I don’t know much about this being.
    I haven’t been able to delve too deep into the lyrics yet to grasp the story, but from what I have heard, I am very pleased.
    Just the fact that this album isn’t another depressing outing is good enough for me.
    As far as structure wise, everything falls within a linear fashion, save the crazy noise orgasms that frequent this album. Verse, chorus, verse, aside from short instrumental passages, of which “Another Version of the Truth” is one of these. Each song has little moments that make each track stand out. There is no song that is forgettable, or skippable, not yet at least.
    The last song on the album, “Zero-Sum” I(which I think is the only other song to feature piano, besides “Another Version of the Truth”) is kind of funny, because it has the whole “moral” thing to it, the NIN way of course. Just listen to the chorus. Its tongue-in cheek

    I was very disappointed in “With Teeth”, and I thought that the end was around the corner for Nine Inch Nails. I figured “washed-up”, “has been” applied. And then Trent does something that totally redeems himself!
    That is not to say that critics won’t bash this album. Oh, yes this album will be the target of haters galore. Why? Because the general concept of the story has been done before. Because people with write this off as Trent Reznor’s attempt at a politically charged album. I also know that many will attack this album on the basis that it was totally created on a computer. Many people consider music made on a computer NOT music. There is actually a lot of hatred toward non-traditional music( by tradtional I mean music made with guitars, bass, drums..etc..).

    Do yourself a favor, don’t pass this album up. Give it a few good listens, it is well worth it. The beats alone are “tight”, in a way that Nine Inch Nails beats have never been before. The production is very “tight” as well.
    Trent totally satisfied exactly what I wanted to hear from him, a wonderful concept album with heavy futuristic overtones.
    All in all, “Year Zero” is a great album, that may not break the boundries of amazing musicianship, but does exactly what it is supposed to. It conveys a story. And a darn good one too.

    Posted on December 24, 2009