Review Summary: A noisy, pessimistic view of the future...
It's an incredible notion to behold the many different types of people that populate the planet Earth. When meeting new people, one becomes aware of the myriad facets to life, the paths that could be taken in this journey. New ways of living, new ideas about everyday issues, new backgrounds await someone in every person that they meet. It is perhaps at once enriching and disdainful to examine the different viewpoints of others. For one, they may conform to the opinions one holds, or be the complete antithesis. One person may view the world in a glowing light, another as a pit likened to pure Hell.
Trent Reznor, brainchild of industrial super-stars Nine Inch Nails, has combined these sentiments with a dystopian storyline to create Year Zero
, the project's latest offering. Returning to the high-concept form as seen with The Downward Spiral
and The Fragile
, the album tells the story of a world of the future; 15 years from now, to be exact. The United States has fallen under the control of the religious neo-con agenda, who have functionally changed the year to 0000 BA (or Born Again). Civil liberties are a figment of the imagination. Natural resources are being depleted at an exponential rate. Drugs are added to the water supply, rendering the population complacent. Resistance groups oppose the government through various means, some diabolical, some peaceful. Citizens live in fear of both the government and a mysterious phenomenon known as "The Presence," a mammoth hand reaching down from the heavens. The concept has been tying itself together in the months prior to the album's release with a series of fake websites and viral marketing campaigns.
The world projected by Year Zero
is told through the eyes of the populace, from vengeful resistance fighters to the supporters of the totalitarian regime of the United States. This adds a great facet to the album, presenting the story from different angles in Trent's vocal and lyrical delivery. The music is considerably more noisy than the group's previous effort, 2005's With_Teeth
. The noise creates an odd overtone, but it is ever so glorious in the long run. Blasts of static reach out from dark corners to the listener, and the synth effects do back flips and somersaults within the mix, to both add to the ominous and desolate nature of the music, and to actually hide clues regarding the concept, in itself the largest facet of the album.
However, it's not the only one, not by any means:
A steady drumbeat kicks off the album, with synth static providing a second beat underneath. A cry of a crowd, intelligible mumblings behind a line of hard guitar. The group drives on, the calls getting increasingly more chaotic, until a rapture of fury erupts in a cacophony of fuzz, until a second of silence quiets this animal of a track.
The Beginning of the End
The album begins proper with the next track. Be deceived not by this cliche of a title, for it sets the tone of the album perfectly. The drumbeat drives, as Trent begins espousing the sentiment that This is the beginning,
in both a literal and figurative sense. Fuzzy guitar lines do battle with one another on a field of savage vocals and steady backbeat until all that can be heard is an unending fuzz. Above the din the buzz of a synth line can be heard, only to ensure more madness. This trinity of sonic terror is joined by a frightening bout of mechanical decay, as if a computer suddenly, violently, and very loudly gave its final breathe of existence to the song, ending its life and the song in unison.
A throbbing bass line introduces the album's lead single, and it is instantly clear why this particular track was chosen. A smattering of electronic hi-hat accompanies the line while Trent's voice gains prominence above the dueling of synth lines. The chorus hits, with guitar fury and backing vocals courtesy of rapper Saul Williams. The beat varies as the groan and pop of keyboards emanate from the fuzz. A second chorus adds a certain catchiness to the song. Manic voices introduce a brief refrain from Trent, only to yield another chorus. A guitar is let loose to roam whilst the most subdued of vocals can be heard, uttering a menacing mantra, leaving the listener in the company of wasting synth, an echoing reminder. Catchy as hell, this track was a perfect choice for the lead-off sing.
The Good Soldier
A smooth bass line and a groovy, static-laden beat present Trent, in all his laid-back lyrical grandeur. The mood here is tense, yet calm all at once. Interruptions of fuzzy guitar seem to add to the drumbeat. The listener is treated to a small instrumental portion before an ever-easy chorus of wonderfully held-up synth. A striking of a guitar chord reminds Trent that a new verse has dawned. The guitar gains presence as the vocals become increasingly more agitated, frighteningly so in the next chorus. Only bass can be heard for a fleeting moment, to usher in a hypnotic guitar solo, with what appears to be a xylophone in the background. The drumbeat is left to ponder on its own, and out of nowhere...
A processed beat with heaps of static appears from oblivion, and Trent returns to form with increasingly hostile lyrical delivery. The chorus hits, every instrument empathizing with Trent's desperate cries. Total silence, then an elephant trumpet from Hell brings about another verse section. An odd guest vocal that underlines the primary vocals leads from the verse to the chorus, where an oscillating sound adds to the frenzy. A very glitch-y portion ensues, with insane static and sounds that are as indescribable as they are cool. Beeps of a machine, as if to celebrate the death of another, ring out amongst the cavalcade. Mechanical barking and even more sonic madness are all that remain of the track.
Me, I'm Not
A beat that is just too cool to pass up is the first taste of the next song. Synth fades in ever-so-cautiously as Trent, in a state of daze, delivers a diatribe of confusion and vague fear. A buzzing informs that the chorus has begun, with a delicious synth and a slur of vocals. The only expression for this portion is 'groovy.' A second verse shows Trent to be picking up energy with the vocals, until it is merely him and the drumbeat to face the next chorus. Another bouncy, groovy section ensues, with the synth retained as it ends. Random vocal and static interjections make themselves known, gaining more and more of the forefront, until a solo of pure noise is all that can be heard above the beat. Squelches and squawks invade the environment until the song literally shuts itself off, leaving the listener greatly satisfied and eager to hear what is next.
A choppy beat gives Trent the opportunity to drop some fantastic lyrics, ones in a sarcastic manner. The introduction is quick before the chorus. The synth takes a backseat until after the chorus, where it is let out to squeak into the next verse. The taunting vocals are extremely deviant, and continue into the chorus' refrain. It appears as if someone in a position of power is speaking down to an inferior, all the while casting away care and compassion. A third chorus is plagued by fuzz, a segue into a guitar solo riddled with electronic pops and whizzing. A static-y mimic of the vocal line brings about another chorus, complete with layered voices. Rhythmic pulsing ends the song. A sure highlight if one was ever seen.
My Violent Heart
A quiet drum line and even quieter vocals appear, with synth fading in menacingly. A pre-chorus is sung smoothly, with the backing instruments taking due notice. Then, the song erupts into a driving, angry chorus. Police siren-synth and a manic beat die as soon as they were given life, only to lend life to another verse section. Much of the same that has been heard is to be heard here, including the explosion of a chorus. This is where the album hits a snag, for Trent's voice, combined with the noise in the chorus, make for a somewhat annoying moment, one that's quickly replaced by a guitar/noise battle for supremacy. Neither side seems to gain much ground in the fight, until finally the synth has won out, in a groovy moment. Odd pulsating can be heard, until the beat that introduced the song now reappears to end it.
Warped synth-drums gather, storm clouds upon the horizon, to welcome the listener to the song. A jang-ly bass line, one capable of conjuring up more than just a head bop from this reviewer, fades in from thin air. Trent shows himself, with a subdued vocal passage. He brings a message from some unknown being ("The Presence" perhaps") as the music picks up menacing steam. Grinding synth-guitar mimics the bass line perfectly, Trent's voice changing at random to something otherworldly. A chorus of Your time is tick-tick-ticking away
is generated, with pure static and grinding guitar found at every juncture. These final words from Trent lead to a rather frightening bit of static, and then...
A haunting, reverberating beat conquers the mix. Synthesizer speaks to the beat, with Trent’s own vocals up in the forefront. The beat picks up, and the ensemble makes the listener want to dance, egged on by Trent's call to sing along, whilst the next line sees his voice transformed into a raspy beast. Choppy lyrics are espoused while the synth spins, into silence. Another verse is up next, with the vocals becoming more hostile, and confident. The second chorus has the listener out of the seat, dancing with all their might. Silence yet again, then a gloriously vague synth solo whizzes by, building and building to an unknown end.
Meet Your Master
With a beat reminiscent of a video game, Meet Your Master
is born. Alien technology dies, with Trent to deliver the haunting eulogy behind it. Random guitar interjections appear, to waive through a chorus of pure animal fury. The vocals are almost completely concealed by the synth menace. A further verse is found, with a new chorus to boot, making for a fantastic moment. Trent's cries echo and decay under a sparse bed of mechanical melody. A throbbing bass line aid the vocals in persuading the listener to Come on down, come on down, come on down
among a dying din of instrumentation. The beat fades itself and the song alike away.
The Greater Good
Reminders of the previous track familiarize the listener with this new endeavor. Trent can barely be heard among the tech-drone and...soothing, foreign strings. The beat adds a flavor to the mix, with random record scratches and piano to be heard within. The sparse vocals do not in any way hinder the track, but add a sense of reflection to it. All that is left is the piano and Trent's random musings. The beat changes up to allow the strings another chance to shine. A synth pad echoes sweetly in the background, with a vocal mantra repeated on infinite. The track plods right along without much variation, until only Trent remains.
The Great Destroyer
A purely synthetic beat ushers in a wonderful vocal line from Trent, and a fantastically chunky guitar complement. Noodlings of synth and static allow a truly amazing chorus that just bops right along, unceasing in the face of another verse. The guitar extends on and on into the next chorus, a return to the same. Trent's cry of The great destroyer!
may seem to end the track...but step the fu
ck back. An avalanche of noise is thrown upon the listener, with random beeps and blips seeming to make perfect sense among the broth of static purring. It gets choppy, smoother, goes in all directions then returns to wreck the listener's sensibilities, forming in itself a drum beat to fade out on. A supreme song on every level.
Another Version of the Truth
This instrumental fades to life unwillingly, the choppy static wanting to return to an unseen womb. Strange and foreboding piano beckons it into the open, mellow and real. The piano soothes and lulls the listener, until the static dies out. The sad keys spring to life slowly, as if to build up the piece. A moving key solo ensues, and makes the listener contemplate both what has been heard up until this point, as well as what might follow in the remaining two songs. The notes get lower as the track draws to a close.
In This Twilight
Mechanical barking and savage drumming offset Trent's 'elsewhere' vocals, as if ashes were caught in the wind. The barking leads into a beautiful chorus, surely Trent's vocal highlight of the album. It is as offsetting as it is spectacular, no question. The verse returns to bring both terror and comfort in the wake of another chorus, with a scream of some sort gaining more prominence in the mix, a fear-inducing gesture. Tinny percussion can be heard below the mix, building a bridge into the final track.
Drums introduce a choir of synth and soft piano. Trent's vocals and lyrics are held back here. He's truly looking back upon some sort of event, or series of events, in his life. The background noise makes it seem that chaos is the norm, and the feeling is bolstered by the lyrics. The chorus provides a break in most of the static, but as well it breaks the listeners' heart. The passage is quite sad, the piano providing this feeling. The lyrics make one feel truly terrible, with a cry of:
Shame on us/doomed from the start/God have mercy/on our dirty little hearts/Shame on us/for all that we’ve done/and all we ever were/just zeroes and ones
It brings a tear to the eye to imagine, in the wake of all that has happened thus far, that it is too late for these souls. They've done it too themselves. Empathy runs high with another verse, built of a beat and synth pad. The speaker in the song has realized that it's all his fault for what has happened, and he can’t go back. Static runs circles around the ensemble, as if a failure of some sort has occurred. A second chorus makes itself known, to repeat again for dramatic effect. Trent's vocals cut to the core, to make one truly look at the world and at themselves. The piano line returns as the beat dies its imminent death, leaving itself and a wash of synth to sustain it. The synth over takes the piano as the earth overtakes us all eventually. An emotion ending fit for such an album.
With Year Zero
, Trent Reznor has created an experience that immerses the listener, transports them to this future world, where there is terror in every glitch of static, and where all citizens, of all walks of life, await an event of cataclysmic, yet mysterious proportions. The music is top-notch and intuitive, and it is a beast to behold in its message and delivery. Buy it. Now.
The Warning, Capital G, The Great Destroyer, Zero-Sum
Trent Reznor is at the top of his game.
The noise can get rather overwhelming at times.