Year Zero – Nine Inch Nails

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Release Year: 2007

Rating: 9/10

While this LP did pretty well in sales, it still gets overshadowed by some of Nine Inch Nail’s essential records. This time around, Reznor made a concept album rather than turning inward for song ideas. Though it may take a while for fans to get into, it’s impressive with songs ranging from catchy and aggressive to down right bleak. Conscious lyrics, strong themes, and intricate instrumentation make for Nine Inch Nail’s most complex album to date. It takes more than one listen to fully understand it.

Things kick off with the heavy and bombastic instrumental “Hyperpower!”Setting up the tone of the album, intense percussion introduces the track while the other instruments come in one at a time. There’s this pounding rhythm that sounds like an army marching. This feeling is amped up when random shouting starts up. Things get more distorted and chaotic as the song reaches its end and gives way to the next track. “The Beginning of the End” sets up the Big Brother, dystopian theme that runs through the album. Paranoia runs rampant as Reznor talks about others watching you and listening to what you say. It’s definitely not the strongest song here, but it manages to have that distinguishable NIN sound.

Reznor pulls out the funk for “The Good Soldier.” The music is on the groovy side of things and makes you shimmy when it comes on. The throbbing bass is awesome, especially since it comes in when Reznor sings “When the bass goes ‘bomb’.” Midway through light xylophone music infiltrates like a glimmer of hope that’s buried underneath the distortion. Like most of the songs here, this one is pretty bleak. The lyrics describe a soldier who clearly doesn’t believe in what he or she is fighting for, but keeps “trying to believe.” It’s a provocative song that could be applied to thoughts on war. This track leads right to the torn and tattered “Vessel.” The music here is amazing. It’s rough, harsh, scratching, and full of noise. All throughout the music gets more violent and turns into something robotic and fuzzy at the end.

If there’s one really catchy, radio friendly track on the album it’s “Capital G.” The music is really upbeat and isn’t as hard as it is on the other songs. Considering when the song came out, many thought it was about the Bush administration; that’s what I even thought. But Reznor has actually stated the G stands for Greed, which makes a lot of sense when you consider lyrics like “Ain’t gonna worry about no future generations and a/And I’m sure somebody’s gonna figure it out.” The lyrics are so poignant and critical that it could just as easily be applied to Bush as well. Things get disturbing on “Meet Your Master,” which talks about someone who has decided to oppose society and is being punished with death. What I really like here are Reznor’s vocals, which are so full of anger and passion to really get the message across. Both are stellar tracks that show why this record is so poignant.

The most unsettling and impressive song is “The Greater Good.” The opening music has more of a hip-hop flavor before light music comes in and twists around as if it’s trying to put the listener in a trance. What makes it really creepy is the way Reznor whispers lines like “Breathe.. us in. Slowly.” With the haunting vocals and the looping music makes it sound like a subliminal message is being broadcast. Reznor pulls off this effect so flawlessly it feels like he’s getting in your head. It’s definitely one of the best tracks on the album. A somewhat peaceful moment comes in the form of “In this Twilight.” The music is very pretty and calming creating this relaxing mood. The content sort of keeps up this tone: it seems to be about people watching the skies as the world comes to an end. They know they will die, but think they’ll be better off in the end. Guess it’s not that mellow in the end.

What’s interesting about the record is a lot of music goes back to the early days of NIN. Really harsh, aggressive synth beats take over “The Warning,” while “Me, I’m Not” features a lot of beeps and boops in the music layered over a looping drumbeat. These tracks along with others like “Survivalism” are electronic and synth based, much like Reznor’s earlier material. Sometimes the tracks make you think of albums like Pretty Hate Machine or The Downward Spiral. The difference is it never sounds like Reznor is repeating himself. Rather, he’s uses noise filled music to match the chaotic and violent theme of the songs. He does branch out on tracks like “God Given,” which employs a rap style to his vocals and “My Violent Heart,” which uses hip-hip influences like record scratching to get it’s gritty tone, but even fans of his earliest work will find something to latch onto.

Overall, the album gets 9/10. Many say that NIN’s third release is their most underrated, but for me this one takes that title. Not only is it filled with catchy, synth based song reminiscent of Reznor earlier material, there’s also music that goes beyond his comfort zone. And with a theme about a dystopian Big Brother-esque society, it’s a complex album. It takes several listens before you grasp everything that’s being said. Still, since the record is so great you won’t mind experiencing the music again.

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