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Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero CD (album) cover


Nine Inch Nails

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5 stars Nine Inch Nails is on ProgArchives? I honestly would have never seen that coming. Sure, I've always felt that Trent Reznor and his industrial revolution brought upon the world a new style of music that nobody had quite heard before, but I know a lot of prog junkies would be hesitant to group them together with groups like Pink Floyd, Genesis, and Yes.

I figured I'd commemorate this event by reviewing my favorite Nine Inch Nails album. It's quite different in comparison to a lot of my other all-time favorites. The music isn't particularly complex, and the album is made up of a series of rather short songs. You won't find any epics here, though a lot of the songs on this album transition into one another.

However, what Trent lacks in technical skill and complexity, he has always managed to make up for with his layering and noise manipulation. Sure, the backbone holding up most of these tracks can be pretty basic at times, but once you dive deep into the music, you'll begin to notice the many, many intricacies buried deep within. Year Zero is actually a bit less layered than, say, The Downward Spiral for instance, but I've found myself astounded by some of the cool stuff he pulls off with noise alone. The brutal noise assault at the end of "The Great Destroyer" gets me every time I hear it.

I also have to hand it to the promotion campaign that went behind this album. It's astounding how successful the Year Zero "alternate reality" game was. It helped to get fans involved and interested in the album in ways I've never seen before.

So what can you expect from Year Zero? For one, there isn't really a whole lot in the way of traditional rock instruments throughout the album. For the most part Year Zero feels more like an electronic album, with traditional guitar and bass taking the backseat and letting the noise and electronics take center stage. And yes, this is a VERY noisy album, but I think it is to great effect.

I can not recommend this album enough, and I don't hesitate in listing it among other progressive rock masterpieces.

Report this review (#276890)
Posted Thursday, April 8, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Industrial to the max and the machines rock.

My first exposure to this weird band was the film clip 'Closer'; the depraved visuals and its expletive heavy indecent lyrical nature stunned me to the core and I decided then and there to give this a wide berth but now they raise their ugly heads on the crossover prog section. I put the CD on fearing the worst in mind jarring industrial metal with heavy use of the F bomb and horrible vocalisations from Reznor. The images of Reznor hanging from the ceiling by videotape and that tortured monkey was enough to disturb my senses. That is what I expected. This is what I got.

Hyperpower - Massive heavy pounding drums and fuzzed low guitar, with estranged screaming chanting, and inaudible lyrics begin this album.

The Beginning of the End - Interesting riff and clean vocals. Repetitive "this is the beginning" but did not sound too bad. It builds to a heavier sound. Survivalism ? Fuzzed distorted guitars, very industrial sound, intriguing drones. Nasty dark chorus and off beat time sig. The ending is great with grinding guitars and mechanised drones.

The Good Soldier - A huge bass line carries this and Treznor's vocals are rather easy to take. The melody is catchy and even singable would you believe; "I am trying to believe, this is not where I should be". The lead break is simple but effective. Another highlight from the album.

Vessel - This begins immediately without a break and focuses on an industrial shrieking rhythm that grates along with the bizarre lyrics. The sound is slicing and dicing like a machine. I can see why Gary Numan is interested in this band. The sound is kind of like the grinding percussion attack in U2's 'Numb'. Once again it is a track that works well due to this experimentalism with sounds. Towards the end the industrial sounds go haywire with grinding, beeps and slashes, as if the band has become mechanised and the machines have taken over. This is the trademark NIN sound that fans revel in.

Me, I'm Not - This begins with a strong rhythm and the hushed vocals of Reznor. Once again it is very much like the latest type of sound from Gary Numan's 'Pure' or 'Jagged'. There is a melody on guitars that works against the heavy percussion as a musical interlude. There are some bizarre effects that create an Impressive sound unlike what I expected.

Capital G - The strangest track on the album featuring a quirky melody and zany guitar effects. There is lots of brass to accompany the high strangeness though the brass is filtered with effects. William Artope is on trumpet, Matt Demeritt on tenor sax, Josh Freese on drums, Jeff Gallegos on saxophone and Elizabeth Lea on trombone. The track does have some expletives that are discernible but its not as over the top as 'Closer'.

My Violent Heart - This track has some whispered low key singing and a loud chorus with bass heavy percussion. The shades of light and dark, of tension and release, drives the song.

The Warning - Very industrial machine noises create a strong rhythmic onslaught. Reznor's vocals are disturbed and offbeat; "we've come to intervene... your time's tick tick ticking away...." The guitars ascend and descend over the metrical patterns. It is a disconcerting atmosphere, very dark and off kilter, and there is emphasis on phased guitars.

God Given - A faster pace on this drives it and a huge chorus with multi layered vocals. This is broken by whispers. The beat is heavy almost disco, but as dark as ever. The zippy synth sounds are powerful and aggressive.

Meet Your Master - Full on percussive shapes are accompanied by computer game effects, then the vocals begin, and they are non-stop in the verses. A very loud chorus breaks the quieter moments. Numanesque industrial passages fill the soundscape in the instrumental section. This segues straight into:

The Greater Good - Reznor whispers as the synth and bass vibrations meander along slowly. It is a very dark ambient sound threatening to explode. One sound is like a glockenspiel and this merges with squiggly synth and what may be a harp. A piercing whine finishes it off.

The Great Destroyer - A rhythm guitar and synth pulses create the beat as the vocals move along moderately. A more accessible track with an interesting mod section with extreme bass heavy synth experimental vibrations. The mind melting rhythms are incredible on this track. They just blast out of the speakers with scare-your-neighbours ferocity.

Another Version of the Truth - A slow distorted whine builds slowly, with menacing foreboding patience. A piano is heard quietly playing, as the whine builds in pitch, then it shuts down without warning and becomes a stagnant high resonance. The reverberation continues as the piano plays a quiet melody. This instrumental is more minimalist, without any percussion, and is a welcome relief from all the extreme hi tech tracks previous.

In This Twilight - The vocals return for this track and the blasting percussion is present. There is always a melody in the chorus that is catchy and enchanting.

Zero-Sum - It is the longest track at over 6 minutes and once again the whispered vocals and synths are emphasised. Strange shifts in time sigs are compelling, and the song breaks into a piano melody with ultra heavy percussion. It finishes with minimalist piano and a quiet drone.

So at the end of this am I converted fan? Not quite, but I did enjoy the album. The heavy industrial percussion is a key factor to the band and Reznor's estranged vocal style, his whispered vocals in the verses and louder choruses create the darkness and light. Hyper rhythms and machine effects drive the album with some moments of respite. Overall I was surprised at how accomplished a musician is Reznor having played just about every instrument except track 1 and 7. He is definitely talented and at times very innovative in his approach to alternative industrial metal or crossover prog. It was not what I expected in fact I was pleased to hear it. ***

Report this review (#276965)
Posted Thursday, April 8, 2010 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
3 stars 'Year Zero' - Nine Inch Nails (6/10)

Known for bringing the industrial music scene (innovated by such avant-garde ensembles as Throbbing Gristle) to a wider public attention, Nine Inch Nails has received a surprising amount of acclaim for being a relatively experimental act. An artist always pushing to throw a monkey wrench in the music industry in more ways than one, 'Year Zero' came to my attention not necessarily through the music itself, but the vast concept behind the 'plot' and marketing of the release. Instead of simple promotional work, Trent Reznor dispatched an entire 'virtual reality' web quest to depict his dystopic view of the future. While the music is inconsistent to match up with the fiery concept and subject matter, there is the sense here that 'Year Zero' is a vanguard for something up-and-coming, be it musically or otherwise.

Compared with earlier opuses such as his defining 'The Downward Spiral', Trent Reznor has gone a bit heavier with 'Year Zero', a development that perfectly suits the dark subject matter of the album. Essentially, the album follows no linear narrative, but instead paints a dystopic future of a Christian fundamentalist-controlled United States, allowing the listener to fill in the blanks, as necessary. While the music always has a touch of humanity with Reznor's distinctive, angry voice, the instruments rely almost exclusively on electronic instrumentation, with scarce examples in the album being the catchy 'The Beginning Of The End' and the piano tinged 'Another Version Of The Truth'. The music is very noisy, atonal, yet surprisingly accessible for such a seemingly dense work. Songs such as 'Survivalism' may employ incredible noisy and chaotic electronics, but are catchy (albeit dark) pop songs at their core, giving Reznor the added edge and commercial appeal.

While the concept itself is grand in scope, the lyrics do seem to fall a bit short in comparison. While I have never found Trent's voice to be particularly strong (especially when compared to his potent instrumental vision), the wordplay here is simple at best, and poorly clichéd at worst. Still, some of the album's best content comes in the form of Reznor's vocal hooks, which- as previously described- do give the listener something to grasp onto from first listen onwards.

Perhaps 'Year Zero's greatest fault lies in the fact that it is a dreadfully inconsistent piece of work, although the high points do serve to make the album a worthy venture. The first three tracks (the percussive introduction 'Hyperpower!' following through to the abrasive single 'Survivalism') comprise the most memorable portion of 'Year Zero', before the album degrades into a slower, less structured and more experimental form. Other highlights include the sporadic vocal work of 'The Great Destroyer' and the gospel-tinged finale, 'Zero-Sum'.

'Year Zero' is an album that didn't match the high expectations I had placed for it following the grand marketing campaign and intriguing concept behind it, but while being inconsistent, the album is graced with a handful of great tracks that make the album a relatively good album from Nine Inch Nails.

Report this review (#386450)
Posted Tuesday, January 25, 2011 | Review Permalink
2 stars With Teeth heralded the most prolific phase of Trent Reznor's career; getting within reach of finally fulfilling his contract with Interscope (a contract he only entered into in order to free himself from TVT, his original record company, and which he had always somewhat resented) clearly seems to have inspired the man because with Year Zero - released in an unprecedently short period of time - he sprints across the finish line to the wonderland of creative freedom awaiting him.

Unfortunately, the album itself feels just a little bit incomplete. The uncharitable might suggest it's little more than a quick knock-off intended to end the Interscope contract without the indignity of a Metal Machine Music-level piss-take, but I actually think Reznor wanted to make a serious effort to make the album work - if he didn't care about it, he wouldn't have put so much effort into the promotional teaser campaign and ARG (alternate reality game) intended to promote the album's concept. Rather, I think the problem with the album is that it isn't constructed to stand alone as a decent piece of music in its own right - it exist to stand at the centre of a multimedia "event". Removed from that context - and most people who come to it at this point in time aren't going to want to have to mess around reading up on the promotional ARG and all that gubbins - it's a decidedly inferior work.

Report this review (#719355)
Posted Monday, April 9, 2012 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Overall, this isn't a bad album. The music is still industrial, like before, but it is cleaner sounding and seems to be more accessible, even considering the sci-fi concept that it is based on. To me, the music looses a bit of credibility because of the cleaner sound, so it doesn't have the bite and the draw for me that "The Downward Spiral" or "Pretty Hate Machine". There isn't much in the way of prog here either, not that there was a lot before, but there were some elements. The rhythms are pretty straightforward. But there are a lot of nice surprises which is what one can expect from NIN. But I don't believe the music has progressed so much from the earlier albums. It's okay to have a cleaner sounding and more accessible record if you can do that while advancing your sound. The music remains pretty close to the same, and with the accessibility factor on this album, that tends to make it suffer a little.

Don't get me wrong though. I still enjoy most of the album. But it pales when it stands next to Trent's earlier work. There are still plenty of dynamic changes and nice passages. It mostly suffers because of the sameness of a lot of the music. Not the best representation of NIN ingenuity, but still pretty good. Unfortunately, I have to give it about 3 1/2 stars because of the lack of progression and I will round this down because of the way the accessibility washes out the credibility.

Report this review (#1352679)
Posted Saturday, January 24, 2015 | Review Permalink

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