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 Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero
Continuity is not part of Trent Reznor's, protagonist and driving force behind Nine Inch Nails, vocabulary if his 18 years in music since Pretty Hate Machine is to be studied. From electronically driven new-wave to a more placated common form of metal in 2005's With Teeth none of Reznor's releases have bore the imprint of what came before it. Generally praised by his fans for his ever widening of his sound, his last album was criticised by some NIN fans for being too formulaic - this was not a record created by the same man who had produced the epic work of The Fragile in 1999. NIN had lost its way, its creativity and above all what made it so different to the rest of the bands currently out there. Thankfully, Year Zero is a stunning return to form.

Before listening to the album, it is easy to see that Reznor has put a lot of heart in this record. He has been playing an ARG with the internet community to unravel the story of Year Zero - this is not just a record, it is a journey into what the future world may be like if we continue on our present paths. Systematic leaks from the band itself at gigs meant that before the 16th April most NIN fans on the internet had already heard at least 5 songs off the album, maybe the whole of it as it had been put up on yearzero.nin.com on April 4th.

Lyrically, Reznor has been hit and miss throughout his career. Looking at Survivalism, the first single off YZ, and the words may sound generic and even vague at times. Set against the backdrop of the album however, and everything begins to fit into place. Reznor is able to target obvious targets for dissatisfaction - religious fundamentalism, global warning, George W. Bush but he executes them in a way no other artist would, or perhaps could. Each and every song feels as if it is connected to the others, that to take one song out would ruin the whole flow of the album. Hyperpower! sets the album up, a marching beat driven track, a rallying call as it could be conceived before the first proper track The Beginning of the End begins its thumping descent into a mash of noise by the end. That title for the track is a quaint summing up of what the basic idea of the album is, that only bad times lie ahead of us if we do not change what we are doing.

Reznor definitely spreads his musical wings even further with this album, dirty electronic beats providing the cacophony of noise accompanying the vocals with screeching synths and even static noise being used as a musical instrument. There is not a bad track on this album, and that's quite an achievement especially as Reznor has a go at his own hip-hop song with what will be the next single off the album, Capital G. Maybe it does not fall into the category of 'hip-hop' neatly, but it is definitely an attempt at a rap rather than what fans have come to expect from NIN. It can be jarring at first listen hearing Reznor flexing his vocal muscles but I found myself quickly listening to it again and again, rapidly establishing itself as a personal favourite off the album.

Then something happens at around halfway with God Given. The overlaying of instruments is ramped up a notch and spectacular compositions pour forward in each of the last 5-6 songs. If you listen harder to the each track, you will probably catch something you didn't hear before. Its all so brilliantly mixed and blended together that you don't notice it at a casual listen, but if any of it was removed there would be a definite feeling of that something is missing. This is not a preparation of what is to come with The Great Destroyer however.

The jagged build up to the falsetto vocals and then at precisely 1:45 into the song, a monumental breakdown of electronic noise coming from every conceivable angle is something that would feel at home on an Aphex Twin release. To listen to it is for the music to grab you by the face as it assaults you with techno-electronic jibberish beforeit gently peters away into the calming sea that is the instrumental piece Another Version of the Truth. It is moments like these that make the album so worthwhile, the sharp comparison between noise and peace and it is the more peaceful route that the album finishes on. The gentle rockings and rippings of In This Twilight set against a near whispering vocal track give the impression of that underneath the placid exterior lies a caged raging interior. The last track is Zero Sum, a beautiful ending track with a slow yet melodic piano track against rumblings of muddied drums with a higher pitched vocal track, it has the makings of a possible ending track for future tours with its fatalistic falling away of musical structure towards the end.

Year Zero is a triumph, and the biggest testament to the album is to say that after 18 years of NIN, there are things on this album that you will not have heard elsewhere on any release. Each song deservedly takes its place on the record, and it has all been mastered and mixed to near-perfection. One last thing, the disc will be black when you put it in your CD player - if it comes out a different colour you aren't going crazy, it's supposed to do this.

9.5 out of 10

Buy Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero now at Play.com
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