This is a tough album for me to review; it’s out of my comfort zone. As I’ve said previously, I pretty much stick to my indie bubble, and I’m comfortable there. Industrial rock is not my genre. But, ever since I heard My Violent Heart, I thought it would be interesting to review Year Zero. How hard can it be, I thought? As things would turn out, pretty damn hard. So, a record like Year Zero is a challenge for me, not only to review, but to interpret. Both fortunately and unfortunately, however, it’s not a hard record to enjoy.
From the very start of YZ, you know you’ve got a rocker on your hands. The opener, HYPERPOWER! (yes, that’s exactly what it’s called) starts out with a heavy drum beat, before kicking the heavily-distorted guitars into action. It slowly adds more and more instrumentation, mainly guitars, along with assorted sounds of destruction and a group of voices chanting something unintelligible (Hyperpower, perhaps?) until it. It sets the tone well for the rest of the record, just like a great opener should.
HYPERPOWER! is purely instrumental, as some may argue the rest of the album should be. While I’m not one of those people, I do see where they’re coming from. Reznors lyrics have always been a sticking point among critics, and YZ is no different. His lyrics range from entertaining (Capital G) to downright embarrassing (The Good Soldier), but never reach the same level as the instrumentation . Reznor is best when he satirizes; when he attempts to say something meaningful, he sounds like an inarticulate and angsty teen.
Given the grab-bag quality of the lyrics, it bodes well for YZ that the instrumentation and production is top notch. Reznors been playing around with guitars and computers since before I was born, and it shows; YZ is a portrait of a producer at his peak. He more than makes up for the lack of experimentation on With Teeth here. While the rock tunes are great, the experimental/noise tracks are some of the best work of Reznor’s accomplished career; simply put, they’re superb. Among the highlights are ‘Vessel’ and ‘Another Version Of The Truth’, a piano-driven interlude of sorts.
As I said before, I’m a bit out of my territory here. However, I still feel confident saying that Year Zero is a crowing achievement for Nine Inch Nails. It successfully mixes the two elements (Rock & Noise) the band’s been playing with for years, into one highly polished record. The lyrics are the clear low-point, but they’re rarely bad enough to detract from the incredible composition. If you’re a fan of high-adrenaline anything, you need to pick this album up.