Trent Reznor has never really been a bundle of sunshine, but he reaches a new level of darkness in Nine Inch Nails' "Year Zero."
It's a pessimistic view of what the world might be in 2022, if all of society were to decay (which doesn't really happen, but still...). And he unleashes this nihilism in a sweeping, razor-edged concept album, full of pointed lyrics and ominous electro-rock.
It opens with the rapid drums of "Hyperpower," an intro that weaves in some fuzzy bass and spasmodic electronica. It segues into a tight, spare hard-rocker with squiggling synth, with Reznor being drowned out as he sings, "Down on your knees/You'll be left behind/This is the beginning/Watch what you think/They can read your mind..."
The songs that follow are suitably bleak hard-rockers laced with synth -- the undulating creepy "Survivalism," slow-burning hard-rock ballads, explosive muscular rockers, razor-edged electrorock, and the rapid smash'n'rapping of "Capital G," which is unsurprisingly about a certain president.
"Year Zero" is a tight coil of nihilistic rock, unwinding to show off its dark message as the songs go on. While society has never utterly crumbled all at once, this album sounds like the soundtrack to the ultimate apocalypse movie, with hints of oppression and corruption from all sides.
His music is basically a combination of hammering bass and drums and a tight muscular guitar. There's also that classic electronic edge -- jabs of steely synth sometimes, squealing screeches at others, and frenetic squidges at others. It's all twisted together into ominous, unstoppable melodies.
And Reznor howls out haunting songs, which are full of misery, numbness, some rather excessive jabs at religion, jagged political barbs, laments, and sometimes gleeful anger ("Come on down, my friend/It's time to meet your MASTER!"). The rapping sound was a bad idea, though -- it sounds too forthright for the rest of the album.
But there seems to be a faint glimmer of hope in the final song, where he intones "May God have mercy on our dirty little hearts," and relates, "And I guess I just wanted to tell you, as the lights start to fade,/That you are the reason that I am not afraid... as the heavens will fall,/We will be together soon if we will be anything at all." It ends with windy synth and a delicate piano outro.
Darkness and pessimism rule "Year Zero," a blistering and tightly written ode to a bleak worst-case-scenario future. Dark, ominous and thoroughly amazing.