Conceptual work and political verse have been part of Nine Inch Nails’ portfolio since the beginning of their career, but it wasn’t until Year Zero that all these references were really brought into practice. Standing in stark contrast with Trent Reznor’s introverted confessions and idiosyncrasies, their fifth studio album sought to expand their territory into different themes. Bitterly cynical, it attacks the United States government, discusses social issues and sets itself apart from their previous work, presenting an Orwellian view of the year 2022, or “Year 0”, with an elaborate background and excellent lyrics filled with social, political and religious criticism.
Closer to Atticus Ross and once again in the company of Alan Moulder, they developed an album in which each song communicates openly. While the vocal work varies between softer moments (‘The Good Soldier’) and dry screams (‘Survivalism’), instrumental limits are gradually expanded. Free from the 90s, Reznor equips himself with a series of references and a backdrop of fully mastered electronic experience. Isolated within the band’s works, Year Zero is an album that can almost go unnoticed, far from the confessions of 2005’s With Teeth and the experimental instrumentals of 2008’s Ghosts I-IV.
Its release also included an alternate reality game and a remix album, Year Zero Remix, as well an overwhelming avant-garde viral campaign which marked a turning point, as it was not only a marketing campaign, but a whole network of webpages and other additional content which formed an essential complement to the album and its history.
Ten years on, I’d invite everyone to enter the breathtaking world of Year Zero and at least give it a go, as well as explore its related material, which plunges us into a future that is unfortunately too credible and sadly too close. Enjoying this album and its lyrics, having soaked up the sci-fi mythos that surrounds it, make this work a genuinely innovative artistic creation and a unique experience. Reznor timely realised that something had been driving the music industry to its end, when what really matters are the consumers and listeners, since the whole business ultimately depends on them; he realised that new technologies can be used as a priceless tool to expand art. In this way, he once again exposed the big multinationals and record labels, while taking the opportunity to throw poison arrows at the government and system of his own country.
Ultimately, this is the soundtrack of a chilling and terrifying future, a dark apocalypse that we may still experience in our lifetimes…thinking about it, it doesn’t sound so distant, does it really?