If you miss the elaborate conspiracy theories of The X-Files, you’ll love Nine Inch Nails’ Year Zero. A sci-fi concept album whose end-of-days, paranoia-drenched story line has been disseminated via the Internet, it will appeal to every geek with Fox Mulder’s ”I Want to Believe” poster on their bedroom wall. (In fact, a key lyric finds NIN majordomo Trent Reznor proclaiming, ”I am trying to believe.”)
The good news is, it’s entirely possible — maybe even advisable — to enjoy Year Zero without trolling dozens of kooky websites. Mostly, this is Captain Trent doing what he’s always done: giving musical expression to torment, rage, sadness, lust, and impotence. As usual, he drives his messages home with his whisper-to-a-scream vocal melodrama and the most chaotically catchy tunes he and his arsenal of machines can generate.
Amid its carefully calibrated sonic assaults, Year Zero has a number of tracks that will stop you in yours. Sometimes, it’s a matter of dropping the volume, as on the muted feedback/piano interlude ”Another Version of the Truth.” Then there’s the element of surprise upon hearing the industrial-strength Middle Eastern melodic patterns of ”The Warning.” Even his use of electronics has shifted to a new level: ”Vessel” evokes nothing so much as a sentient, schizophrenic computer having a nervous breakdown. Is the truth in here? Dunno, but Reznor’s claim that ”I got my violence in high def ultra-realism” sounds like gospel to us.