Year Zero

Trent Reznor’s working in the wrong field: he makes gothic metal records, with nods to electronic dance music and IDM. He should be making electronic/IDM records, with (perhaps) the occasional shade of heavy metal.

The problem with this Trent Reznor fellow is that he’s working in the wrong field. He makes gothic metal records, with nods to electronic dance music and IDM. He should be making electronic/IDM records, with (perhaps) the occasional shade of heavy metal.

This is not to disparage the gothic metal genre. Rather, it is to say that Reznor’s strengths lie elsewhere (which may seem perverse, given the high esteem in which he is he held by metal folk, but stay with me here).

Reznor is rubbish at rocking – it’s true! His voice is a sappy, grungey whine, and his lyrics are clichéd, quasi-edgy juvenilia. He sounds straight-jacketed when taking a verse-chorus route; the popular single ‘The Perfect Drug’ is a good example of this – hear how it lurches gracelessly towards its central vocal hook, ruining what could have been a compelling mood piece.

A number of tracks here follow a similar, frustrating formula. For three minutes they showcase Reznor’s worst tendencies; the boorish plod of the choruses, the hoarse moan of the vocals. On the remainder of each of these songs (‘Me, I’m Not’, ‘Vessel’, ‘God Given’ – to name just a few) Reznor does what he’s good at – i.e. creating delicious layers of chaotic industrial noise. Mangled guitars, sirens, bleeps, pounding rhythms that would make the Aphex Twin wince – it’s a masterful sonic stew, and one he should be cooking up more regularly.

Trent does at least have the good sense to fast-forward to the good part on a couple of tracks, sparing us from unnecessarily prolonged sonic tedium. ‘The Great Destroyer’ takes less than two minutes to deliver some fantastic jackhammer beats, rescuing another glum electro-rocker. On ‘The Greater Good’, Reznor goes the whole hog, delivering an unconditionally excellent track. Some light piano and xylophone, a snaking electronic bassline, Trent’s guttural whisper buried deep in the mix – terrific stuff.

There are a couple of fantastic instrumentals too. The opener ‘Hyperpower’ is a thing of quite brutal simplicity, all bludgeoning guitars and monstrous drums, while ‘Another Version Of The Truth’ is a sublime, haunting piano ballad, peering sadly through a hum of static.

A consistently enjoyable NIN album still looks a remote possibility, but it’s to Reznor’s credit that he has not lost his capacity to excite.

 

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