If anyone was worried that the disco tangents on 2005’s With Teeth meant Trent Reznor was finally lightening up, fear not — this one’s about the apocalypse.
The viral Internet marketing campaign preceding NIN’s sixth studio album suggested a sci-fi concept record about the semidistant future, but it’s pretty obvious where the inspiration comes from: “I pushed a button and elected him to office / He pushed a button and it dropped a bomb,” Reznor sings about the neoconservative antagonist of “Capital G.”
Unfortunately, the music is more elusive. Year Zero trades With Teeth‘s live instrumentation for programmed drums and synthesizers that belch and drone but won’t blow any speakers. The low-key palette creates an ominous claustrophobia that sometimes pays off (like on the glitchy ballad “In This Twilight” or the tambourine-enhanced “The Good Soldier”), but it also becomes monochromatic — the songs drag in the middle, choruses become interchangeable, and too many tracks end with the same electronic stuttering.
Zero picks up momentum in its final third, as the quasi narrative builds to a conclusion on the slightly punchier “God Given” and “Meet Your Master” (spoiler: the world ends). But it’s never a good sign when you need to mention Armageddon to crack the monotony.