If you thought the new series of 24 was bleak; welcome to 2023. Los Angeles has been devastated by a spate of dirty bombs that began at the Oscars and obliterated Hollywood. The government have added a chemical to the water supply under the cloak of counter bio-terrorism, but it’s created a dopamine-deficient populace of unquestioning drones who can’t get it up. Books are banned and the free world is policed by an evangelical Christian army of airborne stormtroopers. Oh, and oil’s running out.
This is where industrogoth archduke Trent Reznor reckons we’ll be in 16 years without a total u-turn in our geo-political approach to everything. In the absence of that, he’s made another Nine Inch Nails record. Oh well, it’s a start. Less an album than the culmination of a complicated game of cat and mouse played out over the internet between Reznor and his fans (with NIN creating fake websites and leaving clues as to the album’s dark vision over the course of several months), ‘Year Zero’ is, in Reznor’s words, “the soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t exist”. It brings together the voices of different characters from this fictional dystopia, as the world approaches its final end-game. Trouble is, they all sound like ambient-period Nine Inch Nails songs from ‘The Fragile’, and this means lots of silver and grey ambience, but not many tunes. OK, there’s about three: ‘Survivalism’, ‘Capital G’ and ‘God Given’. But what’s strange is that the brilliantly visceral live band that Reznor assembled to tour last collection ‘With Teeth’ are barely used here. There’s sod all guitar on this record. Apparently, part two of the saga, due next year, is full of hoary rock songs, but this is just one long squelchy fart of a soundscape that Reznor himself admits is probably too long. It’s certainly too unremitting. Ah well; there won’t be much need for choruses when the first bomb hits.