Posts Tagged ‘The Downward Spiral’

By Greg Maki
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My introduction to Marilyn Manson came Dec. 6, 1994. About two months past my 15th birthday, I was in the company of my dad and older brother Jeff to see Nine Inch Nails at the Baltimore Arena. Remember, this was the year of The Downward Spiral and “Closer,” the year a mud-covered performance stole the show at Woodstock. The fervor surrounding Trent Reznor was never greater—before or after this period. I had no clue who the opening acts were to be that night, and I didn’t care. I was there to see Nine Inch Nails, which had become something of an obsession to me in the months prior. (more…)

Review by Greg Maki
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It’s an amazing thing, sobriety. For most of his career (which now spans nearly two decades), Trent Reznor has been infamous for the five-year gaps between albums of original Nine Inch Nails studio material. But sometime before the release of 2005’s With Teeth, he embraced a healthier lifestyle, kicking his addictions and hitting the weight room. I don’t know whether we have that to thank for the quick turnaround on his follow-up, Year Zero, or if world events inspired Reznor so strongly that he simply couldn’t delay getting his message out. Likely, it’s a combination of those factors. Whatever is driving him, let’s hope it continues. Year Zero is yet another magnificent musical journey with one of the great artists of our time as our guide.

No one has mined the field of self-loathing for better results than Reznor achieved on classics Pretty Hate Machine (1989) and The Downward Spiral (1994), but at 41 years old and sober, his focus finally has shifted from within to without. He’s realized there is world outside his own head, and he’s not at all pleased by what he sees. Year Zero takes us to the year 2022. The war on terror that Reznor assailed on With Teeth’s “The Hand That Feeds” has escalated to the point where the U.S. government has become a virtual religious dictatorship that uses drugs in the water supply and a “Bureau of Morality” to control the populace. The story gradually unfolds over the album’s 16 tracks, and so confident is Reznor in his dystopian vision that he rarely raises his voice. His patented tortured screams are all but absent. Instead, he is more of a singer than ever before, his vocals seemingly the only human element of the recording.

Musically, Reznor abandons the live feel of With Teeth and immerses himself in electronics, creating harsh, cold soundscapes to mirror the inhumanity of his future world. While With Teeth was stripped down, practically a punk album by NIN standards, Year Zero returns to the dense, textured construction more familiar to Reznor. That being said, the walls of noise and distortion that filled The Downward Spiral are mostly missing here. At the same time, Year Zero manages to sound like Nine Inch Nails and unlike anything Reznor has done before. I’m purposely avoiding going into detail concerning the sound and content of individual songs because this is an album that deserves to be heard in its entirety. That may be asking a lot when for a disc that runs nearly 65 minutes, but it’s worth the time. For the record, “Survivalism,” “The Good Soldier,” “Capital G” and “Meet Your Master” are among the standout tracks.

Fans of the harder-edged Broken-era Nine Inch Nails may be put off by the abundance of blips, beeps and sampled drums. But “heavy” doesn’t always mean louder guitars and angrier screams. Driven by a powerful artistic vision, Reznor has placed his personal demons on the backburner to craft a rare work of true importance.

(Nothing/Interscope, 2007)

Rating: 9/10