Sound — 8
Year Zero itself is the anti-With Teeth album, as it returns to the more familiar "layered-soundscape" electronic sound of NIN's earlier efforts (The Downward Spiral and The Fragile for the best examples). Each song is thickly layered with enough drums, bass, guitars, and synth to satisfy any NIN fan and sound, just like the sticker on the album says, "Noisy". The album itself begins with the heavy drum-driven "Hyperpower!" and builds in intensity and heaviness ending with "The Great Destroyer", which itself ends in an unsettling barrage of synth leading to the piano-driven "Another Version of the Truth", and the storyline/album closers "In This Twilight" and "Zero-Sum", both of which are a satisfying, dark, and strangely upbeat ending to the album.
Lyrics — 9
The lyrics are the star of the album. Trent Reznor, no longer working with mainly introverted lyrics, deals with politics and a world gone horribly wrong. Anyone following the album's release knows of the reality game set-up around the album, focused on the future of 2022 where the US is under the influence of a government drug named Parepin, and a mysterious hand called 'The Presence" shows up, possibly signaling the end of the world. The album of course ties into, builds upon, and explains many of the events and perspectives behind the story from the soldier trying to believe what's going on around him in "The Good Soldier", the Presence's warning in "The Warning", and the evangelical side of the future government in "God Given". Knowledge of the story does make a greater impact in fully enjoying and understanding the album's concept however, but the themes presented do, and can, be related to current government administration (see "Capital G") and the current state of affairs in the world. Plus, Trent Reznor really stepped up his vocals on this album, by expanding his range. Highlights include the "I-didn't-know-he-could-sing-so-high" vocals in "In This Twilight" and the almost "Down In It" rap vocals of "Capital G".
Overall Impression — 9
The album definitely shows that Trent's moved on from the more introspective albums of his youth towards the socially-conscious lyrics of Year Zero. The marvel behind the album is its underlying concept, its impressive, and damn creative online storyline involving fans and moving towards Year Zero: Part 2. Definately ranks up there with The Downward Spiral and The Fragile as one of the best NIN albums, due to its presentation, unique sound, and damn good lyrics.