'Zero' Hour

Trent Reznor could have just given a few interviews to explain Nine Inch Nails' new album, "Year Zero." But instead, he's utilizing a multifaceted Internet scavenger hunt, and in some cases, his own r

Trent Reznor could have just given a few interviews to explain Nine Inch Nails' new album, "Year Zero." But instead, he's utilizing a multifaceted Internet scavenger hunt, and in some cases, his own rabid fans, to help gradually build the story of the project, due this week via Nothing/Interscope.

Dystopian, apocalyptic themes are pervasive on the album, echoing topics the group has explored since 1989's classic "Pretty Hate Machine." Neither Reznor, his manager nor Interscope reps would speak to Billboard about the campaign, which has encompassed everything from cryptic phrases on T-shirts to Orwellian Web sites to MP3s found on USB drives in bathrooms at NIN concerts. But a source with knowledge of the project says Reznor may very well perceive it all not as a marketing campaign, but as "a new entertainment form."

Indeed, the source says the campaign forms the body of the "Year Zero" experience: "It is the CD booklet come to life. It precedes the concept album and the tour. And it will continue for the next 18 months, with peaks and valleys. No one has assembled the full story yet. The new media is creating the story as it goes."

Ironically, Reznor marries this story with some of NIN's least-busy and funkiest industrial accompaniment to date. Though there's plenty of the industrial scratch-and-fuzz that he's all but patented ("My Violent Heart"), there are more rewards buried in tracks like the blackly sexy "The Good Soldier," the morbidly funky "Capital G" and the requisite piano-based denouement ("Zero Sum").