The end is nigh, at least according to Nine Inch Nails’ mastermind Trent Reznor. Floating the dystopian concepts of mind control, the religious right, big brother, apocalypse and militaristic upheaval, the industrial-rock veteran has the blogospheres and newswires abuzz this week over an ambitious viral/guerilla/Web campaign that is purportedly based around NIN’s politically-charged upcoming album, Year Zero (to be released April 17th via Interscope).
According to various sources, Reznor and agency 42 Entertainment, harnessing the old Internet model of a webring, are behind a series of eerie landing pages (listed below), some endorsed by a supposed “US Bureau of Morality” and others peddling military operations like “105th Airborne Crusaders.”
The top site listed, with its placid Americana-loving backdrops, actually hides something more sinister underneath. Simply click and hold your mouse, then proceed to mouse over the image to tear away the pixels and render a nuclear apocalypse underneath (below). The others also tout a somewhat scary, futurist setting with glitchy graphics and gutted text—perhaps the remains of a fallen digital voice for a once-flourishing American establishment.
While the concept seems a bit Terminator 2: Judgment Day-esque, MTV News reveals that the origins of the campaign can be traced back to the merch booths in Portugal, the launching pad of NIN’s current European tour, which kicked off earlier this week. On the back of tour t-shirts sold, where the dates and cities are listed, certain letters are highlighted. When those letters were arranged, they spelled out the phrase, “I am trying to believe.” Sure, that sounds like a standard line from the Reznor playbook, but according to MTV, a more curious individual decided to Google the phrase…leading them to the destination above.
Coincidence or clever marketing scheme? I’d have to side with the latter, considering a closer look at a new statement from Reznor himself posted on UK site Xtaster.
“…It takes place about fifteen years in the future. Things are not good. If you imagine a world where greed and power continue to run their likely course, you’ll have an idea of the backdrop. The world has reached the breaking point – politically, spiritually and ecologically. Written from various perspectives of people in this world, ‘year zero”‘examines various viewpoints set against an impending moment of truth. How does it sound? You will hear for yourself soon enough, but given the point of this document is to provide information…”
It’s this Orwellian ideology and unfolding Web mythology that has had NIN devotees salivating and provoked to play amateur sleuths. Fan sites like Echoingthesound.org and TheNinhotline.com, and even newly created Ninwiki.com, have been deluged with so many comments and regular updates on new findings, that they’ve had to shut down to increase bandwidth for brief periods at a time.
The domains hint at botched military operations, fallen heroes, a tyrannical government, and a mind control drug Parepin. While all are registered to Arizona-based Domains by Proxy, MTV reports that they are actually part of an alternate reality game concocted by 42 Entertainment, an outfit best known for the Halo 2-based ILoveBees promotion and an agency that ADOTAS has featured recently.
While it’s not confirmed to be another facet of 42’s strategy, an Mp3 of a new Year Zero track, “My Violent Heart”, leaked to music blogs on Wednesday (and was subsequently taken down by some alleged RIAA-style outfits…perhaps another marketing tactic). The story behind this goes that Flash drives were found in bathroom stalls at venues hosting NIN on their current tour and were subsequently nicked and the track was uploaded–perhaps an error from a band roadie, or simply a clever guerilla tactic that’s part of the greater good of this campaign.
Whatever the case may be, an inquiry sent to 42 Entertainment went unanswered. Mum’s the word for now it seems on this campaign, but from the looks of it, Reznor’s dreary vision has seen the light and his goal is achieved in promoting his upcoming opus.
Still, one can’t discount that the rabbit hole will open further here, and even if not, kudos for one of the more memorable buzz/guerilla/web marketing integrations in recent memory (and that’s not just predicated on my own Nine Inch Nails fandom). The folks behind the Boston fiasco could learn a thing or two…