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Marilyn Manson – The Pale Emperor Review

January 20, 2015 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
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Marilyn Manson – The Pale Emperor Review  


1. “Killing Strangers” (5:36)
2. “Deep Six” (5:02)
3. “Third Day of a Seven Day Binge” (4:26)
4. “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles” (4:57)
5. “Warship My Wreck” (5:57)
6. “Slave Only Dreams to be King” (5:20)
7. “The Devil Beneath My Feet” (4:16)
8. “Birds of Hell Awaiting” (5:05)
9. “Cupid Carries a Gun” (4:59)
10. “Odds of Even” (6:22)

There was a time when Marilyn Manson was a hot-button topic that could set just about any two people to verbal war. The industrial metal act was an unmitigated pop culture phenomenon in the 1990s when Antichrist Superstar was released, scoring as many vocal critics of his controversial music and persona as he did fans. There was hardly a place that you could turn to without hearing someone either extoll the aggression and power of his music or tear his attitudes and antics down as emblematic of the downfall of morality in America. While he sold millions of albums, he was also blamed (wrongly) for inspiring the Columbine, Colorado shootings and other acts of disturbed youths.

However, it’s been a long time since Manson inspired that sort of mania. While the shock rocker has continued on with his music, the days of him headlining CNN segments or topping yearly album sales charts have passed. In fact, it’s been twelve years since Manson had a #1 album, the last being 2003’s The Golden Age of Grotesque. Some call Manson a dinosaur who is can’t let go of the fame he once had, or a man whose creativity peaked with his second album. The truth is much simpler: Manson has continued on as an artist, continually refining his sound and maturing. Following 2012’s solid Born Villain, the Antichrist Superstar is back with The Pale Emperor and showing that he hasn’t lost his creative edge; he’s just let it mature to its betterment.

The Pale Emperor is the second Manson album released on the singer’s own record label Hell, etc., with Born Villain being the first. That album showed off a new era of Manson’s music following his split from Interscope; no longer was he under the control of a major label and he was able to forge his own direction. As such, you could consider the two albums to be an entirely new era in Manson’s career and he builds nicely off the direction he started with Villain. The music for the album was co-written by Tyler Bates, best known for scoring films like Halloween II and Guardians of the Galaxy, and the two prove a potent team in taking the bluesy metal that Manson experimented with on Villain but refining it into something closer to his previous work. This can be seen on opening track “Killing Strangers” which features a sinister march as Manson goes back to his Holy Wood era gun themes, spouting in the chorus, “We’re killing strangers so we don’t kill the ones we love.” It’s a strong opener and sets the tone nicely for the rest of the LP: this is the Manson we’ve known and loved, but he’s through the crucible and come out with a new twist to his sound.

Much of Pale Emperor echoes that tone. “Deep Six,” one of the first singles released, is a call back to the Antichrist Superstar era with its abrasive aggression and mythological overtones; Manson gets in a little bit of wordplay that Greek theology scholars would love with “You want to know what Zeus said to Narcissus/You’d better watch yourself.” It’s full of fiery energy, with a straight rock edge. The religious theme continues on “Third Day of a Seven Day Binge,” a brooding industrial track where Manson intones, “I can’t decide if you’re wearing me out, or wearing me well/I just feel like I’m condemned to wear someone else’s hell.” The song sounds like a traditional Manson dirge, but it’s a lusher and more successfully desolate affair, punctuated by a breathy handclap breakdown toward the end of the song as he sings “rather be your victim than be with you.” Manson has found a new power to his pain and it carries strongly through the front half of the album.

If there is an apex to the album, it has to be “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles.” It’s touching on another favorite topic of Manson’s, painting himself as a monster and the media world as his hell. It’s a triumphant song in which Manson has to pay the price for his fame. “I don’t know if I open up/I’ve been opened enough,” he sneers in the beginning of the song, and as it progresses he sheds his demons: “I feel stoned and alone like a heretic and I’m ready to meet my maker.” These aren’t incredibly deep themes, but Manson’s vocal delivery gives them weight. He doesn’t have the howl that he did almost twenty years ago, but the weight of those years has given his voice a new, grittier and interesting texture that he makes good use of. By the end of the song he’s come out as the titular fallen angel in the City of Angels; as much as it talks about metaphorical demons, it seems more as if he’s ascending than falling.

The Pale Emperor isn’t all about revisiting the past though; it’s also about those new directions. “Warship My Wreck” is an expensive, lush-sounding industrial ballad that powers through on the strength of its layered sound and Manson’s anguished delivery. The album bogs down a little bit at this point though, with “Slave Only Dreams to Be King” as a thoroughly average and skippable number. It sounds a lot like Manson’s early work but sells itself short, employing too many digital tricks to bury Manson’s voice and blunt its aggression. “The Devil Beneath My Feet” is a much better example of the same sort of track, with a reverb-heavy bass and an arena-pounding beat that will play nicely on live tours. If industrial rock were still viewed as radio-friendly, it could easily make radio rotation.

Shortly before the album closes out we get another incredibly strong turn in “Birds of Hell Awaiting.” Kicking off with a distorted swell and ominous crashing echoes, Manson’s voice creaks in ahead of the menacing beat and a slide guitar. It’s the closest the album comes to evil in sonic form. He follows it up with the solid “Cupid Carries a Gun” and “Odds of Even,” a moody number that at times sounds almost Pink Floyd-ian and features outstanding guitar work from Bates. The final tracks just go to show that Manson doesn’t need shocking, graphic lyrics anymore to achieve creative heights; the man who once proclaimed himself the “God of F**k” is now a very different–but no less sinister–deity.

Standout Tracks: “Killing Strangers,” Deep Six,” “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles,” “Birds of Hell Awaiting”

Skippable: “Slave Only Dreams To Be King”

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
It may seem odd to some that the words “Marilyn Manson” and “mature” could even be in the same sentence, but that's exactly what we have with The Pale Emperor. Manson's ninth album sees him exploring new ground, shedding some of his brasher elements in favor of a more cohesive sound and stronger themes. With Tyler Bates adding a ton to the mix, Manson maintains his creepy doom factor while exploring territory that neither abandons his old sound, nor stays stagnant. It would be incongruous to say that he’s back to form in The Pale Emperor. Rather, Mason has found a new form and it seems to suit him better than his past forms did.

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Marilyn Manson, Jeremy Thomas