MARILYN MANSON – The Pale Emperor

Marilyn Manson - The Pale EmperorThere’s no need to write an introduction for this man. I guess no matter if you like his music or not, you know who he is. Or at least you should! What is clear, though, is that Manson has his days of greatness behind him. I have never been a big fan, but I have never been a no-fan either. To me, Manson’s musical back catalogue is somewhat a quality roller coaster where he has reached some really high tops, but also has a real low lowest level, so to speak. Born Brian Hugh Warner, Manson and his band took a Beauty And the Beast kind of image and used stage names from both good and evil, combining the names of loony mass murders and gorgeous actresses and alter egos like Marilyn Manson, Twiggy Ramirez, Ginger Fish, Daisy Berkowitz and Madonna Wayne Gacy were born. Genius, if you ask me. And controversial, of course, but that was the whole idea. Visually, the idea was to take the image of bands such as Alice Cooper, W.A.S.P., Kiss and Mötley Crüe and take it way, way, way further. Musically, the sound was obviously influenced by said artists, but in a much angrier, cold and industrial way. All this combined turned out to be a winning concept and with his first major album, the Trent Reznor produced Anti-Christ Superstar from 1996 sold shitloads of copies. But what made Manson unpredictable was his ability to never repeat himself and always try to renew his concept. I was never a fan of his three first albums (Portrait Of An American Family, 1994 and Smells Like Children, 1995 came out before Anti-Christ), but with his 1998 hit record Mechanical Animals, the industrial vibes had to give way for stuff like glam rock and normal hard rock and metal, all of which had reached a popularity all time low in 1998. Manson’s flirtation with old 70’s glam rock icons like David Bowie and Marc Bolan was obvious and a song like “I Don’t Like The Drugs (But The Drugs Like Me)” had a big Def Leppard influence. I loved that album then and still do today. The follow-up Holy Wood (2000) had some good stuff on it, but was for the most a disappointment and after his master piece and magnum opus The Golden Age Of Grotesque (2003), he has never been the same again. Both Eat Me, Drink Me (2007) and The High End Of Low (2009) were mediocre, to put it mildly and even though there was a slight return to his roots and musical quality with 2012’s Born Villain, the album never managed to go all the way. In fact, even then, it felt like Manson had a long way to go to come even close to past glories. Also, the gig I witnessed when he did a split headline tour with Rob Zombie, did tattle of a performer with his glory days behind him. Manson seemed tired, jaded and bored and with only a four piece band and shitload of backing tracks, he had to see himself being totally ran over by Zombie and his professional and high-spirited show and band.

But apparently Manson refuses to give in and with a completely new line-up (again!) he’s back into action with a new album, an album that has gotten some good words pre-release. But after his last three albums, my hopes weren’t that high, but stranger things than an artist making a killer record late in a dead-like career has happened, so with en open mind I push play. Opener “Killing Strangers” is a nice surprise. I hear echoes from Mechanical Animals and even though the song is built on electronic sounds, there is some cool blues licks and a big chorus present. It’s a good song, although not great, that brings a ray of light of hope for the rest of the album. “Deep Six” is really, really good and it caught me a bit off guard. It’s a straight forward hard rock song with a catchy beat that gives a nod back to The Golden Age Of Grotesque, something I hadn’t expected. “Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge” is the first single and even though I have heard it on the radio many times before, I never though much of it. However, this catchy goth pop rocker grows when played through headphones and the Billy Idol vibe is really neat. Turned out to be pretty good one after all. “Warship My Wreck” is, I guess, a try to get back to his earlier days. it’s hard, heavy, dark, cold and monotone – not bad, but he have done this so much better before. “The Devil Beneath My Feet” has a “Born To Be Wild” rip-off riff that comes out in a more industrial and distorted way. I like the groove and it’s a pretty good song. “Birds Of Hell Awaiting” sounds like a more blues oriented rewrite of “The Dope Show”, complete with a talk box and all – sometimes stealing from yourself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because this is one the best songs on here. “Cupid Carries A Gun” is a mold breaker by large. It’s based on acoustic guitars and style wise this is industrial dance hall, an influence that is also to be found on the latest Sixx A.M. record – this is really good stuff. The dance hall influence continues in the closing track “Odds Of Even”, but this has a slow blues feel to it and you can actually slow dance to this, if that is what gets you through the night. Very melodic and unexpected. The song takes a tight turn towards the end and transforms into heavy rock. Atta boy, Manson.

So has Marilyn Manson made his great come back with this album then? Well, not really, I’m afraid, but I have the feeling he’s getting there. Also, this album feels like a big grower. I was terribly disappointed after the first listen, but now three times in, things are falling into place and many songs has already matured. What did not make sense at the first spin, do make sense now and the album has potential to keep on growing. But what is a bit disturbing is that Manson has stopped challenging himself musically, apart from a few songs and now a veteran, he feels a bit too confident in his comfort zone. Somehow, I sense that the hunger is gone and it bothers me that even if that is case, there should be a growing feel of revenge somewhere. Manson became popular from being an outcast and an underdog and now that he has gotten so much crap thrown at him for his latest efforts and live shows, Manson should be out here kicking and screaming and showing everybody how wrong they have been. But that doesn’t really happen. Also, the album is too mellow and slow and I miss the uptempo rockers and the old aggression. Maybe, Manson is now older and richer and maybe he is living life well and don’t have that much to be angry about? Or maybe his drug use has taken the best of him and left him jaded and bland? I dunno, really. That said, this is not a bad album at all and it is easily his best since The Golden Age Of Grotesque. A big step forward for the old shock rocker and it feels like we can’t write him off just yet. I think he has even more to give in the future and this album has made it interesting to follow him again. I give this a 7, but it is a -7. Close, but no cigar yet.

Jon Wilmenius (7/10)

Tracklist:

01. Killing Strangers
02. Deep Six
03. Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge
04. The Mephistopheles Of Los Angeles
05. Warship My Wreck
06. Slave Only Dreams To Be King
07. The Devil Beneath My Feet
08. Birds Of Hell Awaiting
09. Cupid Carries A Gun
10. Odds Of Even
11. Day 3 [deluxe edition bonus]
12. Fated, Faithful, Fatal [deluxe edition bonus]
13. Fall Of The House Of Death [deluxe edition bonus]

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