Release Date: Jan 20, 2015
Record label: Loma Vista Recordings
In 2012, icons of evil Marilyn Manson issued their eighth album, Born Villain, a surprisingly strong record that redeemed some of the weaker work that they'd been churning out since they reached their zenith of popularity and artistry in the late '90s. The album got closer to the intensity and showmanship of their most over the top days without simply sounding like a band trying to relive faded glories. With follow-up The Pale Emperor, Manson and his band continue to ride that comeback hot streak, this time working in a decidedly more blues-influenced vein, combining a trademark penchant for lyrical darkness with the most unholy type of biker rock for ten songs that swagger and simmer in unexpected ways.
The argument, most recently put forward by a friend of mine in a beer garden where just a mention of the subject of conversation provoked eye-rolling from nearby eavesdroppers, is that Marilyn Manson, for all his fire and dark bravado, never quite made it all hang together on one coherent effort. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt. Antichrist Superstar, Mechanical Animals and Holy Wood all contain killer hits and moments of genius but as narratives they're disjointed, meandering and bloated, respectively.
Review Summary: The blues got a hold on him.The Antichrist superstar had a steep fall in relevancy during his 3-year break in the mid '00s. The Golden Age Of Grotesque was a commercial success, however, it signaled the end of an era. During the hiatus, Marilyn Manson toned down and softened in some ways, but still tried to maintain his edge. Unfortunately, instead of finding some middle ground to share his thoughts, he delved deep into mourning his failed marriage (in his own morbid and self destructive way) and later fetishized Evan Rachel Wood like a frustrated teenager.
Back in the Nineties, Marilyn Manson sold a lot of records and scared a lot of parents by playing Alice Cooper shockrocker at the goth pity party. With his Methy the Clown fashion sense, lyrics like "I am totalitarian/I've got abortions in my eyes" and industrial-metal sound, Manson terrorized Christian politicians and tasteful music fans alike. He hit his high point with the android glam of 1998's Mechanical Animals, moaning, "We're all stars now in the dope show," over music that sounded like David Bowie being sucked down a trash compactor.
In the years since his tenure as the pied piper of suburban America, in the twilight of Pat Buchanan's culture war, Marilyn Manson has gracefully assumed his post as Hollywood's goth-in-residence. If most of the music his band has made since their commercial apex has been unremarkable, their ninth album, The Pale Emperor emerges as the band's most muscular, streamlined work since 2000's Holy Wood. The chain-gang lurch of opener “Killing Strangers” wastes no time announcing an overdue transition from previous albums' industrial pop-metal aesthetic to bottom-heavy Southern rock.
An artist as calculated and ostensibly one-dimensional as Marilyn Manson shouldn't be making music anything this close to respectable 20 years into his career. As demonstrated on his last LP, 2012's Born Villain, Manson understands precisely how to inject the right balance of musical growth into his work while shrewdly treading the right amount of familiar territory. Adding two more musicians into the band's endlessly revolving cast (former Dillinger Escape Plan drummer Gil Sharone and film composer Tyler Bates on guitar and keyboards), Manson manages to keep all of the dark, dangerous and asexual tropes afloat on The Pale Emperor, his ninth outing.
Once the sultan of shock, the Marilyn Manson that greets us in 2015 cuts a different figure. Late last year, the 45-year-old Brian Warner was forced to clarify that a leaked video by filmmaker Eli Roth – which apparently depicted Lana Del Rey as a victim of sexual assault – was not a creation of his making. This felt somewhat uncharacteristic: in the past Manson has revelled in the role of bogeyman, sucking in society’s ills like a thirsty black hole.
For fans, there is always a battle going on between Marilyn Manson, the group notorious for being accused of causing Columbine, and Brian Warner, the somber pontificator who urinates on fans but maintains intelligent conversation. To non-fans, they are the same person; over the past decade, Warner has tried to split the two in the public eye. Inevitably, the blurred edges that once worked in his favor continue to work against him.
Little Brian Warner, better known by his stage name Marilyn Manson, made his career over 20 years ago with imitative schlocky imagery and tongue-in-cheek shock value lyrics that begged for (and received) controversy—and thus media notice. Backed by his band of the same name, Warner’s style of simplistic and shocking alternative metal somehow managed to achieve great financial success, major label backing, and the controversy and attention that he so desperately desired. This notoriety continued as the singer became the target of parents’ groups and was mentioned as a possible inspiration for the Columbine High School killers’ rampage.
It must be strange to be an artist who once struck fear in the heart of the mainstream with their music and exploits, but whose presence no longer possesses the same seismic clout of controversy and spectacle. Brian Warner, better known by his nom de guerre Marilyn Manson, is one such artist. Mid-to-late 1990s hard rock/mainstream metal belonged to Manson.
Once Marilyn Manson’s shock-rock antics ceased being an effective attention-getting mechanism sometime in the ’00s, the boo-scary rocker had a difficult time finding his footing. Although his core fans and rock aficionados never abandoned him or his albums, the one-time Nine Inch Nails protege no longer functioned as a go-to cultural lightning rod for hate and outrage. As a result, both his rebellious countercultural poses and music started to feel stale and unimaginative, especially in the years post-2007’s flashy Eat Me, Drink Me.
When I was kid hiding records like Smells Like Children and Antichrist Superstar (still holds up; I checked), Marilyn Manson meant something. He was like a stupid, sorta scary Muppet whose singular purpose was pissing off your parents. And his carefully stage-managed evolution from shock rock to dark glam on 1998's Mechanical Animals was totally convincing.
Marilyn Manson hasn’t cleaned up his act on his ninth studio LP, written with Tyler Bates, a composer for films, television, and video games. Nor has he budged from the provocatively self-indulgent posturing that once alienated the Christian right, but now feels like doomsday shtick. Lyrically, you know what to expect; musically, there are bright spots.