Album Review: Marilyn Manson, ‘The Pale Emperor’

Written by Molly Boekenheide

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Marilyn Manson has gone through a musical dry spell. Since his glory days early in the millennium, the once-worshiped, Antichrist Superstar has widely been thought to have lost his musical mojo. Die-hard Manson fans like myself have struggled over the past decade or so to come up with new music, keep his old tunes fresh, and wonder if there would ever be anything more. Would our snappy, notoriously raunchy shock rock king of days gone by ever be relevant again?

Needless worry.

Like a phoenix rising through the heavy metal ashes, Manson has returned with a vengeance. Arguably his best work yet, his new album, The Pale Emperor, is replete with an element now noticeably missing from his previous works; maturity. That’s right; the self-proclaimed “God of Fuck” has evolved. Now older and wiser, Manson showcases a new musical sophistication and lyrical finesse unlike anything that he has released before. Manson’s state of mind seems to mirror The Pale Emperor’s album art; he’s worn and weathered on the outside, but his core is still solid metal.

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Manson wakes up from his recent musical coma kicking off The Pale Emperor with the blues-ridden “Killing Strangers.” Sounding like a sedated B-side from 2000’s Holy Wood, “Killing Strangers” could very well be a companion track for the album “The Love Song,” all about guns, God, and government. The track burrows in your brain with a deep, pulsing beat accented by Manson’s signature spook factor and impressive vocal performance, wailing out an unhinged, “We got guns, we got guns motherfucker you better run…”

“Deep Six” is up next, seeing Manson bare all on what’s been holding him back these past years. Drug addiction and the resulting state of self-loathing had clearly hindered Manson’s creative process, while his lyrics offer insight into his dangerous depression. “It’s like a stranger had a key, came inside of my mind and moved all my things around…but he didn’t know snakes can’t kneel or prey, try to break the psyche down…”

“Third Day of a Seven Day Binge” is equally as revealing as “Deep Six,” but it explores an entirely new vice: sex. Manson explores a toxic relationship that’s slowly chipping away at his sanity: “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,” he muses, “We’ve only reached the third day of our seven day binge, I can already see your name disintegrating on my lips…”

“The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles” evaluates Manson’s public image in recent years: a hermit, a loner, an overall character who is to be approached with caution. Rolling Stone’s recent dubbing of Manson as “The Vampire of the Hollywood Hills” categorically nails the mood of the track; dark, bitter, and unapologetic. Powerful, unrelenting percussion accompanies his astringent lyrics, “I feel stoned and alone like a heretic ready to meet my maker…”

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“Warship My Wreck” starts off as a slow burn with a dark, nearly post-apocalyptic sounding intro before descending completely into chaos. This is the only time on the album that Manson seems to lose his way; while the production quality of former tracks was crystal-clear, “Warship My Wreck” sounds hurried and unpolished. Manson redeems himself with “Slave Only Dreams to Be King,” using the heavy guitar riff-driven formula that’s made him so successful in days past.

“The Devil beneath My Feet” is quintessential Manson: irony hidden behind a sardonic smirk, and two up-turned middle-fingers saluting organized religion. “Don’t want your God or your higher power to get higher…and I’ll not allow, no I’ll not allow when you look up what we see” he snarls between a soul-rattling bass line, “Don’t need a motherfucker looking down on me, motherfucker looking down on me…but at least I know that wherever I go, I’ve got the devil beneath my feet…”

“Birds of Hell Awaiting” is a straight up throwback to Manson’s “The Dope Show” days, with the track’s dark vibe sprinkled with some slightly-disturbed sex appeal. Unstructured verses and scattered moans follow disjointed guitars before blasting into a chorus that slowly fades into nothingness, leaving only a prickling sense of unease in its wake. “Cupid Carries a Gun” rouses listeners with its first notes, twangy plucked guitars weaving throughout Manson’s musings of “Better pray for Hell, not Hallelujah…”

The Pale Emperor wraps up with “Odds of Even,” a slow, steady track that seems to mirror Manson’s current emotional state: haunted, bitter, dramatic, and slightly cautious…but always darkly grandiose. Orchestral elements make the track the perfect grand finale for The Pale Emperor. The Antichrist Superstar has returned, and his new album is exactly what the hard rock and metal genres have been looking for.

Glad to have you back, Manson!

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Marilyn Manson’s The Pale Emperor will be released on Tuesday, January 20. To pre-order, click here.

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