Review: Marilyn Manson Ascends Once More On “The Pale Emperor”

“I can’t decide if you’re wearing me out, or wearing me well.”
Marilyn Manson – “Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge

Like the dysfunctional relationship in the blues-rock number above, my relationship with Marilyn Manson‘s recent catalogue has been anything but the gothic harmony we once shared.  Once a king of fusing industrial metal with avant-garde flair, Manson‘s last decade of material has been dodgy at best, perhaps reflecting the turmoil of his personal relationships.

With the guiding hand of Tyler Bates (scores for Guardians of the Galaxy, Californication, and The Devil’s Rejects), Manson digs deep into mythology and folklore — particularly the story of Fautus and Mephistopheles — on The Pale EmperorRecognizing himself that his recent output hasn’t lived up to his once high standards, Manson declares the album his proverbial paying of the piper.  Digging into the less-is-more terrain of traditional blues, Manson deals out scathing rockers and brooding meditations on what it means to sell-out and sell oneself short.

Like the greatest of blues artists have been telling us for decades:  we are born alone, and die alone as well.

Family influences creep into this album by his own admission  — opener “Killing Strangers” plays out both as an opening salvo in Manson’s quest to reclaim his throne and a dark nod to the toll of war — but this is his story, one told with a subtlety that mirrors his shedding of a life of severe excess.  Stripped to his core, Manson digs into emotional scars and his own self-disappointment with mature eyes.  Take the simmering “Warship My Wreck” and its seething that soars, but just as swiftly collapses upon itself in sadness.  “Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge” is perhaps one of his best in years, favouring a low-key sparseness that feels immense as the weight of its lesson learned and shared: “I’d rather be your victim than be with you.

The rocker’s bark still carries ferocious bite when called upon, although those moments are fewer than in his 90s heyday.  Single “Deep Six” thrashes and gnashes with the pit-readiness of “Disposable Teens”, nodding slyly to mythology (and Manson‘s intellectual side):  “You wanna know what Zeus said to Narcissus? ‘You better watch yourself“.  And while not the raucous uptempo songs of yesterday, tracks like “The Devil Beneath My Feet” and “Cupid Carries A Gun” shove a blade beneath the emotional ribcage, twisting and tearing out a common thread of human lows and highs.

If one song on the album captures its themes, it’s the overtly biographical “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles” — odd, since it’s essentially the continuation of the aforementioned folklore tale of a man who sells his soul for fame.  “I don’t know if I can open up/Been opened too much,” Manson laments, reflecting on his addiction and compromised morals with regret, but also a defiance.  “Lazarus got no dirt on me!” he shouts before declaring himself not only the sell-out, but the demon coming to collect and serve the damned like him — perhaps a nod to the fans who relate to his music.

While The Pale Emperor has a few rough edges and favours mellow over melting faces to slight excess, it is the return to the heart of what made Marilyn Manson an icon of the scene.  His best effort since The Golden Age of Grotesque, it’s clear Manson’s finger is back on the pulse of his fanbase, where it belongs.

Highlights:  “Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge”; “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles”; “Deep Six”; “The Devil Beneath My Feet”

Final Grade:  A-

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