Review: Marilyn Manson Retains Nonconformist Swagger on ‘The Pale Emperor’ 


Marilyn Manson, The Pale Emperor © Loma Vista

Marilyn Manson • The Pale Emperor • Loma Vista • US Release Date: January 20, 2015

If you had to choose one artist who’s picture would be listed under the words devil, hell, or any word with a dark connotation, wouldn’t Marilyn Manson be the first choice? That’s not knocking Manson, but over a lengthy career, Manson has become associated with all things blasphemous, atheistic, and Satanic. While those days of being the most shocking musician are behind him and his band, Manson still has ‘shock’ on lockdown. On the superb The Pale Emperor, Manson bestows his gift of darkness upon all who are brave enough to listen. As sinful as it is to say, Manson’s gifts are triumphant – well hellishly speaking.

“Killing Strangers” superbly kicks off The Pale Emperor with its slow, hypnotizing groove and eerie, rocking sound. Manson is firmly invested vocally throughout the verses, hitting his stride on the gargantuan refrain (“We’re killing strangers so we don’t kill the ones that we love”). The best line of “Killing Strangers” – “We got, we got guns / motherf-ckers better run!” 

Single “Deep Six” follows, finding Manson referencing Greek mythological characters Zeus and Narcissus (“You want to know what Zeus said to Narcissus? / You better watch yourself”), a stranger with a key, and “snakes [who] can’t kneel or prey.” Lyrically simple, read into Manson’s thinking, and it’s deeper than expected, coupled with pummeling drums and full-throttle guitars. And isn’t it just so clever/coincidental how many times Manson repeats the number six? Imagine that!

“Third Day of a Seven-Day Binge” slackens the tempo while retaining the energy of “Deep Six” and arguably eclipsing the former. A dark persona as advertised, Manson literally goes for the ‘kill’ whether he’s “go bullets, in the booth [or Boothe] / rather be your victim, than be with you,” or if he “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.” Regardless, Manson’s depressing and disturbing lyrics are quite alluring, even if you feel guilty listening.

As if the ‘devil’ himself couldn’t grow anymore Mephistophelian, he portrays himself as “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles” – charming. At least Manson is honest as he states “Lazarus got no dirt on me, and I rise to every occasion.” The ‘blasphemous’ lyric is open to multiple interpretations, but can even the most devout Biblical scholar deny the cleverness of Manson’s lyrical reference? “Are we fated, faithful, or fatal?”

“Warship My Wreck” continues a surely ‘damning’ experience of The Pale Emperor where Manson keeps it ‘subterranean’ if you catch the drift. Even though he’s breaking conventional rules, Manson argues “You can’t ever say that I’m breaking the rules / If I can’t glue them back together.” Does he have a legitimate point?

Lyrics remain afire on the energetic “Slave Only Dreams to Be King,” where Manson mentions Fibonacci, braiding a rope, when we “met our brand new parents and they didn’t know it yet,” and “like a winter in Hades, we drooled for the ladies / as if the apple was owned by God.” The signature, summative lyric, “slave only dreams to king,” is food for thought as Manson suggest one who has been enslaved aspires to be ‘on top’ aka holding the power which he or she has been denied and repressed by.

Why is it that “The Devil Beneath My Feet” feels so fitting for MM? Maybe it’s the fact the opening lyric is “I don’t want your God and your higher power / I want power to get higher.” It gets worse though as Manson unapologetically sings “I don’t need a motherf-cker looking down on me.” Yep, this seems familiar fare from a guy who once sang “I Have To Look Up Just To See Hell.” Still as atheistic (Satanic) as Manson may be, he is definitely knowledgeable with Biblical and spiritual references, even if he ultimately rejects it.

“Birds of Hell Awaiting” exemplifies hellish, with demonic screams and malicious production. Marilyn Manson’s coarse, biting vocals definitely nail the blues-driven, six-eight record. Manson makes one thing clear: “This ain’t no phoenix, baby / It’s your death’s desire.” What can you say?

The condemnable course continues on standout “Cupid Carries A Gun” where Manson asks “Pound me the witch drums, the witch drums / better pray for hell, not hallelujah.” Examine any number of lyrics from Manson within the song, not to mention its ‘balls to the walls’ accompaniment, and Manson is back atop the ranks as the ultimately blasphemer. He wouldn’t have it any other way obviously, though the heretically brilliant lyric such as “She laid as still as a Bible / and it felt like Revelations when I looked inside” is enough to even make the staunchest atheist cringe…maybe.

“Odds of Even” concludes the year’s blackest album (as of yet). Fittingly, Manson saves one of the creepiest songs for the end, where his frightening voice sings at the end that “No one is exempt from the odds of even.” It is what it is and that’s very black. The best way to describe a reaction to Manson is speechlessness.

So how does The Pale Emperor stack up as an album – as a musical artwork? While subjectively it is difficult to agree with Manson’s thematic content – particularly if you are devoutly religious, objectively, Marilyn Manson is a boss. How is he a boss? He does what he does extremely well, and that is delivering music with thoughtful, if offensive lyrics soundly over devilish, theatric backdrops. He’s a nonconformist and always will be, and that nonconformist, unique spirit is what has set him and his band apart since his Antichrist Superstar days of the 90s. Maybe the best way to take Manson’s enduring shock value is with a grain of salt.

Favorites: “Killing Strangers,” “Third Day of a Seven Day Binge,” “Birds of Hell Awaiting,” and “Cupid Carries A Gun”

★★★★

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