Saturday, 7 February 2015

Marilyn Manson's 'The Pale Emperor' - Album Review

Very few artists have been as controversial as Marilyn Manson. His angst-ridden industrial metal has always been extremely divisive, attracting adoration and disgust in almost equal measure. The thing that has always made him stand out (at least for me) from other artists out to shock, is that his music (and image) has always seemed 100% genuine. Nothing he ever did seemed contrived, and even in his heyday he did exactly what he wanted to do. I think this is why his more recent albums have not been as popular, because they have changed slightly from his commercial peak. To me, 2003's The Golden Age of Grotesque was his last truly great album. While even that did not hit the heights of what came before, it was a huge, swaggering rock album that was filled with melodic anthems. Since then, his artistic experimentations have seen mixed results. 2007's electronica-based Eat Me, Drink Me never really worked for me; and while the first half (side 1, if you will) of 2009's The High End of Low was excellent, the second half seemed poor and uninspired by comparison. His last album, 2012's Born Villain, was another confusing affair that did not really know what it wanted to be. I enjoyed the album at first, but repeated listens have only lessened by opinion of it. While none of these three albums are anything close to awful, they definitely lacked the spark that made Manson so strong in the first place. I would never expect another Mechanical Animals, as he is older and more restrained these days, but a solidly enjoyable album would be a triumph at this stage in his career. The Pale Emperor is his ninth studio album, and it is easily his most consistent since The Golden Age of Grotesque. Soundwise, it is actually quite similar to Born Villain, but the bluesy overtones and huge bass sound make it more enjoyable overall. Jeordie White (aka Twiggy Ramirez) who has been Manson's main collaborator throughout most of his career was not involved with the writing and performance of this album at all, with all the music being written instead by Tyler Bates who is more famous for his work on film and TV scores. He plays all of the albums instruments, apart from the drums which are played by Gil Sharone (Stolen Babies; The Dillinger Escape Plan). Working with Bates has clearly inspired Manson, and encouraged him to create his best album in years.

The opening number Killing Strangers really showcases the blues sound of the album perfectly. The song is based around a tight bass groove with the other instruments adding colour as and when needed. The thing that strikes me is how good Manson's voice sounds on this album. He seems to have found a comfortable range for his age, and his tortured croon sounds stronger than it has in ages. The bluesy guitar interludes give the song a great laid-back feel, while the atmospherics create a spooky vibe, and the two moods make for a great contrast. Deep Six is like the Manson of old. A dark guitar riff gets things underway before Sharone's hollow-sounding drums provide a solid backbone for the piece. This song really recalls the sound on Mechanical Animals with an anthemic chorus and some really dirty-sounding guitar stabs to back up Manson's screamed vocals. Those who pine his old sound need look further than this song, it really rocks. He has not sounded this inspired for ages, and this is a standout song on the album. Third Day of a Seven Day Binge is another bluesy croon. Again, the bass guitar is the dominant instrument here, and it's buzz drives the song while Manson's strong voice takes centre stage. His lyrics are still as witty as ever, even if they are not as angry or profanity-laden. The guitar work here is filling, with short lead sections and ringing chords used to good effect. The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles is filled with real swagger. Sharone's drum beat provides a great rhythm which the bass follows with more guitar backing than the previous songs. This song has another really strong chorus, that has a real swing feel to it while Manson sings over the top of some powerful guitar chords and plenty of cymbal crashes. The song is almost upbeat, something which Manson's songs rarely are, and this makes is another standout piece. Warship my Wreck is anything but upbeat. This song shares similarities with the material found on the second half of The High End of Low and is not as strong as the material that has come before it. It is a bit of a dirge that fails to really inspire, while never sounding bad either. Having said that though, the bluesy guitar solo from Bates near the end is enjoyable, especially when Manson's cracked voice joins in over the top of it to create something pained-sounding, which suits the sound of the album as a whole.

Slave Only Dreams to be King gets the album back on track. Some rousing spoken word opens the song before another potent drum and bass combination with a real 1990s industrial sound comes in and the song takes off. This is another song that has a whiff of his older material about it with really distorted guitar fills, punchy drums, and a mix of distinct vocal styles. The chorus is another good one, with a good keyboard backdrop for his vocals to soar over. The foot-stomping rhythms continue in The Devil Beneath my Feet. The bass riff here is extremely catchy with a very danceable rhythm that is sure to go down well live. The song builds as it goes along, with guitars eventually joining the bass, and a few nice atmospheric moments where everything but keyboards drop out make for good changes in pace. These last two songs would make for an excellent one-two punch live, with their infectious rhythms and sing-a-long nature. Birds of Hell Awaiting is another very bluesy piece. Imagine 1930s Delta blues brought kicking and screaming into the modern day, and this is what you might get. The drums have the blues shuffle to them, and the riffs follow the traditional 12 bar blues pattern. It works surprisingly well and the result is an enjoyable piece that does not sound like anything he has done before. Cupid Carries a Gun is similar to The Devil Beneath my Feet with it's tight drum groove and strident vocal performance from Manson. The guitar work on this song actually stands out more than the bass for once. There is some excellent, delicate acoustic work during some sections; and the rest of the song features some nice fuzzy riffing and picking that works well. The song is almost hypnotic, as the beat never really lets up throughout, and once you get that groove in your head it is very difficult to remove it. The album's final song is Odds of Even, which is another slower number. Manson's crooning here has a very different sound to it than on the rest of the songs here. The weakness in his voice benefits the song greatly, and Bates' inventive blues soloing, along with the stabs of keyboard, really make this song stand out. This is a song that grows on you over time, as it takes a while for the dirge to make much sense, but the guitar work and Manson's vocals will slowly draw you in. Overall, this is a really solid album from the legendary rocker, and one that is sure to bring back a lot of fans that had become tired of his more recent work. Fans of his work should definitely check this out, as there is much to enjoy here.

The album was released on 19th January 2015 via Hell, etc./Cooking Vinyl Limited. Below is his promotional video for Deep Six.

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