Mr. Manson has returned with a ferociousness on his new album The Pale Emperor, following a hot streak and return to glory started with his last album, Born Villain. This time around he has new company. In fact, the band now only consists of Manson and two other people – both newcomers. First is multi-instrumentalist Tyler Bates, who is previously known for scoring films and video games, including a few Rob Zombie flicks and Guardians of the Galaxy. Second is drummer Gil Sharone, who has previously worked with the bands Stolen Babies, Puscifer, and Dillinger Escape Plan. So we have all new blood musically. The interesting thing is the outcome sounds more like what most would probably think a Marilyn Manson album *should* sound like than some previous incarnations of the band. The album is a mere ten songs. This is becoming the norm again, as opposed to filling up a CD. I’m not sure if it is to set the playing field equal with single MP3 sales versus CDs being around $10 at the time of release, or if it is just the signal that our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. But in this case, it means you get a lean, mean collection of ten really good songs. I picked up the deluxe version, but even the three extra songs are merely retitled stripped down versions of three of the best tracks. And some clever packaging.
About that deluxe edition packaging first. When you open this package you notice a few things. First, the smell. The CD cardboard is coated with some type of oil, very similar to the first pressings of Madonna’s Like a Prayer album. Also, the cardboard of the digipack is a sandpaper-like material. I remember reading that Public Image Limited wanted to do this idea on one of their albums, with the idea being it would tear up any record you put it next to. Now my collection is alphabetical, so it would only tear up the last Manson album and Marcy Playground (hey… I really loved that album!). But I keep my digipacks in plastic sleeves so they don’t turn to scrap paper over the years. Also, you get no booklet. Points lost here. The CD is stuck to the cardboard with a squishy foam spindle. The CD itself is black. Completely black, as in the back is a polycarbonate black disc (like old Playstation games). When you take the CD out of the player, the heat turns the label side white. Nine Inch Nails did that on Year Zero except that one had hidden text, Also, the back cover MM logo looks conspicuously like the NIN logo inside of the “Sin” CD single. Hmmm…
But on to the music. The main point here. Rather than come blasting in, the first track trunches its way in with a slow heavy thud. “Killing Strangers” may very well be one of the most poignant songs Manson has written yet. “We’re killing strangers so we don’t kill the ones we love”. A lot could be written into that line. The slow pace gives way to something new to Manson’s sound – the blues! The guitar riffs here are spare but effective. Rather than the bombast of industrial rock, we have a hard blues style with well-chosen instruments. The breathing room is what makes it more inviting. The second track packs a faster punch. “Deep Six” has all the crunch and bite I feel like I’ve been waiting on for quite some time. Manson has said in interviews that he intentionally left the lyrics a bit vague and open, but what’s clear is that he’s putting raw emotion and fire into the vocals. This one has one foot in the Manson of old, but with an urgency not felt since The Golden Age of Grotesque.
Next we go full-on swagger with “Third Day of a Seven Day Binge”. This song sounds like what any of Eat Me, Drink Me *should* have been but wasn’t. The riff here is almost Rolling Stones. Evil, sinister Rolling Stones. This one is probably my favorite track, simply because I can’t get it out of my head since I’ve first heard it. Following this is another great track “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles”. “I don’t know if I can open up, I’m not a birthday present”, go the lyrics of this one. It has a bit of a swing to the drums like “Personal Jesus”. While I don’t know the Mephistopheles story well, Manson makes a lot of use of myth and royalty stories to draw parallels to his own life. Rounding out the first half is a track called “Warship My Wreck”, which really ends up sounding like “Worship My Wreck” if you didn’t see the titles. The tuning of this one reminds me a bit of one of one of the more atmospheric Nine Inch Nails The Downward Spiral tracks. But even with that, the very filmic sound Tyler Bates gives this is very effective.
Side two… the leadoff track “Slave Only Dreams To Be King”. This is the classic Manson you remember. Cut from the same cloth as “The Beautiful People”, mostly in its sway and its drums, but with hindsight, growth maybe, and far more swagger. It’s weird to think this is only three people, as I picture a band the size of the 90s Marilyn Manson bringing this to life. “The Devil Beneath My Feet” is lyrically rooted in the same place as old Robert Johnson blues songs. But musically, this is nothing like it. This is a Manson that makes no apologies for his life, not so much out of arrogance, but out of what he has learned.
“The Birds of Hell Awaiting” was the first track that Manson and Tyler Bates worked on that sparked this entire new way of writing and recording. The atmosphere in this one very much brings vivid images to mind for a backdrop, as any good film music should do. “Cupid Carries A Gun” comes back to the “Personal Jesus” beat (I’m sorry I don’t know what else to call it – because when I say that, you are picturing the beat that I mean). But this one has kind of an old western feel to it. So I will just say now, Tyler Bates should stick around. His touches really make all the difference, like tolling bells on this song in just the right places.
The final track is quite the closer. “Odds of Even” is essentially a blues song. A haunted, creepy, pale blues song about facing your demons in the mirror. But where this could end up some whiny kind of thing, it steers clear of that completely. The grit to the production and the perfectly placed guitar soloing have all the right space to build this into a song that feels like a movie.
The deluxe edition bonus acoustic tracks are an added on afterthought, but still very much worth having. “Day 3” is an acoustic reading of “Third Day of a Seven Day Binge”. “Fated, Faithful, Fatal” is “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles” and “Fall of the House of Death” is “Odds of Even”. However, these songs do not fall flat acoustically. Instead, the stripped down nature exposes the humanity in the lyrics.
So while I gave a glowing review of Born Villain, The Pale Emperor blows it out of the water. I’ve been playing it over and over since it’s release and keep finding more to like on each listen. It’s great to see Manson reclaim his throne.
Get your copy of The Pale Emperor HERE:
Check out the videos:
“Third Day of a Seven Day Binge” (Audio):
“Slave Only Dreams to be King” (Audio):