Review Summary: Marilyn Manson trim the fat on The Pale Emperor, making it one of their best albums in years.
Marilyn Manson, Brian Warner’s creepy shock rockin’ industrial band, has never been a stranger to twisting expectations. Their very existence was all about pushing things further and further, until even United States politicians were at Warner’s doorstep. But after the swell in popularity from albums like Antichrist Superstar
and Mechanical Animals
, Marilyn Manson’s later albums were obnoxiously one-note. Eat Me, Drink Me
and The High End of Low
lacked any real substance behind their indulgence. Born Villain
was a step in the right direction, but the anticipation for Manson’s 2015 record The Pale Emperor
was rich with skepticism. But the curtain’s down; Marilyn Manson have taken a bold new direction with their newest record. It’s the best Marilyn Manson album in years.
There was a point in Marilyn Manson’s career where the tracks felt far too thick and bloated to be worth their weight. The Pale Emperor
, oddly enough, trims the fat. It slims down on the excess, making for songs that can stand on their own much better. “Third Day of a Seven Day Binge” is a remarkable track. It’s much less heavy and stripped down than other tracks from the later parts of Marilyn Manson’s career, but capitalizes on alt-rock inspired strums and hypnotic drones from Warner. The siren guitars add the texture where it counts, making the track sound full, but never oversaturated. “Warship My Wreck” is a bleak composition, where not even Warner’s belt-out cry can destroy the simplicity and scorched earth he pitches. Warner said that he wanted The Pale Emperor
to be a “cinematic” album and he’s definitely made the effort to show this. But oddly enough, he’s made it cinematic less in scope, and more in mood. Even in its biggest moments, The Pale Emperor
is still very stripped-down. That’s a good thing.
Of course, Warner isn’t really throwing back to his Antichrist Superstar
years. The grinding industrial riffs are nearly omitted, sticking to more classic rock guitar sounds. The solos are more than welcome in this simpler aesthetic; the bluesier tones of “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles” roar with the twanging guitar notes. “Deep Six” moves into the heavier rock territory on occasion, but groove takes the torch in The Pale Emperor
. Warner’s voice is especially notable here, as he croons and moans on tracks like “Slave Only Dreams to Be King”, channeling his best interpretation of music by The Doors. Other tracks sound almost indie in nature, like the funky guitars on “Killing Strangers” or the groovy bass on “The Devil Beneath My Feet.” The Pale Emperor
isn’t nearly as indulgent as past records like The High End of Low
, but still manages to keep things interesting. It’s a solid move on the band’s part.
The portions where the classic rock styles wane turn out to be the worst parts of The Pale Emperor
. “Killing Strangers”, as brooding as it is, is generally uninteresting. The layered buzzes and thick guitars revitalize the issue of past records, where excess limited what Marilyn Manson could do. Mood and agency are sacrificed for animalistic emotion, a bad move with the rest of the album doing so well in its picturesque representation. The album in general has sporadic issues with this. Many tracks go into noisy, cacophonic whirlwinds of sound. While this would be acceptable in any other Marilyn Manson album, with so many tracks stripping things down, these tend to be more intrusive than core. The direction Marilyn Manson take on The Pale Emperor
is a good one, a fascinating shift in perspective for the group when it can really grab it.
The Pale Emperor
trims the fat and narrows the focus on Marilyn Manson, resulting in an album that has little to hide and a lot to show. The blues influence has moments of being buried under indulgent cacophony, but for the most part, Warner is stripping off the layers and showing his iconic group in a great light. But the texture hasn’t been forgotten; just switched up. Bleak tracks like “Odds of Even” complement picturesque ones like “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles.” Marilyn Manson are showing their brooding, sinister world without shoving it in our faces. While the more classic Marilyn Manson records capitalized on unsettling mixes of industrial, metal and rock, The Pale Emperor
is unsettling in its simplicity. It’s a great direction for Marilyn Manson to take and it makes their newest record an early surprise for 2015.