Review Summary: Marilyn Manson's ninth studio album reaffirms his place in the music world, injecting life into what many considered to be a dead horse.
Marilyn Manson has had a fair share of being called a washed up has-been over the years, and since Holy Wood the quality of his output has been questionable; as the years have gone by long-time fans wondered if they’d ever see the God Of *** back to form again. However, the release of Born Villain in 2012 showed he still had a little fight left in him, showcasing a more personnel and claustrophobic effort that brought out a different side to him. Since the release of Born Villain Brian has focused less on his music, rather, driving his efforts into the TV and film world, but after three years he’s back to release LP number nine, titled ‘The Pale Emperor’.
When listening to the albums opener ‘Killing Strangers’ you get a feeling The Pale Emperor isn’t pulling any punches; Manson’s vocals have the vulnerable tones from Born Villain, but they have a bite you won’t have heard from him since ‘The Golden Age of Grotesque’. The song sees him singing about America’s gun legislations, while musically the song backs him up with drums and bass locked in tight, electronic parts creeping into the track, while guitars build to a chorus which sounds like something you’d hear from the ‘Mechanical Animals’ days -- think ‘Great Big White World’. By the time the track has finished, whether you meant to or not, you’ve given your complete attention to the album.
Simply put, The Pale Emperor is a joy to listen to. Marilyn Manson has had some worrying times with his last few releases, struggling to find the sound that once made him great. Since Manson has been occupying his time elsewhere, it has given him that much needed breather and in doing so he has managed to create an album that stands up next to some of the strongest LP’s he’s ever done. The best way to describe The Pale Emperor is imagine blending Mechanical Animals with the strongest qualities found on the last three albums he’s released, it’s the freshest sounding album he’s done in years.
In interviews Manson has described The Pale Emperor as his soundtrack album, and with songs like ‘Warship My Wreck’ with its broad, epic riffs, electronic beats and subtle piano undertones that build a thick atmosphere before going out like a Hollywood score, you can see what he’s getting at. ‘Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge’ and ‘The Mephistopheles Of Los Angeles’ show that bloated rock sound, a sound I haven’t properly heard on a Manson record since Holy Wood, while songs like ‘Birds Of Hell Awaiting’ and ‘Cupid With A Gun’ are cut from the same cloth as Born Villain. It even throws in the odd curveball with songs like the album closer ‘Odds of Even’, which is probably the most experimental track on the album: starting off with a bluesy riff before shifting to a heavier Holy Wood style before its closing seconds, it’s quite different to anything he’s done before and it’s one of the best songs on the album. There’s an overall cohesion throughout the album, in fact, The Pale Emperor feels like the most streamlined and complete piece of work he’s created in a long time.
There’s plenty of the groove fuelled tracks you’ll be familiar with from his later works, ‘Deep Six’ and ‘Slave Only Dreams To Be King’ show the sound of his most recent efforts, but the songs never feel stagnant, and this is mainly thanks to Manson’s great vocal performances. His voice has changed quite a bit over the years, Born Villain saw a more insecure approach to his voice, but this time round he’s managed to stick to that vine and bring some of the punch back. Most importantly though, what makes him sound so great on this LP, is he sounded like he wanted to make the record; everything feels honest and you get the feeling he’s giving you 110%.
This is the shortest album released by the band to date, at just 10 tracks – 13 if you include the bonus tracks -- the album never overstays its welcome, if anything the album leaves a little too soon. If I had any criticisms for the album though, they go to the bonus tracks; the disappointments being ‘Fall Of The House Of Death’ and ‘Fated, Faithful, Fatal’ are actually just acoustic versions of ‘Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge’ and ‘The Mephistopheles Of Los Angeles’ with deceiving title changes. They show different dimensions to the original tracks, but it would have been nice to have a little more new material.
Overall, I was expecting this to be good but the final product delivered far more than what I was expecting. The Pale Emperor is easily the best album he’s done since Holy Wood. It’s a record that manages to collect all the best bits from his sound archives and craft an album that taps into his roots while keeping to the road he’s been going down with the last few releases -- throwing a few new ideas into the mix to push his artistic abilities that little bit further. All these ingredients are what make this album feel so fresh. The Pale Emperor will easily please fans, but for those that never enjoyed Manson in the past, even they might find something to like here.
If nothing else, The Pale Emperor shows Marilyn Manson still has the ability to make a hard-hitting and intersting record. And for a musician who’s been creating music for two and a half decades and can still surprise people, that’s an achievement in itself.