Review Summary: R.I.P. The God of Fuck.
It's pointless to pretend that Brian Warner's career has become anything more than a joke in pop culture. Where once Marilyn Manson wreaked havoc upon American youth while they slept, he now occupies the position of cultural punching bag. Overweight, self-effacing, and lacking in subtlety; the Marilyn Manson brand has for worse become the punchline of the '90s.
It's not as if there's a mass cultural shift that can be blamed for this, either. Granted, industrial metal has dropped out of the limelight rather viscously from its commercial high point in the early '00s, contributing somewhat towards Manson's decline. However Warner's off-stage antics at some point became less about emphasizing a political agenda and more about appearing in as many music rags as possible; particular attention to the maturity with which Warner once approached issues surrounding his supposed influence in Columbine. Nowadays, he's more intent to belabor non-points about fornication habits, underwear clad and all. Parents have little to worry about when considering the washed up bogeyman, as he tends more towards portraying himself as a sexual deviant than a villain.
This approach to publicity has more or less contributed to Manson's massive falling out with critics in recent years. In that regard, Manson's career watermarks Antichrist Superstar
, Mechanical Animals
, and Holy Wood
have often been thought to of lacked in posterity, which is a rather unfair sentiment. Not defined by their dated sound and lyrical immaturity, Manson's trilogy of Californian pariah's and twisted nightmares were something beyond what the self-serious '90s were capable of. Eventually, when Marilyn Manson transformed from a plural to a singular and his Bible burning became empty rhetoric, hopes that the they/him could ever deliver upon the legacy of the trilogy faded fast. Suddenly, his genius had become a caricature, not helped by a devolution into brittle industrial dirge devoid of bite or impact (best displayed on tepid watermark The High End of Low
Despite minor respite in crowd pleasing Born Villain
, audiences were caught off guard when late last year, Manson authored the single "Third Day of a Seven Day Binge". Incongruous in that it was largely devoid of Manson's signature industrial stomp, "...Binge" marked a swerve in the path of Marilyn Manson's heady career. For once it seemed as if Warner was prepared to explore wider territories, not content with his lousy progression. Misnomers aren't uncommon when approaching new material by Manson; surprisingly though, latest effort The Pale Emperor
is an admirable attempt to flesh out the God of Fu
ck's lost substance. Not content with recent work with Twiggy Ramirez (admittedly, a step in the right direction), Tyler Bates is brought in to replicate the once menacing lumber of the Marilyn Manson character. Tapping into concept over execution, he largely succeeds.
The fresh approach towards subtlety is most apparent from aforementioned lead single, "Third Day of a Seven Day Binge". A veil of darkness overtop of a rough howl, standard industrial grind is forsaken for more intricate textures. In its place, Tyler Bates' leaves a brittle guitar line to bleed across a droning backbeat. Repressed where necessary, "...Binge" never feels like it needs to spontaneously climax, ebbing and flowing to an operatic conclusion. It's the new found engagement in subtlety that marks an improvement, with "Third Day of a Seven Day Binge" sticking out like a sore thumb in a largely embarrassing back catalogue. It's echoed on opener "Killing Strangers", where Warner waxes political about the state of arms in America. Where there would once be a series of tired industrial crunches and empty guitar chugs, there's now a threatening undercurrent to Bates' spindly guitar lines. Truly, we are through the looking glass of Marilyn Manson's once feebly immature career.
Elements of maturity not only appear for the first time but reemerge from the sidelines. Predictably, audiences tend to forget how learned Brian Warner the man is (who can blame them?); here, the remarkably literate Marilyn Manson comes to the fore. In observation of the character he's become, paraphrased references to Camus arise on "Slave Only Dreams to Be King", upon which Manson pontificates on his own corruption in character and compares it to that of Camus' enlightened protagonists. Furthermore, allusions to Faustian mythology rear their head on "The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles", commenting again upon Manson's own battles with selling a character and being Brian Warner. It shows courage and marked maturity for the man to stop abusing the same "The Beautiful People" metaphor a million times over, with the move towards a literary tongue improving The Pale Emperor
as a whole. Not only has the music adapted but the words happily fit; it recalls a sense of intelligence sorely missed since Manson's salad days.
No matter what, however, you can always trust Marilyn Manson to be Marilyn Manson, and flaws still riddle their trademark craft in passing. Particularly bad taste goes to "Cupid Carries a Gun", where over-processed guitar and synth shuffle together to emphasize a largely self-satirical tone. The same is true of moments that owe themselves to Manson's worse excess; beautifully distressing though "Odds of Even" is in its opening minutes, its devolution into cacophonous grind largely does away with the subtlety engaged with throughout The Pale Emperor
. The very essence of Manson is his ability to shock and disturb, so it's natural to expect him to fall into tropes. However it does to some degree undo the maturation that makes The Pale Emperor
such a standout in Manson's career. It's worth a moment of consideration; ultimately, it's Brian Warner being Marilyn Manson that creates the distinction between The Pale Emperor
being a very good album and an exceptional album.
Regardless, nitpicking shouldn't ruin what is largely a pleasant surprise. It's bewildering to confront Brian Warner as a mature artist, as it was only 2 years ago now that he lamented not knowing, 'which me that I love' ("No Reflection") with Johnny Depp in-tow. A lot can happen in that space of time, and it appears that Warner has caught up with his physical age. Of course, on top of Manson's discovery of subtleties, the most surprising aspect of The Pale Emperor
is that it's consistent and relevant. Not content to write the same stagnant industrial hogwash for the tenth time, Marilyn Manson engages broad influences to craft a menacing character of graceful age. It's time for the God of Fu
ck to rest in peace; arise Pale Emperor, and claim your wicked throne.