Review Summary: Are you alright? 'Cause I'm not okay.
With all due respect, Heaven Upside Down
was a mistake. After Marilyn Manson’s comeback with Tyler Bates in 2015 – a return that reinvigorated Brian’s career and awarded him both critical and fan acclaim – it was somewhat disappointing to discover that he had backtracked on his bluesy momentum for a myopic return into a well lived in comfort zone. In a lot of ways, Heaven Upside Down
undermined what The Pale Emperor
had so rigorously affirmed, taking only a meagre portion of The Pale Emperor
’s DNA onboard so he could focus his gambit on nostalgia. Listening to Heaven Upside Down
these days, there’s the sense that the Manson we hear on that record is a doppelganger: on the surface it looks and sounds like The God of F-ck, but there’s something intrinsically off about him. Lyrics in particular had regressed to levels not seen since The High End of Low
, and the music composed sounded more like a wannabe band trying to capture the hard-edged sound of Manson’s ‘90s efforts than a guy repurposing his old skillset with meaningful objectives in mind. It’s not a bad album by any means, but to this day it still baffles me why he opted out of the classy and mature image he’d fronted for himself just one album prior. Which, to some extent, puts We Are Chaos
in a more auspicious position.
Imagine my surprise when Manson dropped “We Are Chaos” back in July – an overt homage to two of his most venerable influences: The Beatles, and David Bowie. It’s no secret that these two household names have always been a part of Marilyn Manson in some capacity since Mechanical Animals
, but “We Are Chaos” drops the veil entirely and lays it all bare in a way we’ve never heard before. The track in question perfectly displays the kind of duality The Beatles’ sound is so well known for: it’s an out of character set-piece teeming with optimism, juxtaposed with Manson’s analytical motif about humanity’s imminent doom. Conjoining this macabre tale with a scintillating folky hopefulness has ultimately brought a very different kind of sound to the table, and a very intriguing project to ponder over when you imagine what the full album could be. Furthermore, the anticipation for We Are Chaos
was made all the more compelling when it was revealed Manson had disbanded his partnership with Bates to go and work with country rocker Shooter Jennings; a prospect that doubled down on the country aesthetics Marilyn Manson has been toying with in recent years.
So, the pieces are all in place, the stage is set, and long-time fans are sheepishly sat in their chairs waiting to see if Manson pulls a fast one on them. For those fretting about hearing a complete remodelling in sound, they need not worry; We Are Chaos
uses a pretty masterful balance of old and new sounds, similar to the way he integrated The Pale Emperor
’s bluesy framework with his own ghoulish traits. Imagine if The Addams Family were big country rock enthusiasts and decided to form a band in the far reaches of space and you’ll have some idea of what to expect here. A thought which swirled around in my head when I was listening to the album was Manson got really high in pre-production, binge-watched Twin Peaks and decided to make a pseudo-soundtrack of his own for it. The album, like “We Are Chaos”, is filled with dualism and in particular, the classic Lynchian juxtaposition of cheesy hopefulness and its underbelly of imminent danger; most tracks here comport the classic American nuclear family pose, pearly whites and wide-eyed smiles an all, but underneath the facade lurks its rotten and sinister opposite. “Paint You With My Love”’s garish introduction of sashaying acoustic strums and romantic croons perfectly displays the concept at hand; a superficial love-ballad that captures the zeitgeist of 50’s dance floors everywhere but who’s lyrics – which documents a similar motif to what Holywood
touched upon twenty years ago – completely stain the serene, clinical presentation emitted, by going into humanity’s obsessive reliance on monarchs and for some on the receiving end, the desire to become a martyr.
Prior to We Are Chaos
’ release Manson stated he viewed the album as a "masterpiece". That is a bold statement indeed, but it’s hard to argue with his sentiment. It’s obviously too early to tell if it will stand up next to his superlative vintages, but as its own entity it’s a bold, vastly expansive album with a bucket load of replayability. We Are Chaos
doesn’t benefit from just a couple of spins, it’s not as forthcoming or immediate with giving out rewards. Stick with the album for long enough though and you’ll unearth an adroit chapter in Warner’s thirty-plus year career. The level of variety here is supreme – taking you through jaunty, post-punk epics like “Don’t Chase the Dead”, complete with all the big, extravagant synth keys and ominous bass tones, to the cosmic, Depeche Mode-esque voyage of “Half-way & One Step Forward”. These more overt deviations in sound are perfectly executed to the point of sounding like long-standing elements in the Marilyn Manson canon. Of course, the likes of the industrial juggernaut “Infinite Darkness” is surely there to please older fans with its The Golden Age of Grotesque
styled electronics and fuzzy guitars. The important thing to remember though is that the likes of “Infinite Darkness” and glam-rocker “Keep My Head Together” don’t feel as though they’re tacked on afterthoughts. Every track here works perfectly together.
At this point I honestly give up on trying to work out Marilyn Manson. He’s had a lot of ups and downs over the years, and after looking back at Heaven Upside Down
I will admit I questioned his abilities and even ruled his decision to leave Tyler Bates as a bad move, but We Are Chaos
shatters the notion he got lucky with The Pale Emperor
. This is a staggering statement that manages to overthrow the greatness of even The Pale Emperor
. You know Manson still has a lot of weight behind his punch when he comes out with the best album closer of his career – “Broken Needle”, a bombastic ballad that explodes with uncompromising poignancy before echoing out with a finality that will stick with you long after hearing it. You can see that Manson got a bit of cold feet post-The Pale Emperor
, and his doubts jarred his momentum quite a bit. Going forward with this kind of lateral thinking is where he excels the most, and I hope, if there’s ever going to be an album after this, he continues with that mindset.
SPECIAL EDITION BONUSES: