Last week, shock rock group Marilyn Manson released their ninth studio album, The Pale Emperor. While the group has been relatively consistent in releasing new music, their seemed to be a different attitude towards this album, an ever so slightly desperate hope that this album would bring something new and exciting to the table. After all, the past few albums weren’t met with the same praise as albums such as Antichrist Superstar or Holy Wood, both of which are masterpieces of their time.
Early tracks released, such as “Cupid Carries A Gun” and “Deep Six”, sent hopes soaring as it felt like a return to the sound and style that set Manson apart as something unique. But did those tracks predict what The Pale Emperor would bring or did it tease with what could have been?
Opening with “Killing Strangers”, The Pale Emperor begins with a southern grit-infused industrial groove. Manson croons, seductively whispers, and cries out his lines while the drums elicit an almost militaristic rhythm, giving weight to the almost genocidal lyrics of “This world doesn’t need no opera/We’re here for the operation/We don’t need a bigger knife (a bigger knife)/Cause we got guns.” However, there is a tenderness to this song, a softness as Manson backtracks the slightly terrifying lines by stating, “We’re killing strangers/So we don’t kill the ones that we love.”
“Killing Strangers” starts the album off strong and continues the trend with “Deep Six”, with its Akira Yamaoka-esque intro, and “Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge”, which takes strong influence from Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. But it also portents an unexpected recurring theme throughout the album: the percussion.
Throughout the album, the pounding drums have center stage. They overpower everything else sonically, pulsing and pushing the album forward with an album pulsating mission. Additionally, the influence of composer Tyler Bates cannot be denied, especially when hearing the near cinematic opening to “Warship My Wreck”.
Continuing the album, “Slave Only Dreams to Be King” has an introduction that could easily be confused as something off of a Rob Zombie album. And yet this is where the album then takes a nosedive, in terms of energy. The second half of the album, as a whole, doesn’t have near the same energy as the first half. I feel that with some maneuvering of the track list, this could have been avoided.
This album definitely feels like a return to what made Manson so great in the first place but it lacks authenticity. While Antichrist and Holy Wood felt like Manson poured his heart and soul into the music, this lacks that same intensity. Rather, The Pale Emperor feels almost like Manson is sitting in a rocking chair, flipping through old photo albums of his previous works and nostalgically reminiscing, trying to get that same feeling back.
I don’t want to say that Marilyn Manson is phoning it in, because I truly don’t believe that. I just don’t think the same fire of their musical youth burns within, which is upsetting. The group was once a voice of dissension, an outcast with an outspoken opinion, challenging the norms of popularity. Now it feels safe to listen to them.
The Final Word: The Pale Emperor is a very solid album and ranks high in the overall history of Marilyn Manson. However, the rather cold and impersonal feeling that pervades over the entire album is a detriment.