This year sees rock and roll demagogue Marilyn Manson forge a new path with his ninth studio album, The Pale Emperor. Still traipsing a familiar dark territory with lyrics that capture a relentless obsession with death and speak to the disaffected, elements of this record suggest a changed mindset for the 46-year-old.
A controversial figure for the mainstream media, Manson has become something of an American icon having sold over 50 million albums since coming to prominence in the early 1990s. The singer has also pursued a successful acting career, making his film debut in David Lynch’s 1997 thriller Lost Highway, and recently appearing in television dramas Sons Of Anarchy and Californication through which he met composer, guitarist and the main collaborator on this album, Tyler Bates.
It is this collaboration that sees Manson stepping into new territory, introducing sparse, blues-rock riffs and leaning away from industrial sounding overproduction. Bates also provided lyrical direction, urging the singer towards a more introspective and affecting lyricism, over an angry manifesto.
The result is an inspired album, affecting in its intimacy and simplicity, but also confronting in Manson’s self-assurance.
The Pale Emperor kicks off with the powerful Killing Strangers. The thumping beat and bass line gives a nod to Manson favourite Tom Waits, while the sparse but effective guitar hook immediately justifies Bates’ involvement. The lyrics on this track lean towards cliché with, ‘We’re killing strangers so we don’t kill the ones that we love,’ being the dominant line, however they are delivered with an attitude that makes this track instantly likeable.
The Pale Emperor is certainly one of Marilyn Manson’s more accessible and commercial albums, with tracks like the almost danceable main single, Deep Six, and the following Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge both equal parts depressing and catchy.
The Mephistopheles Of Los Angeles is cocksure, with Manson’s self-confident delivery effectively paired with a massive guitar riff from Bates. Contrasting light and darkness throughout this track, the punchy chorus is perfectly suited to the lonely and disillusioned who may have given up on society, but still retain their faith in themselves. Then, following a minute long introduction, Birds Of Hell Awaiting sees Manson mimicking the groaned and howled vocals of Iggy Pop in a way that makes this a late standout of the album.
The final two songs on The Pale Emperor were written following the death of Manson’s mother, who passed away in May of 2014 after a lengthy battle with dementia. While Cupid Carries A Gun is straightforward, percussive rock track, Odds Of Even slows to provide a more intimate and introspective conclusion for the album. Against a soundscape of distant Coyote calls and guitar distortion, Manson’s textured vocals purr, ‘My dagger and swagger are useless in the face of the mirror.’ Ending with a soaring guitar line from Bates, this final track is intimate yet epic, a summation that can also apply to the album as a whole.
The Pale Emperor demonstrates a masterful manipulation of texture and space from the heavy metal veteran, and while Marilyn Manson alone justifies his global success, his effective collaboration with Tyler Bates is also worthy of acclaim. Together, they have produced an album that will not only satisfy long-term fans, but is sure to also capture the attention of the demonic rocker’s newer listeners.