Words By: Gerrod Harris
Release Date: January 20th, 2015, via Hell etc.
Marilyn Manson’s newest release, The Pale Emperor, his follow up to 2012’s Born Villain, and his second album on his own label, Hell etc., looks to give Manson a new edge, with almost an hour of new music!
The Pale Emperor sees the first collaboration between Manson and new band mate Tyler Bates, a film composer known for his work on multiple horror films, such as Halloween and Dawn Of The Dead, as well as his work on huge blockbusters of the likes of 300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch, and more recently, Guardians Of The Galaxy.
Manson describes the collaboration as “It felt like ‘Wow, this is suddenly what I’m supposed to do.’ Tyler would write the music and say ‘Would you like to sing on this?’ At the end of “Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge”, you can hear me improvising lyrics, going ‘Mm, mm, hmm’ while Tyler’s guitar comes across my vocals. It felt right while it was happening, and there were no songs that didn’t get finished.” Bates is an excellent addition to the band, both from a writing, but also, a performing point of view. It seems his creative energy has really boosted new life into the music, and the rest of the band.
The album’s first track, “Killing Strangers” sets a fitting tone for what is to follow on The Pale Emperor: catchy, dirty, and gritty songs one can’t help but bop their head to. “Killing Strangers” is driven by a shuffling drum beat, one you’d expect to hear in a strip club. It’s raunchy, and goes great with the funky, while eerie guitar riff, which reoccurs throughout the song. Manson’s vocals are powerful, and as always, full of emotion. Like much of his previous work, Manson is able to create an atmosphere of intensity through the raw energy he puts into his vocals, while layering simple instrumental parts underneath, providing him with sturdy ground to branch off on. Of the two singles released for the album, “Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge” and “Deep Six”, I prefer “Third Day”. It continues on a similar note as the opening track, with Manson sounding truly like he is caught in the middle of a coke fueled binge, one he knows he can’t reach the end of sooner. He sounds worn out, tired even, but what would often make a song less exciting, gives the song a powerful effect, one which could not be obtained otherwise. “Deep Six”, although not as exciting to listen to as the previously discussed tracks, is a nice fusion of hard rock, with the energy of a club beat. Manson is no stranger to mixing these juxtaposing textures, but it still seems fresh whenever he does it.
Other noteworthy songs would include “Slave Only Dreams To Be King” and “The Devil Beneath My Feet” which both employ popular motifs borrowed for different genres, where they could often be seen as cliché, however, when paired with Manson’s voice and musical additions, what would be a cliché feels new and fun to listen to. “Birds Of Hell Awaiting” is reminiscent of his classic anthem, “The Dope Show” with its sloppy and raunchy shuffle groove. The acoustic “Day 3” is Manson sounding at his most vulnerable; the vocals are real, and rough, but that just adds to the charm of the record. After listening to the entire album more than a few times, I cannot find anything which stood out in a negative way. All the songs are very well written, and executed excellently. Even the three bonus tracks (all of which are live, acoustic versions of other songs on the album) are very well done. The Pale Emperor is the sound of a matured Manson; still angry, still sorrowful, but in a more artistic, even dare I say, poetic way. Or as he puts it, “less gin, more gym”.
Over all, The Pale Emperor is one of the best albums Manson has released in years. It makes sense that Manson had said in a recent press release, “I haven’t felt this confident about an album for 15 years, since the release of [2000’s] Holy Wood.” I quite enjoyed the entire album. It is very dark, and takes Manson and his music back to their edgier, angrier roots, with more of a focus on heavy instrumentally driven music which perfectly accompanies the twisted and tortured voice. My favorite part of the entire album are the vocals and just how incredibly raw they are. Manson’s voice, in each song, carries a dire, emotional weight, making every song end with a powerful and lasting effect. Perhaps they are this way as his vocals match how he describes himself, as the “third act of every movie you’ve ever seen. I’m the part where it rains and the part where the person you don’t want to die dies”. What makes them even more impressive is that most of the vocal tracks were first takes, which can be heard in how rough and edgy they sound. “It’s dirty”, as Manson puts it. The Pale Emperor sits somewhere in between Nine Inch Nails and David Bowie; the frustration and edge of Trent Reznor mixed with the emotion and showmanship of Bowie, it makes for a very intense, a very real record.
Ultimately, The Pale Emperor offers an array of songs which will appeal both to the newer generation of fans, as well as the diehards from the 90’s. Manson stated “This album is real rock and roll, and it happened naturally,” which comes across through the speakers. The Pale Emperor is a welcome change of pace and style, while partially returning to an older era for Manson it still moves forward into new territory, trading his classic industrial textures of the 1990’s for a more bluesy, authentic sound. With Bates in the co-pilot chair, I hope they choose to continue their collaborative efforts for any future projects. One thing is for certain, the Anti-Christ Superstar is, without a doubt, back, with The Pale Emperor, and album which stands strongly beside some of his best records.
1: Killing Strangers
2: Deep Six
3: Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge
4: The Mephistopheles Of Los Angeles
5: Warship My Wreck
6: Slave Only Dreams To Be King
7: The Devil Beneath My Feet
8: Birds Of Hell Awaiting
9: Cupid Carries A Gun
10: Odds Of Even
11: Day 3
12: Fated, Faithful, Fatal
13: Fall Of The House Of Death