Marilyn Manson: The Pale Emperor

Schlock horror: the goth-metal kingpin returns with better songs but no real surprises.

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The glory days of Marilyn Manson – namely the triumvirate of Antichrist Superstar, Mechanical Animals and Holy Wood – are up there with heavy rock’s all-time high points. Post-Holy Wood, the former poster boy for controversy to the moral majority lost his magic, the music suffered, and he’s struggled to regain respect since.

The self-proclaimed God Of Fuck is, however, persistent. After a string of disappointing albums, 2012’s Born Villain provided some respite. Though not a glorious comeback, it was an improvement on his more recent works, showing a glimpse of Manson past, and putting the pressure on The Pale Emperor to really rekindle the flame. It may not quite achieve that, but it certainly has a spark./o:p

Born Villain, like much of Manson’s back catalogue (though he could get away with it back then) had kooks and pretensions throughout, such as self-indulgent rambles, unnecessary heavy breathing and random Shakespeare quotes. The Pale Emperor, by Manson’s standards, is relatively stripped back, focusing more on the music – a good move on his part.

It’s dominated by two unsurprising musical styles: slow-paced, strutting grooves with bluesy undertones that sound like they belong in a smoky strip club, with opener Killing Strangers setting the tone; and stomping, industrial anthems with hints of electronica that were made for an underground goth club night – particularly the pumping beats of Deep Six. On the first half of the album especially, there are a number of catchy, memorable songs.

There is variety in sound, if not a huge amount. Cupid Carries A Gun has a shadowy country twang, while Warship My Wreck, one of the most sombre songs here, is swathed in a darkness that gives it an apocalyptic feel, and Manson sounds gut-wrenchingly emotional in his wails. But his vocals aren’t what they used to be: at times he sounds strained.

The problem with The Pale Emperor is that, yet again, it’s predictable. Though stronger song-wise than Born Villain, it sticks with the same musical formula and feels tired at times: the industrial stomps sound dated, the riffs are more sleazy than sexy, and we’ve heard them all before.

The fascination with Marilyn Manson, whether through hatred, fear or adoration, came not just from the strength of the music, but from a carefully thought-out vision that shocked the world. Since then, he’s failed to surprise anyone. Perhaps for him to really achieve a comeback, he needs a total reinvention./o:p

Hannah May Kilroy

Hannah May Kilroy has been writing about music professionally for over a decade, covering everything from extreme metal to country. She was deputy editor at Prog magazine for over five years, and previously worked on the editorial teams at Terrorizer and Kerrang!. She currently works as the production editor for The Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Guardian, Classic Rock and Metal Hammer.