If there’s one constant in Marilyn Manson’s post-Holy Wood trajectory, it’s his self-awareness. So you can only assume that the ambiguity in calling his 11th album We Are Chaos is deliberate.
If you're wondering whether or not he’s referring to the royal ‘we’, it goes to the heart of the conundrum facing an artist for whom the personal has become subject to the destructive forces he once had at his command: whether his chief audience these days is an army of the dispossessed, or himself. It’s probably no coincidence that he’s chosen 9/11 as the release date either, because this might well be Manson’s watershed moment.
Admittedly, the initial signs suggest otherwise. Red Black And Blue begins with Manson’s creaking, spoken word intro distorted by an insectoid echo as he declares, ‘I am the king bee, and I will destroy every flower’, before it launches into familiar industrial territory, all Ministry-style serrated riffs and caustic vocal lunges.
But We Are Chaos isn’t picking up the baton from 2017’s Heaven Upside Down; this is a jumping off point into territory that’s been hinted at but has never come to such compelling fruition. If you thought the lead single and title track was a bit of a sonic outlier, its slightly mawkish, acoustic strum and lighters-aloft combination of reflection and playing to a gallery in need of consolation, it proves to hold the DNA of where the album is headed from here on in.
Don’t Chase The Dead also offers succour, this time by means of a loping, Cure-esque bassline and a heart-salving, anthemic, windswept chorus, teetering just on the right side of schmaltz as Manson’s inorganic croak becomes poignantly sorrowful. If you’re wondering where the country element Manson suggested is going to appear, Paint You With My Love is a ballad, but suffused more in Americana than Merle Haggard, with glam-meets-50s-throwback hints of Aladdin Sane/Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie, and the kind of lament you could almost imagine Nick Cave crooning.
We Are Chaos is a journey through different stages, though. Half-Way & One Step Forward moves into more atmospheric territory, again channelling Bowie, but this time the creep-into-the shadows feel of Ashes To Ashes, as a piano line becomes the pulse for tense drama and a richly textured gravitas. Infinite Darkness is cinematic, night-stalking, late 80s-style industrial, but it’s the final stretch where We Are Chaos reveals its true depths, in all senses of the word, and reaches a zenith of defiant yet emotionally devastating self-reckoning.
Keep My Head Together feels like the dawning of a new era, broader in scope than anything Manson has done to date, its lush, pearlescent guitar effervescing around a powder keg groove reaching psychologically fraught lift-off. Solve Coagula’s disco beat marks out a state of emotional exile – ‘I’m not special, I’m just broken and I don’t want to be fixed’, and the closing Broken Needle is a valedictory, devastating epic, combining wracked candour - ‘Are you alright?/’Cos I’m not OK’ with catharsis, the repeated ‘I’ll never ever play you again’, once more carrying a charged double meaning.
More wounded and emotionally raw than he’s ever been, We Are Chaos finds Marilyn Manson at a crossroad. For a former folk devil, you could call that a homecoming.