Teaming up with Tyler Bates is possibly the smartest move Marilyn Manson has made since walking into Trent Reznor’s studio in 1993, not to belittle Manson’s unlikely achievement of re-discovering enough energy and strength to make The Pale Emperor his best album since 2000’s Holy Wood.
Killing Strangers starts off somewhat typical of recent Marilyn Manson compositions, with a slower tempo and a sneering sociopolitical commentary in the refrain: We’re killing strangers, so we don’t kill the ones that we love… As the song progresses, it sinks claws deeper into a groove though, with squealing guitar leads and a catchy riff that locks step with hissing and snapping vocals that don’t come off at all like the self-parody a cynic would expect from Marilyn Manson in 2015. And from there on through to the end of the record, there are no missteps.
A few tracks could be considered “album tracks” more than radio-ready singles, namely Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge, Birds Of Hell Awaiting, and album closer Odds Of Even. Those burn hot but slow, by no means skippable but less effective out of context. The rest of the album’s tracks are direct, mean, and as catchy as anything Manson’s done since ’96.
Hell, Slave Only Dreams To Be King makes The Beautiful People look like its red-headed stepchild, evolving that beat and the overlaying song structure to produce the best track on the album, if not of Manson’s entire post-Antichrist catalog. The very first line is delivered perfectly, growling and evil. Too dumb to see-ahh. He snarls that last syllable, like a rabid beast, and then repeats a pair of lines twice, with a little bit of rhythmic displacement to dig into your brain like a fishhook: I’m happy to pull my veins out and braid a rope / I don’t need hope to know that you’d die slow… There’s robotic buzzing riff in the pre-chorus that perfectly disrupts what might feel too simplistic or repetitive otherwise, and the song’s overall message is prime Manson-ism; The slave doesn’t dream of being free, the slave dreams of being the master.
Songs like Mephistopheles Of Los Angeles, Warship My Wreck, and Cupid Carries A Gun share typical Marilyn Manson gothy non-sequitur titles, yes, but more importantly, more than a handful of moments that establish The Pale Emperor as the perfect balance between Manson’s imperishable schtick, and a mature depth in the songwriting and production that keeps it from ever feeling like more of the same.
And that’s really the challenge an artist like Marilyn Manson faces, almost 20 years down the road from Antichrist Superstar: Unlike most of his contemporaries, he wasn’t ever faking it, and was and always will be exactly the freak we’ve since grown up with. We’d have outgrown him by now if he ever pulled that move some insecure artists pull to try and reclaim their heyday; go back to their “roots.” No, Manson is taking his art and its evolution more seriously than ever these days. And if for no other reason than that, so are we.
Teaming up with Tyler Bates is possibly the smartest move Marilyn Manson has made since walking into Trent Reznor's studio in 1993, not to belittle Manson's unlikely achievement of re-discovering enough energy and strength to make The Pale Emperor his best album since 2000's Holy Wood.