Marilyn Manson – “Heaven Upside Down”

(Photo Credit: Wikipedia) Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “WHERE KNOW WHERE YOU FUCKING LIVE” “Threats of Romance”

One of the most predictable things of the early-2000’s was the downfall of Marilyn Manson. After the group’s surprise hit in 1996’s “The Beautiful People” and the subsequent smash of 1998’s “Mechanical Animals,” the controversial facade of the group had to wear off. And it did, resulting in declining sales and popularity. But one of the lesser expected things would be the comeback. After a few albums of water-treading, goth-y nonsense, the group washed away all of their previous controversial conventions for 2015’s “The Pale Emperor.” The album was a blues-metal masterpiece, filled with songs that the eponymous singer sounded like he had wanted to record for years. The band’s follow-up is a more typical Manson album, but one that renews their energy and their goth and industrial influences, while mostly doing away with the dopey-ness that has plagued their lyrics.

This album starts strong – really strong – with “Revelation #12,” a track that periodically uses a police siren as an instrument. Manson’s voice comes through loud and crisp in a way that often faltered in the band’s down years. Really, the album maintains a high energy, especially on tracks like single “We Know Where You Fucking Live” and closer “Threats of Romance.” The band embrace their goth heritage on these tracks, calling back specifically to legends like Gary Numan and former collaborators Nine Inch Nails. The album’s best line may lie in “We Know Where You Fucking Live,” where Manson sings, “We don’t intend to eat the street, the asphalt is the good meat.”

The album has a ferocity to it that hasn’t been seen on a Manson album in some time. The album’s standout track (and the band knows it) might just be “Saturnalia,” a completely engaging and bold track that stretches just one second shy of eight minutes. It allows the band to stretch out into territories they haven’t before, resulting in a fiery, burning track that not only benefits from the length, but represents a tentative change in style. After “The Pale Emperor,” the band seems completely energized to record music that might be similar to what they recorded in their heyday, but on their own, nondescript terms.

And there is a calmness to a few tracks as well. The album’s third- and second-to-last tracks, “Blood Honey” and “Heaven Upside Down” bring in acoustic guitar and more approachable melodies. Manson himself described the album as a soundtrack, where the title track is the end credits. If the album had ended there, it would’ve been equally effective. That said, it ends with the punishingly repetitive “Threats of Romance.”

Still, as with any Manson album, it isn’t without some corny moments. The one-two punch of “Say10” and “Kill4Me” don’t land too well, even with the latter being a single. Although “Kill4Me”is by no means a bad song, with synths balancing the blasts of guitar, it still suffers after the dopey and similarly-titled “Say10,” a track that sounds like the regular album schlock of 1996. Likewise, the stupidly-titled “Je$u$ Cr$i$” doesn’t do anything for the album, just a stupid song with a stupid title, even with a solid beat.

The corniness of a post-98′ Manson album is kind of a cherish as much as a detriment, and this album balances the more silly lyrics with literal punches at the bookends that cement this as one of the band’s better albums. The sudden resurgence with “The Pale Emperor” continues with this album that somehow manages to be bold in 2017. While “Emperor” excelled on outside influences, “Heaven Upside Down” takes the best elements of Manson’s past and reverberates them into a sound that is equally throwback and current. Casual listeners might not be grabbed by an album of this intensity, but Manson fans will surely be glad that an album from the group in 2017 can still maintain such an anxious, monstrous and deafening level.

-By Andrew McNally

A few words on Marilyn Manson’s “The Pale Emperor”

Grade: B-

Key Tracks: “Third Day of a Seven Day Binge” “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles”

I have a distinct memory, in 2007, of downloading the lead single from Marilyn Manson’s ’07 album “Eat Me Drink Me,” called “Heart-Shaped Glasses.” I downloaded it, and realized that I was a seventeen year old grabbing a song from someone who relevancy had left behind years ago. I don’t know what I did next, but the realization of adulthood crept in so I probably bought a checkbook or scheduled a doctor’s appointment by myself or something. It’s now eight years later, and Manson’s name has been written into the history books as a somewhat flash-in-the-pan shock-rocker from the 90’s. But it’s time to make that edit.

I wasn’t planning on reviewing this album. I didn’t even know if I’d listen to it. I keep a running tab on new albums throughout the year and listen to whatever I can – Dylan’s covers album isn’t on Spotify, and Mark Ronson wasn’t tickling my fancy today, so I just threw on “The Pale Emperor,” remembering it had been getting more press than his previous few albums. I don’t know the last time I listened to a Manson album in full; I’m not positive I ever have. But I’m glad I did, because I’m finally getting the Marilyn Manson I’ve always wanted to hear – the real Marilyn Manson, the real Brian Warner.

My problem with Manson was that it never seemed real – he wore weird make-up, but so did Alice Cooper. He sang about hating people and culture, but so did everyone else. He sang about sadistic things, but so did Black Sabbath, and Iron Maiden. And when school shooters started admitting their love for Manson, he was forced to break facade and tell people not to do that. His music was meant to shock, but it was way, way too melodic. Whistle “The Beautiful People” to yourself right now. I bet you can. The Dead Kennedys were more violent and sloppier, and you can’t say that Manson would strike any nerves musically that Nine Inch Nails or, hell, Merzbow hadn’t already.

Manson fell into irrelevancy, once we all accepted his existence and decided to turn him into the butt of jokes instead of the envelope-pushing musician he was trying to be. And although the band has been releasing albums this whole time, “The Pale Emperor” is the first time we’ve seen Manson as a musician. The album doesn’t always turn the volume up; it’s poetic, melodic and, at points, bluesy. It’s even occasionally a little fun, even in it’s darkness. These feel like the songs that Warner – not Manson – has been sitting on for some time, waiting for a time to record. Maybe he waited too long, but they’re a welcome change for someone who had outplayed himself and his band.

Manson sounds like he’s actually having a good time on this record, and it’s a fun we can all engage in. It’s not all great, and it’s not overly memorable, but it’s a side of the band we’ve never seen before. Song titles like “Slave Only Dreams to Be King,” “Birds of Hell Awaiting” and “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles” sound like typical Manson, but they’re not – because he’s not aiming for radio anymore. Manson – and the band – have finally hit the point where they don’t have to fight for hits any longer. People are either in it for the long haul, or they’re not.

I was never onboard the Manson train, I was a little too young, but this album excited me. I’ve always seen the band’s problems being the forefront of their music and their actual music on the backburner, and that’s finally switching. I titled this review “A few words on Marilyn Manson’s “The Pale Emperor”” because I wanted to talk more about his legacy than the album itself (and because I didn’t expect to go on this long); I’m not that familiar with his discography and how different this album really is. But it is a breath of fresh air from a musician who is finally able to be comfortable with himself. No forcing, no goals, and only the theatrics he wants – “The Pale Emperor” is still a dark, heavy album, but it’s finally one by Manson’s standards, not one by society’s.

-By Andrew McNally