“I don’t know if I can open up; been open too much” is a remarkably honest statement from a man who once outwardly branded himself as the God of F***. Whilst Manson may still weave intellectual offerings of Greek mythology and German folklore into his metaphoric lyricism, The Pale Emperor is easily his most open and revealing record to date.
The quote above is the opening gambit from the originally planned title track, The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles, which focuses in on the central theme of the record; characterising himself and his demons within the image of Mephistopheles. It all sounds ludicrously narcissistic, but it makes for a much more cohesive record lyrically, in addition to providing Manson with a new creative muse to distort and abuse.
This creative edge is mirrored in turn by the addition of movie and game soundtrack composer Tyler Bates, who integrates his cinematic sensibilities within the dark core of Manson’s thoughts, resulting in the most successful new partnership since Tim Sköld jumped on board for the highly industrial and indulgent Golden Age of Grotesque in 2003.
This rediscovered inspiration manifests itself in dark soundscapes, rather than the release of pent up aggression that Manson utilised in his former years, which has resulted in a very unique album. For instance Third Day of a Seven Day Binge is inspired by drone and paints a bleak portrait of the titular binge through the use of loose guitar chords and a moaning hum that camouflages well into the sombre backdrop, whilst Odds of Even is sparse and haunting. A similar eerie feeling permeates Birds of Hell Awaiting as sinister keys and a shuffling bass line takes this track to dark and scary places. Its no surprise then that Manson’s twisted persona can adapt this negative space into the catchiest track on the record. Come to think of it, the refrain “this is your death’s desire” might just be the most successful Manson moment in over ten years.
Elsewhere, this record takes an ambitious detour into blues; integrating bass shuffles, dangling chords and a dash of dissonance to break up the desolate vibe presented in many of The Pale Emperor‘s ten tracks. Killing Strangers perfectly encompasses this feel and even offers up some delightful blues licks and a solo to finish. The only other Manson album to feature solos was 2007’s Eat Me, Drink Me, which although it shares a deviation from the normal Manson formula, it fails to deliver the dark, menacing vibe that The Pale Emperor achieves so well.
Whilst Manson and Bates have clearly worked to reinvent Manson’s musical positioning, they have also stayed true to his stock musical themes. His ‘clankety-clank’ tom march drumming (provided by Gil Sharone) is littered across the record, shown most notably in The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles and Slave Only Dreams to be King. The latter of those two tracks is the meanest on the record and sees Manson roaring, spitting and wailing his way through the five minute number, which musically is a modern reinvention of his Antichrist Superstar days. In a similar vein Cupid Carries a Gun and Deep Six channels Holy Wood-era Manson, with twanging guitar overlaying a regimented drum beat, before exploding into thunderous energy.
The least successful song on the record is The Devil Beneath My Feet, which is a medium-paced and inconspicuous track that reminds of many of the forgettable latter cuts on 2009’s The High End of Low. Nevertheless The Pale Emperor shines as the jewel of Manson’s post-millennial work and is a blueprint for how to make an album that is menacing, without having to scare the parents of the MTV generation.
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