The Pale Emperor
When it comes to music criticism, nowadays you can use the word “Manson” as an adjective to describe a record from up-and-coming industrial, metalcore, or goth rock bands. It’s turned into such a staple of the rock world that saying a Manson record sounds like a Manson record is probably as cliché as it can get, but The Pale Emperor, Marilyn Manson’s ninth studio full-length, unfortunately is just that. It sounds exactly like a Manson record, and nothing more.
I’ve always had this theory that Marilyn Manson’s best contribution musically is his ability to cover songs and make them sound better than the original, even songs as whimsical as Danny Elfman’s “This is Halloween” or Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)” sound better when Manson croons them out, but when the band actually tries to take on new material, it just falls short, especially as they have grown older and older and their signature sound has remained the same.
The Pale Emperor upholds that classic nu metal meets goth rock meets industrial noise horror ambiance that people have grown to love Manson for. Slow drawn out harpings carry over distortion pedals and over-thought drum riffs that round out the quintessential setting for that lonesome coffee shop or bar scene right before the killer is revealed to be standing outside the window. Tracks like “Deep Six” and “Birds of Hell Awaiting” offer little lyrical depth under a mesh of sound making it more dated than a 2015 release should be. “Love is evil” and “This is your death’s desire” respectively being two lackluster gems.
The major problem with The Pale Emperor is that it’s not a bad record as a whole, it’s just a subpar Manson record. There are a few major clunkers, like “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles” in which Manson consistently phrases “Los Angeles” as “Los Angeleees” in order to stretch a rhyme, but there are some minor diamonds in the rough. “Cupid Carries A Gun” you might recognize as the opening theme to the witch trial show Salem. Since it carries a very old school western aesthetic to it, it makes me think of puritanical cowboys, a strange association to make from music, but something reminiscently characteristic of classic Manson. “The Devil Beneath My Feet” is also a solid track that jumped out at me due to the underlying pop tones it carries as well as Manson’s unparalleled ability to casually drop the word “motherfucker” as if it was just another everyday phrase.
If Marilyn Manson does anything, it’s stay true to the sound they popularized. Unlike many new releases, the overbearing encroachment of EDM and overwrought sampling does not make its way onto The Pale Emperor, which is both a blessing and a curse, as nothing else new or innovative really carries through either. All in all, if you’re looking for a Manson record, you’ve got one. It’ll fit perfectly in your industrial record collection, but don’t expect to be blown away or thrown into controversy about anything sonically put forth.
(Natasha Van Duser)