Marilyn MansonThe Pale Emperor
Manson wrote these songs with producer Tyler Bates, a movie and video-game composer whose résumé includes plenty of action and horror flicks. The music has a kind of sweeping creepiness that reflects that background. But it's usually pretty grungy, like Nirvana at their blankest or the Doors pulling an all-nighter in Trent Reznor's dungeon. The album opens with "Killing Strangers," a zombified blues crawl with a rusty-hinge riff: "We got guns, you better run," he sings, dredging up memories of the days when right-wing scolds laughably blamed him for the Columbine massacre. Next up is the walloping "Deep Six," a black-clad dance-club banger with Manson working out his Vincent Price baritone as he blathers about Zeus and Narcissus.
Lyrically, Manson plays with all the old themes – power, torture, drugs, sex and violence, dependency and emptiness. But the artist who once called himself a "hand grenade that never stopped exploding" is more focused. The torrid "Slave Only Dreams to Be King" seems to be a genuinely felt song about physical and emotional abuse. Glowering atop the heathen stomp of "The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles," Manson seems to be talking to either an imagined talk-show interviewer or perhaps his shrink: "I don't know if I can open up/I'm not a birthday present."
What emerges is a classier record than you might expect from Manson – and one that still manages to be the kind of old-fashioned alt-rock tantrum no one bothers throwing these days. "I got the devil beneath my feet," he sings, belting out the chorus of one of the album's best songs, which sounds like a beach party on the River Styx. For once, you can believe the Dark Lord is happy to have him along for the ride." - Roling Stone