Marilyn Manson, ‘Heaven Upside Down’ – Album Review
Marilyn Manson's music has always been tinted with elements of cinematic sheen, which is often the case with artists who are as visual as they are focused on sound. It's no surprise then that the frontman has found a fortuitous kinship with film composer Tyler Bates, a relationship which continues to blossom on Heaven Upside Down.
It's the second collaboration between the two, who share production duties, one which began on 2015's excellent The Pale Emperor. Like it's predecessor, Heaven Upside Down features an uncharacteristically subdued black and white photo of Manson on the cover. It also repeats the trim nature of Pale Emperor, checking in with a lean 10 tracks that cuts out any filler. That's pretty much where the similarities end, as this is a much more guitar-centric effort -- coincidentally with Bates manning the instrument -- putting a spotlight there while keeping the spooky synth sounds in the shadows, menacing their way to the forefront only when it suits the song.
Opener "Revelation #12" is an industrial grinder, highlighted by a snaking bass line from Twiggy Ramirez, placing it squarely into the sludgy trenches. And it's the next song, "Tattooed in Reverse," where that infamous biting Manson whimsy comes into play when he sings, "I'm unstable, I'm not a show horse / I can't be bridled, of course" and promising to, "Make a psalm into my dirty bomb."
Heaven Upside Down as a whole often veers into cataclysmic territory, a common theme for Manson which he's managed to keep fresh throughout 10 studio LPs. Lead single "We Know Where You F--king Live" and the original title of the album "Say10" alternately commit to an apocalypse and religious carnage.
It's not all death and destruction. There are moments of pure sweetness -- in the singer's own twisted way of course. "KILL4ME" has the protagonist insisting on a blood pact over a slinky, sexy groove, wanting his sweetheart to murder for him to show the ultimate level of dedication. The song also has one of Manson's best lines with, "I take death threats...like the best of them." His offhanded delivery of what's been a real-life situation is both bold and spiteful.
The second half of the record begins with the eight-minute "Saturnalia," a thumping, swirling opus that doubles as a dedication to Manson's late-father which has him intoning, "I don't wanna be another bullet hole/In the exit sign on your road." Then "JE$US CRI$I$" turns into the most predictable road most oft traveled by the frontman -- and that's not a bad thing either. Chock full of drugs, sex and fighting, it's got everything hardcore fans of Manson fell in love with in the first place all those years ago.
The album's title track is one of the most musically adventurous undertakings the singer has done since Mechanical Animals. It's almost bouncy enough to find a place on the dance floor if the subject matter weren't so dark. "Blood Honey" would fit there too, with a modern day riff on space-rock.
Forty some minutes after it's kicked off, Heaven Upside Down closes out with the searing stomp of "Threats of Romance," a brilliant kiss-off or paean to relationship dysfunction - depending on how you look at it. Either way, the strong finisher bodes well for Manson's future, one where he'll paint it as dirty and disheveled as he wants.
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