Marilyn Manson, America’s resident problematic, philosophical boogeyman and shock-monger is back with his 11th studio album. In ‘We Are Chaos’, both Marilyn Manson (the band) and Marilyn Manson (the man) showcase where their strengths and weaknesses lie – and thankfully, the former far outnumber the latter in this truly engaging late career release. One might even say ‘We Are Chaos’ is Marilyn Manson’s finest work since 2015’s ‘The Pale Emperor’, and much like Emperor, it’s as significant a departure from what you might consider “typical Marilyn Manson fare” as one can get.
With one or two exceptions – like the industrial-inspired, ferocious hard hitter and album opener ‘Red, Black and Blue’ – Manson leaves behind a lot of the alt metal / hard rock staples of his standard repertoire to make way for slower, more melodic showcases, radio-friendly (ish) bluesy rock songs and quasi power ballads. In fact, Marilyn Manson is at his strongest when demonstrating his not unimpressive studio vocal chops and harmonies in songs like “Paint You With My Love” – a song that, save for its final, explosive third act, would not feel out of place on a modern Dolly Parton release. It’s the most earnest and unironic I think Manson has ever sounded. It also demonstrates how unprepared I think a lot of dyed-in-the-wool Marilyn Manson fans are for this album and what it could mean for their enthusiasm at his artistic direction going forward.
The eponymous single ‘We Are Chaos’ (released July 29th of this year) stands as a strong overall representation of what ‘We Are Chaos’ (the album) brings to the table – and much like the full album listen as a whole, it’s still the most taken aback I’ve been by a Marilyn Manson release. It is so fundamentally unlike anything he’s put out into the world in his 30ish year career – even though there were hints of this direction in 2017’s ‘Heaven Upside Down’, the album that preceded this one.
Marilyn Manson does stumble though, and when he / they do, it’s quite a significant stumble. We Are Chaos is weakest when trotting out the old-hat Manson staples. Track six – ‘Infinite Darkness’ – feels like another Manson personal vendetta, another venture where he seems intent on convincing the audience, unsuccessfully, that he’s a dangerous, frightening figure. It’s a meandering, uninspired track where Manson drawls “someone’s gonna die soon, don’t get in the way…” and “I’m not forgiving..” before launching into a dull chorus of thumping power chords and screeches we’ve heard in any number of better tracks in prior releases – think WE KNOW WHERE YOU FUCKING LIVE (Heaven Upside Down). The following track, ‘Perfume’, is not much better in terms of substance – though it is significantly more fun. It’s a bouncy, mosh-friendly Manson standard and something I would have otherwise expected to be given a single release. Both Infinite Darkness and Perfume are sure to be welcomed with open arms by long term fans as “classic” Marilyn Manson sustenance, but offered this listener (and life-long Marilyn Manson fan) very little in the way of entertainment or depth. ‘Solve Coagula’ – the second last song of the tight ten-track album, suffers from many of the same issues – though not as egregiously.
The album’s 8th track, ‘Keep My Head Together’, is a welcome palette cleanser after the momentary but significant dip in quality of the two preceding offerings – in fact, I’d say that it’s the stand out track of the album. Sure to evoke comparisons to radio rock mainstays like ‘Blood Royal’, it’s an energetic, hook and drum dominant rock n’ roll piece that keeps up right until the very end. A concise 3 minutes and 49 seconds – ‘Keep My Head Together’ is the most fun We Are Chaos has to offer – and boy is it just fun.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the production quality of ‘We Are Chaos’. This is a complex, at times expertly produced album. It doesn’t suffer from the same faults as a lot of previous Manson releases – namely that they can often favour noise and instrumental bedlam over a clean or well structured soundscape. It’s something that prior Manson albums like ‘Born Villain (2012)’ and ‘Eat Me, Drink Me’ (2007) are notorious for. There’s still something to be said about the excessive layering of Marilyn Manson’s vocal performances here and there – but again, it’s overall an improvement across the board. Something related that stands out almost immediately is just how well the synth, samplings and keys were integrated into ‘We Are Chaos’. I don’t believe they’ve sounded as good, nor as essential to the overall feel of a Manson album, since the acrimonious departure of long time keyboardist Madonna Wayne Gacey in 2007. Producer Shooter Jennings (also Manson’s primary co-songwriter and guitarist on this album) and sound engineers David Spreng and Mark Rains have done a downright excellent job at shaping ‘We Are Chaos’ into a sturdy, complex and auditorily engaging piece of art.
‘We Are Chaos’ is unlikely to shake up modern music charts, nor is it likely to win favour with Marilyn Manson fans who are desperate for a sequel to 1996’s Antichrist Superstar (a long standing rumour / wishful thinking on part of some of Manson’s hardcore fanbase) or a culture-defying subversive masterpiece like Holy Wood. It is, however, some of Marilyn Manson’s best late-career output. It seems the more Manson experiments with and challenges his own musical standards, the more he edges ever so slightly towards convention, and the less he’s intent on reliving past successes (or failures) – the better he can become. If this album is anything at all, it’s proof positive of one thing – after 30 years of mayhem, Marilyn Manson is still unlike any musical artist, past or present – and nothing sounds quite like Marilyn Manson. Past his prime? Assuredly. Out for the count? Not even close.
7.5 / 10
The Good: Paint You With My Love, Keep My Head Together, We Are Chaos.
The Not As Good: Infinite Darkness, Perfume, Solve Coagula