Marilyn Manson may best be known for industrial-tinged rock and metal in the mid 90’s and early 2000s, but in recent years he’s explored a wide range of rock related styles. Most recently he teamed up with Tyler Bates for The Pale Emperor and Heaven Upside Down, which brought some blues and post-punk with it, showcasing yet another side of the artist. Three years after Heaven Upside Down, Manson now has new collaborators for his band, with outlaw country artist Shooter Jennings and Juan Alderete (The Mars Volta) rounding out a lineup that’s once again shifted towards different musical territory. The resulting album We Are Chaos, Manson’s eleventh overall, comes in at a concise ten tracks and has some of the stronger hooks he’s offered in years.
If it’s been years or even decades since the last time you spent some in-depth time listening to Marilyn Manson, you may be surprised at how many of the songs on We Are Chaos take a noticeably mellower approach. That’s not to say that the industrial edge has been lost entirely, and opener “Red Black and Blue” seems like it was written specifically to showcase this with driving bass-lines and moody keyboards that lead into a much louder and in your face chorus. From there there’s a significant shift in texture, with the title-track utilizing acoustic guitar and softer keyboards that channel a sound somewhere between alternative country, gothic rock, and pop rock. The diversity doesn’t stop there, as songs like “Perfume” have huge glam rock leaning hooks and the album captures a lot of different textures while still tying everything together so it flows in a cohesive manner. At ten tracks that run for forty-two minutes, this is Marilyn Manson’s most concise album in years, and it’s trimmed a lot of the filler that often plagued some of his other releases. This might also be some of the best produced material in his discography, as behind the catchy and poppy choruses there are a lot of additional melodies and moodier instrumentation waiting to be discovered on many of these tracks. Admittedly not every moment hits the mark, as “Solve Coagula” and “Broken Needle” make the end drag a bit with their emphasis on slower tempos make the album fade out rather than finish with a bang. But the strength of the high-energy guitar and keyboards that define songs like “”Half-Way & One Step Forward” and “Keep My Head Together” have kept me coming back for regular listens, and the material proves to hold more staying power than you might initially expect.
Whether you’re a long-time fan or have heard the hits over the years, Marilyn Manson continues to have one of those voices that’s instantly recognizable. For those wondering whether his singing would suffer with age there’s no reason for concern, as his performance throughout We Are Chaos is consistently strong and showcases equal amounts of power and fragility. The aforementioned “Red Black and Blue” has that familiar Manson trademark chorus where he’s almost screaming and in your face with a considerable amount of grit, but other moments find him heading into significantly mellower singing territory where there’s a sense of fragility and somber beauty to his performance. It gives the material a sense of maturity at times which is noticeable considering the lyrics still have some of the edginess you’d expect, though this is certainly nowhere near as over the top as Manson at his peak. As with the instrumentation, there’s a good deal of diversity to the vocal work and that goes a long way in making the songs resonate with their audience.
Over repeated listens I found a few of the songs seemed to come and go without truly hooking me, but the infectious nature and diverse writing more than makes up for it. With no filler in sight and material that spans everything from industrial rock to post-punk and even a little country swagger, Marilyn Manson and his collaborators manage to impress. Given the ups and downs of his discography, it’s refreshing to find this album near the higher end of the spectrum. Plus seeing as Manson’s latest comes shortly after a surprisingly good release from Powerman 5000, I’m happy to rock out like it’s 1999 all over again. We Are Chaos is available from Loma Vista Recordings.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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