Last month, the self proclaimed ‘God Of Fuck’ Marilyn Manson released his latest offering, The Pale Emperor to the world. After a run of increasingly poor albums, the album was received incredibly well for a modern era Marilyn Manson release. While it’s too early to confirm whether or not the album will herald his return to true form, we can all agree it’s certainly a step in the right direction. On Metacritic, Pale Emperor currently holds a 70/100, based on 17 reviews. This is classed as ‘Favorable’. His previous three efforts; Eat Me, Drink Me, The High End Of Low & Born Villian hold 63, 58 & 59 respectively. It’s safe to say, Manson hasn’t been on the up for very long.
I, however, feel very differently. While I think the goth-legend’s latest album is easily his best for a full decade, I have very fond memories of (arguably) the worst received album of his career, 2009 release The High End Of Low. At the time I was young, and heavily into Manson’s stuff. I loved the album, and listened to it constantly. Unfortunately, this was around the same time Marilyn Manson put in his infamous performance at Download Festival, and I was one of the unlucky people who witnessed the car crash performance. I was crushed, and ever since then I’ve had a bad taste in my mouth regarding any of his recent material. So, with the revelation that the man is back on track for more solid material, I decided I would take a look back at the album I loved, and see if I still feel the same way.
The High End Of Low
Released: May 20th 2009
In keeping with each album throughout his career, Manson starts THEOL with a slow, brooding love letter, starting quietly with a climbing, strong build, Devour. The track is one of my favourites on the album, and explores the more blues-oriented approach taken on The Pale Emperor, ending with a pop-rock crescendo with the strained refrain ‘Pain’s not ashamed to repeat itself/I can’t sleep until I devour you‘ preparing you for the preceedings. Unfortunately, the second track Pretty as a Swastika is one of the worst songs on the album. While catchy, the track screams desperation, with Manson clutching at old shock tactics to pull himself through a painfully mediocre offering. Straightforward riffs and little experimentation make this song very skippable.
Carrying on, Leave a Scar is a difficult one. I really like the song, mostly for it’s strong instrumentals, but Manson really proves to be an incredibly weak link here. Croaking his way through cliché’d lyrics with little effort. While the track is saved by a great riff and mood, I can’t bring myself to say it stands out on the album. However, Four Rusted Horses, the melancholic, acoustic driven fourth song on the album is strong enough to help anyone forget the previous phoned in efforts. A powerful, albeit slightly embarassing chorus line of ‘Everyone will come/To my funeral to make sure that I stay dead‘ gives the song a gravitas that a lot of material on the rest of the album really lacks. A straight, distorted bass droning heavily in the background along with the simple, pounding drums really give an almost march-like, stomping quality that really stands out, threating to come to a boil that never really surfaces.
Fifth track Arma-Goddamn-Motherfucking-Geddon is yet another mixed bag. Once again, I really like the song, but that title. How do you get past that crap? Lyrics are extremely poor, but Manson presents enough spirit on the track to save the song from doom. It also helps that once again, his backing band present incredibly catchy rhythms and an interesting solo toward the final third, pushing it just above the sludge. Blank and White is another catchy, yet relatively forgettable song with another terrible chorus of ‘Give me a picket sign/And make it blank and white/Like all those stupid teenage girls/We are gonna to need them were we’re going tonight’ You’ll enjoy it when you first hear it, but please, don’t listen to or read the lyrics. Listen and like for what it is, because in reality, it’s crap. Once again, made palatable by a good riff throughout.
Coming in near the halfway point (it’s a really, really long album), Running to the Edge of the World is another surprise. Maybe Manson has gone soft in his older age, but this acoustic number presents itself as one of the best on the album, and a stand out track in the past few years for me. It’s one of the only songs that feels genuinely heartfelt, with careful thought being put into the lyrics. His performance is soulful, backed by drums, acoustic guitar and an orchestral accompaniment. While it’s a piece that if given back in his heyday, would have been laughed off any album he tried to put it on. Here, however, it’s a jewel in an otherwise mediocre crown. It’s a good thing, too, because next up is the incredibly boring, 8(!) minute long song I Want to Kill You Like They Do in the Movies. Honestly, there’s nothing I can say about this one. Aside from the fact you’re more than welcome to just forget it exists. Maybe cut down to a more digestable 3 or 4 minute chunk, the song could be another slow, brooding exercise in experimentation. But alas, we’re forced to sit through nearly ten minutes of repetitive riffs, croaked vocals and some truly woeful lyrics. Really. Skip it.
Thank god then, for WOW. It’s clear from the outset that we’ve got some extra talent on board for this one. Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor makes an appearance on this track. The song sounds incredible, with the best verses I’ve ever heard on a MM release. Electronically driven, Manson sounds right at home here. It’s a real shame the duo stopped here, a collaboration album could have been something incredibly special. Lyrics here aren’t anything groundbreaking, but they don’t need to be. Manson straddles the pounding beat like a rapper, showing some real variety and innovation in his performance. Wight Spider follows the track, and while it’s nothing near as great as what came before it, the ambience and tone reflects that of earlier material. Starting with a similar industrial stomp to Irresponsible Hate Anthem, it’s easy to get sucked in and enjoy the song for what it is, even if it is a tad over-long. Or maybe I’m still thinking about the last track. Seriously, anything after IWTKYLTDITM.
Starting like a song that wouldn’t sound out of place at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance, Unkillable Monster is pretty forgettable. So much, I literally didn’t know it was on the album. Clean guitar arpeggios guide us through this lacklustre, vanilla filler track. Unremarkable, this song isn’t worth your time. Next up is (the actually very good) We’re From America, one of the album’s first singles. A satirical, venomous tribute to the titular country, Manson’s on top form here. Lyrics are cutting and the stomping backing returns, alongside heavily distorted, low tone guitars. It’s times like this on the album when it’s almost possible to forgive what’s come before, as the talent from 1995 really shines through once more.
From here, we’re greeted to a piercingly jarring scream to usher us into I Have to Look Up Just to See Hell. This is the song that IWTKYLTDITM dreamed of being. Slow, brooding and with a hint of evil. It’s nothing outstanding, but a fitting nugget of relative quality. Another hint of the quality seen on TPE. Before we reach our final pained breath of this mediocre affair, we come to Into the Fire. I actually quite like this one, but yet again there’s nothing here that sticks out. Not the worst song on the album, but certainly not the best. Good atmosphere and a solid performance from Manson here bring the track back from the brink of mediocrity, as well as a sexy, sleazy solo in the latter portion of the song. Special mention can also be given to the use of piano in the background, a feature MM could benefit from using a little bit more.
Closing the album, we have final track 15. I actually think this leaves the album on a pretty strong note. While it may sound more like a bonus track, this gentle, electronic piece wouldn’t sound out of place on a Nine Inch Nails album. It’s careful and incredibly resourceful, making great use of it’s limited guitars and drum work. I do question the placement of two very similar tracks beside each other, but nevertheless 15 stands out on this disc. A sincere love letter from the God Of Fuck to see us out.
You know, this piece was originally going to a In Defence Of… piece. But listening to the album in 2015, there are some memories that should just stay in your mind. Marilyn Manson, nostalgia has not been kind to you. Boring, saved from utter crap from a few standout tracks. Just hope I don’t decide to have a listen to your other commercial failures from around the same time.