It was two years ago now that Manson announced that he, composer Tyler Bates, long time guitarist Twiggy Rameriez and Gil Sharone had begun work on their tenth studio album. He revealed several details about the record – its working title of Say10 and an expected release date of Valentines Day, 2017.
For two years, Manson fans have waited with bated breath for something to break his questionable string of releases; meanwhile Bates has been composing the score for television series Salem, the third season of which featured Manson as a recurring cast member. The album was not released on Valentine’s Day, but will be with us for Goth Christmas (Halloween, in true horror rock style), and its will be Heaven Upside Down.
Parts of the album were recorded in Louisiana, while Manson was filming scenes for Salem, the state where Antichrist Superstar was recorded in 1996. This album is a grand departure from Antichrist Superstar and all albums that followed it; we say a glad goodbye to the typical shock rock tantrums that Manson is infamous for and hello to something new. With Heaven Upside Down, Manson takes pop conventions and repurposes them for his own dark visions and desires. Here he does something he hasn’t done for a long time; he holds up a black mirror to pop culture and shows it its own dark reflection.
‘Tattooed In Reverse’ is a bombastic tune that combines gritty lyricism with sleek production. Manson even treads into a territory that I can only describe a goth rock/hip-hop blend; there is even a verse or rap and it’s pretty damn good. As well as the unexpected hip-hop vibe there are fantastic snippets of electronica as Manson growls about the evils of fame and a societal construct that bestows people with celebrity.
There are moments where the momentum definitely drops. The first instance of this comes from second track and first single from the album, ‘WE KNOW WHERE YOU FUCKING LIVE’. Despite the strong, dark-synth driven intro, the chorus, vocals and lyrics sound like a typical Manson metal moan. It’s weak because it sounds like a million of his old songs. It is easily forgettable.
He brings it all back though with ‘SAY10’. It starts with a no-wave minimalist hook, a dark swarm of coldness with haunting layers sound effects that wouldn’t sound out of place on a David Lynch soundtrack, as Manson sings about the presence of Satan in the underbelly of human existence. I said before that SAY10 was the working title of the album, and it’s easy to see why; the concept of unspeakable evil in pop culture, in things society see as normal runs through the album and is the focus of this track.
‘KILL4ME’ has a sexy bass line and is undoubtedly pop, a mixture of early NIN, Depeche Mode and Lady GaGa, and bizarrely it works; this could ben the true glam rock anthem he has always been trying to make. It is these two songs, with their ironically chart-inspired sounds that make them the freshest and most interesting points of the album.
‘Saturnalia’ treads close to classic post-punk, with jangling guitar, pounding drums, and doomy vocals. It could almost be compared to a Sisters of Mercy number. Manson has described this track as centrepieces of the record, inspired by the death of his father. This song did something that no Manson song has ever done before; it made me tear up, because I felt for him. The song fades slowly into acapella, his voice echoing through the emptiness sounds vulnerable, lost and confused.
Despite there being a theme to the album (which Manson is insisting is a concept album), there were some oddball songs that threw me. I wanted to hear more of what the band could do with mixing genres, but some of the repetition disturbed this new and exciting concept. The weakest song is sadly the title track ‘Heaven Upside Down’; among the gut-punching, synth powerful, dark pop mastery, it is vapid and dull.
Overall Heaven Upside Down is worth listening to for the risks it takes. We see less of the persona, Marilyn Manson, here than we see of the man, Brian Warner. He is experimenting with his music, not to shock, but to show what he is capable of.
The notion of a ‘heaven upside down’ indicates a hell on earth, an imperfect reflection of what we strive for. As a reflection on the conventions of the music industry, his own career, his stage persona, and the notions of good and evil at large, this album achieves success in capturing that hell for all to experience.