This guest review was originally part of a music blog project I created called Under The Deer. Since that site won’t be around forever, I’m archiving these wonderful reviews and their accompanying illustrations here. Writer and illustrator listed at end of the review.
Continuing to be considered dangerous in this contemporary, shockproof world is not an easy task. It was not only the unrestrained sonic rush and vulgar aesthetics of Marilyn Manson’s Antichrist Superstar and Mechanical Animals that generated such cataclysmic fame for their creator but also people’s natural openness to shock. Nearly two decades later it’s safe to admit that Manson’s shock value has deteriorated. The true shock lies in the realization that it’s so hard to shock people these days.
So, what’s left for an almost 50-year-old shock-rocker to present to the world on his tenth album, now that his first and foremost weapon has become harmless in the modern world? Well, the answer to that quickly became apparent when I heard him screeching the hooligan chorus of We Know Where You Fucking Live and it spread a naughty smile all over my speakers; He is back, and he remains a threat to all of us. It became even more so with the following track SAY10 when I heard the chorus “You say “God” and I say “Say 10″” – man, I fell in love with that pun right away.
These two tracks were the ones that immediately caught my attention on the album, and while their industrial rock grind is quite indicative of the album’s sonic direction, there is more to it. The post-punk cloak of the 8-minute long Saturnalia has raised a debate among fans as to whether this sound would be a suitable direction for Manson’s future releases.
My personal favorite off the album – Blood Honey – repeats the phrase ”upside down, upside down” more times than the album’s namesake track that follows. As an old fan, I can picture Manson smiling during the mixing of the album, imagining fans looking at their phone screens or the record’s tracklist to make sure that they’re listening to the right track.
All lyrics are written by Marilyn Manson as has always been the case, while all music is composed by Tyler Bates. The album’s overall sound can be described as heavy industrial metal and, while the absence of John 5 and Twiggy Ramirez from the composition credits might fuel the old fans with a hint of negative predisposal, the album solidifies Manson’s comeback – initiated by 2015’s The Pale Emperor – after a decade of distinct artistic decline. It’s the heaviest version of the vocalist that we’ve heard for a long time.
Heaven Upside Down is pure, untamed Marilyn Manson ladies and gentlemen; the very same person who was once considered a lyrical and visual punch against all social conformity today seems like a man with a fork in a world of soup. No obvious Trump remarks; no easy commentary on minority oppression. No safe annotations on feminism. The issues of today’s western civilization are trending all over the Internet, causing massive comment wars. This, of course, would have been an obvious pick for the lyrical frame for an album that is seemingly an attempt to bring Manson’s brand back into the mainstream world. Nevertheless, Marilyn Manson won’t go down that convenient road: instead, he chooses to whistle that same old religion-attacking, drug-advocating, goth-sexy song of his.
One could claim that he plays safe, chewing over his familiar themes. I say that he dares to be culturally irrelevant, going through the ordeal of artistically resurrecting himself without any deliberated, pretentious tricks.
Danger and shock were the foundation of Marilyn Manson’s cultural impact back in the 90’s. There is no more space for shock and danger in music, but there is plenty of space for this middle-aged man’s angry new album on my record player.
Nektarios Oikonomakis is a freelance music marketer / VA. He has worked as a radio host and a music journalist. He lives in the place where democracy was born, Athens, Greece.
Daniel Greenhalgh is an Irish illustrator/designer currently living and working in Bucharest. His illustration style is heavily influenced by German expressionist film, especially Wiene’s Dr. Caligari, but also modern expressionistic directors like Leos Carax (the atmospheric shadow play of ‘Boy meets Girl’) and David Lynch (the absurd characters that somehow appear natural within the world he has created). The use of traditional mediums such as ink and watercolor gives both his illustration and typographic work a sense of texture, and quite often a grunginess.