When I declare myself a Marilyn Manson fan, I feel obliged to elaborate instantaneously: I’m a fan of the fierce imagery and fulfilling escapism of the Antichrist Superstar, not the Born Villain who, frankly, sounded like he was trying to convince himself as much as anyone else. The whole process is a nuisance, let me tell you, though it’s starting to feel less humiliating nowadays. Manson has just released his tenth studio album, and whilst it doesn’t really come close to his best work, it’s still far better than the majority of Manson’s miserable material of the 2000s.
The chorus on lead single “WE KNOW WHERE YOU FUCKING LIVE” promised an abundance of dark energy, and to its credit, Heaven Upside Down certainly delivers on this front. The music is genuinely exciting and rarely dull to listen to. It was a deeply revealing single in many ways, as it represents a common trend that runs throughout the record: a vapid verse and a killer chorus. Regrettably, a lot of songs here lack urgency or even imagination, until they reach that climactic chorus that Manson does so well. “SAY10” and “KILL4ME” in particular have marvelous hooks, and make for the album’s best moments.
Even during its weakest moments, Heaven Upside Down is actually still enjoyable. It’s just weirdly disposable — I forget about the record almost immediately after I finish listening. It’s a shame, because the album is mixed masterfully, and Manson himself is on top form as a vocalist. If it wasn’t for the sultry synths that decorate songs like “KILL4ME” and “Blood Honey”, Heaven Upside Down would have no colour at all. Even so, this is another decent offering from Marilyn Manson, and following 2015’s revitalization in the form of The Pale Emperor, it’s just good to have the God of fuck back as a respectable artist again, instead of a washed-out embarrassment.6 10
Favourite tracks // KILL4ME
Tattooed in Reverse
I tend to admire Marilyn Manson more for his imagery than his music, so it’s been interesting to have the former fairly absent on Heaven Upside Down. Manson has a gift for palatable industrial music, but I don’t think I care for it much here. It’s well mixed and Manson’s delivery is excellent, but it never truly gets its talons in — not that it has talons. It’s edgy in a Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater tattooed avatar kind of way. Manson has a good old drawl over frantic power chords and smacking drums and I don’t strictly care about what’s going on. Some of the lyrics are juvenile at best, which isn’t a deal breaker but it doesn’t help either. When I like it I like it a lot. “SAY10” is disciplined and powerful with some lovely texture, and “WE KNOW WHERE YOU FUCKING LIVE” is good too. The whole album’s quite good really, just not in a way that I expect to remember.
When it comes down to it, I want Marilyn Manson music to be grotesque. I want to come out of his records feeling like I need my stomach pumped. The softcore offerings of Heaven Upside Down leave me wanting to wash my hands at best. I know what I want isn’t the same as ‘good’ necessarily, but in this case I think it is. Industrial music without a serrated edge can easily slip into something pedestrian, and I think that’s what’s happened here. A bit more rank fury, a serving of sleaze would have gone a long way. “Threats of Romance” clicks nicely because it ticks those boxes, I think, like a beyond the pale Rocky Horror Show number. I’m not much of a fan of industrial metal so in truth I don’t know what I’m talking about, but my core issue with Heaven Upside Down is that it’s good and I wish it was revolting.6 10
Favourite tracks // SAY10
Threats of Romance
WE KNOW WHERE YOU FUCKING LIVE
Manson’s music has always lived within the visual. From the man himself, to the stage sets, to the guitar pedal boards, they permeate each other. And often with excellent consequences. Like Bowie innovated before him, he has an incredible ability to slip into personas and create records that are unified in their harmonic dissonance. Albums like Mechanical Animals, Golden Age of Grotesque, and even his most recent record The Pale Emperor do this in spades. This is where Heaven Upside Down falls down.
Heaven Upside Down fails to unify itself with an image, musically or visually. This is not to say however, that it does not have strengths. Tracks like “Tattooed in Reverse” ooze with Manson sleaze, like a murder of black crows and eels spilling from his chest. This is accompanied perfectly by the razor sharp synthesisers. There are similarly good tracks on this record such as “SAY10”. Whilst having slightly ‘ahh I see what you did there…’ lyrics, it packs a dirty punch. The strengths also follow with the production. Tyler Bates does a polished job on this record, although the production may not be quite as interesting as it is in The Pale Emperor.
With a portfolio as prolific and acclaimed as Manson’s, it’s difficult not to expect what you want. It’s important to remember though, that this is not always what you get. Heaven Upside Down is by no stretch a bad album. There is some excellent songwriting and some killer riffs. What it doesn’t do is unify itself with the potent imagery that Manson often produces so well. Manson’s is a career that I’ve followed for some time now, and I am always excited to see what he does next. I often yearn for shocks and screams of records like Antichrist Superstar, but we don’t see this with Heaven Upside Down. I may not return to this record regularly, but I have enjoyed my time with it. It’s probably worth a bit of yours too.6 10
Favourite tracks // Tattooed in Reverse