Whatever Marilyn Manson is doing to recapture his magic lately, it's working. Manson put out The Pale Emperor in 2015, which pretty much elicited a universal "whoa." It was a return to form for Manson, and this new album continues that trend moreso.
I'll come right out and say it up top – Heaven Upside Down, as a full album, is by far one of the most engaging listens I've had in 2017. It's an impeccably well-written album that constantly introduces new styles and aspects to its sound throughout, all while revolving around a very disquieting core tonality. Where "Tattooed In Reverse" threatens, "WE KNOW WHERE YOU FUCKING LIVE" kills. "Blood Money" might allude to something absolutely dreadful brewing in the shadows, but "Heaven Upside Down" and "Threats Of Romance" bring it into the light in all its disgusting glory. Heaven Upside Down is written with intent through and through, and it shows.
Manson's band still employs the talents of film director Tyler Bates on guitar and keyboards, and ex-The Dillinger Escape Plan drummer Gil Sharone, as well as the rejoining of original bassist Twiggy Ramirez, who did not perform on 2015's The Pale Emperor. So with all this in mind, let's dive in to Heaven Upside Down!
Marilyn Manson sure as hell knows how to start off an album. "Revelation #12" is cyclical, dizzying barrage of chorus-like verses that would whip just about any crowd into a full-on frenzy, and get any listener wide-eyed and imaginative about whatever's coming next. Manson is about three inches away from the microphone at all times, distorting every word he says, while clips of sirens, pounding drums, and an extremely present and distorted bass only pump up the creeping sense of unease as the song progresses.
"Revelation #12" comes to a grinding halt, laden with feedback and Manson rhythmically whispering "here I go" until there's only silence.
"Tattooed In Reverse"
Well, silence for only a moment. If you thought Manson was going to back down from being right in front of your face, you were sorely mistaken. "Tattooed In Reverse" uses a swung rhythm effectively because it comes off less like Manson trying to emulate a jazzier feel, and more like he's brandishing a bat right and slowly pacing the floor until he decides to cave your skull in.
"Tatooted In Reverse" makes one thing evident that could only be assumed whilst listening to "Revelation #12" – Marilyn Manson is going to liberally use distortion on Heaven Upside Down, and it's going to work extremely well for him. The fuzzy guitars, keyboards, vocals, and bass all retain their own identities through the heavy haze, but ultimately become this massive ball of threateningly vile sound when used all at once. It's great.
Alright, so we're three tracks deep into Heaven Upside Down now and the violence is just not letting up. Out of context, "WE KNOW WHERE YOU FUCKING LIVE" seemed extremely Nine Inch Nails-y and maybe even a little out of place if you were a fan of The Pale Emperor, but as a third track it works exceedingly well. "Revelation #12" is your proverbial entrance and subsequent capture in Manson's dilapidated and eternally dark city, "Tattooed In Reverse" is taking the blindfold off and realizing just how dead you're about to be, and "WE KNOW WHERE YOU FUCKING LIVE" is the club to the temple as it all goes to black.
Obviously that isn't the storyline for Heaven Upside Down, but as far as the flow of songs go, that's sure as hell what it feels like.
There's a certain and immediate desolation about "SAY10" that's impossible to ignore. The sirens from "Revelation #12" are back, but "SAY10" starts off with a dry drum machine whose snare is its only limb covered head to toe in reverb. This sinister, mechanically varied juxtaposition opens up the soundstage nice and wide, which seems to be one of the underlying concepts of Heaven Upside Down. Make the listener feel claustrophobic with heaps of distortion and Manson screaming in your face, let 'em breathe, rinse and repeat until the former ceases the latter.
With Manson murmuring "cash is the poor man's money," things explode for just a second into the screamed choruses of "if you say god / I say SAY10," only to dive back into the quiet verses that were. Well, except for the addition of a twangy guitar line front and center. "SAY10" overall is a fairly quiet track that throws punches when it needs to, but its composition also sets the tone for "KILL 4 ME." Why waste all your energy going full force when there's a more subtle and effective tactic of getting what you want?
Speaking of twangy guitar lines…
"KILL 4 ME"
Manson's choices in lead singles for Heaven Upside Down have been pretty deceiving, and I mean that in a good way. Manson chose two of the album's most energetic songs, painting Heaven Upside Down as this fast-paced assault machine armed with ten thousand distortion pedals, but that's only a part of the picture. "KILL 4 ME" has the same effect as "WE KNOW WHERE YOU FUCKING LIVE" in that the song before it sets up the pins for the one coming to steamroll them into nonexistence. In short, and worth repeating, Manson has mastered the art of an excellent album flow.
"KILL 4 ME" sounds like a straightforward version of what "Tattooed In Reverse," though this one is grinning like a complete madman as it's ending your life.
"Saturnalia" is one of the three tracks Manson had originally written SAY10 without ("Revelation #12" and "Heaven Upside Down" being the other two), and frankly fans would've been robbed had he gone through with that version of the album. "Saturnalia" is eight minutes long and is in no rush to get to where it's going. Guitar feedback, echoing percussion, and a picked bass swirl in slow circles for the first minute until they're focused by a wavering vocal line, and that ever-present terror Manson has so masterfully conjured with the album so far is back for a sixth time.
"Saturnalia" can be best described as an evil dance track that replaces any and all keyboard lines with a traditional rock band, though unlike dance music it's not written for some cheap drop. "Saturnalia" ebbs and flows as it pleases all around the same repeating riffs and themes without once feeling boring or repetitive, which only goes to show just how well written the song really is.
"Saturnalia" is also interesting in that it never explodes or climaxes, but continuously and satisfyingly gains an even energy that seems to feel complete at every stage.
"JESU$ CRI$I$" seems like it was written to purposefully follow "Saturnalia" in that it brings you back to the same sort of style brought forth on "WE KNOW WHERE YOU FUCKING LIVE." The song features a vocalizing Marilyn Manson as the lead melody, while the band seems to take a back seat to pretty much everything he does throughout the track. It's an interesting shift given that Manson has wielded his band like a weapon throughout Heaven Upside Down up until now, but now he just wants some one-on-one time with you to talk about writing songs to fight and to fuck to. So you better make up your mind quick.
In all seriousness through, "JESU$ CRI$I$" sounds like it could've been something incredibly controversial back in the 90s, meaning that Manson hasn't lost an ounce of personality throughout the years. The chorus of "JESU$ CRI$I$" might also be the slowest thing on Heaven Upside Down, and despite Manson's use of distortion on the vocals for most of the album, this time he's screaming so hard that I'm near positive the track is just naturally distorting itself.
If the introductory piano bit of "Blood Honey" doesn't show up in a horror movie within the next year, I will eat my hat. You could probably tell people that "Blood Honey" is the work of Mike Oldfield with Manson and his band behind him, and pretty much nobody would try to refute that. We're also eight tracks into Heaven Upside Down at this point and Manson is still introducing new elements and soundscapes to the listener. Even in its hatefully trudging chorus, the song employs a drunken-sounding synth and a few pad patches that may or may not have been severely damaged after falling down some stairs.
"Blood Honey" carries on what I've dubbed that "sinister" tonality you'll find all over Heaven Upside Down, but in a way that's going to demand your attention just as every single song prior has. I've given a lot of praise to Manson and his band for their songwriting abilities up to this point, but this is legitimately incredible that this far into the album it still feels like I'm only a few tracks in.
"Heaven Upside Down"
Just like "Blood Honey," "Heaven Upside Down" is another completely unexplored area. Guitar riffs take front and center with layers of what sounds like both an electric and acoustic version of the same theme, the drums are spacious and straight forward, and there are a few female vocal tracks doubling what Manson is doing. Why "Heaven Upside Down" hasn't been one of the singles from his press cycle is completely beyond me, as the track is incredibly catchy. Oh, and there's a guitar solo! One that makes you feel a little uneasy and like your ears are deceiving you as it wavers in and out of tune, but given the album's overall tonality, this makes sense.
There's no insane twist to "Heaven Upside Down." It's just a straightforward, ironed-out version of all the murky blackness you've experienced so far. Think of this as the final scene of our proverbial movie, though the bad guy has come out on top and there isn't too much that isn't covered in blood at this point.
"Threats Of Romance"
Perfect. This is exactly how Heaven Upside Down needed to end. "Threats Of Romance" calls in the guitar presence of "Heaven Upside Down," the very central piano of "Blood Honey," the grotesque swagger of "Tattooed In Reverse" and "KILL 4 ME," and the catchiness of the entirety of the album. "Threats Of Romance" doesn't go on forever with some forced prolonged goodbye, but instead waves its hand stares off into the distance with a wicked glimmer in its eye.
So there you have it. Heaven Upside Down is just a damn good album that flows exceptionally well, keeps you interested, and proves that Marilyn Manson absolutely has a place in both rock and metal in 2017. If you're expecting The Pale Emperor 2 with Heaven Upside Down, then this is going to fall short of your expectations. However, if you're expecting a goth-laden Manson album that stands up strong against even his most classic works, then you're going to love this. Expect to see Heaven Upside Down on some year-end lists, including my own.
Heaven Upside Down is out October 6, and you can pre-order it here.