The Jakarta Post
Album Review: Heaven Upside Down by Marilyn Manson (Marilyn Manson/File)
Marilyn Manson’s 10th and latest record continues the sort-of-comeback that 2015’s The Pale Emperor began.
Instantaneously catchy with a good dose of industrial rock via death blues menace, Heaven Upside Down may be a little front-loaded, but it boasts some of the best and certainly most balanced sequence of songs Manson has released in a while. Add to it some of its creator’s characteristic dark humor and penchant for sardonic buoyancy in titling songs, Heaven feels like the kind of punchy, fun record that has become increasingly rare these days.
Unlike the similarly Tyler Bates-produced Emperor, Heaven leans more towards the industrial tendencies of Manson’s 1990s heyday with a blues element still present but less prevalent.
Opening track “Revelation #12” would sit nicely between 1998’s glam-rockish Mechanical Animals and 2000’s Holy Wood, with its clanking drums, pseudo-metal guitar riffs and grungy rhythm.
The only awkward thing about the song is that Manson sings One, two, threeup to 12, but skips 11. That’s a pretty hollow thing to nitpick about a song, hence it being a solid rocker in every other sense.
The follow-up tracks — “Tattooed in Reverse” and first official single “WE KNOW WHERE YOU [explicit] LIVE” — sit with that same balance and would not sound out of place in any early Manson releases.
The stoner/blues guitars of the sludgy “Tattooed” find a quixotic partner in the song’s high-pitched synths and samples and marching percussion. Manson even growls in that exasperated/theatrical way his old goth self did. Meanwhile, “We Know Where …” lurches with a vicious metal-riff that harkens back to the best tracks from 1996’s breakthrough album Antichrist Superstar with an effective dose of synthesizer-fed dissonance.
Acting as a producer and band member, Bates has clearly done well in trimming all the fat that bogged down many latter-day Manson records.
“SAY10” (which was the album’s initial title) does the same in picking pieces from Manson’s old industrial rock leanings.
Sound effects and processed samples share space with freaky circus organs and cavernous percussion ambience. Deathly sounding old western riffs in the verse make way for a callback chorus (You say ‘God’/ I say ‘Say10’) that may be silly to anyone above 15 years old, but is undeniably catchy in a boneheaded rock-and-roll sort of way.
Indeed, that sense of looking at the past harkens up to the album’s lyrical approach. To his benefit and credit, Manson mostly utilizes his anachronistic slogan style of writing, essentially using whatever the song title is as a lyrical focus. Whenever he moves away from that onto his most confessional style of writing, things feel a little less compact. The heartbreak of the few last tracks is more admirable than they are enjoyable.
Case in point, the very-Manson titled “Je$u$ Cri$i$” is circus/psych-metal that almost feels like Manson’s first album released in 1994, Portrait of an American Family, in its bounciness and chaotic vocals. Its central lyrical refrain of If you want to fight, then I’ll fight you/If you want to [explicit] I will [explicit] you/Make up your mind/Or I’ll make it up for you absolutely puts a focus onto the song, which moves without any particular hook save for that singable line and chants of its title.
Heaven ends with the arena-ready urgency of “Threats of Romance,” the most Pale Emperor-like song here with its grand piano and blues riffs. Along with the acoustic-guitar-accompanied, poppy title track, the song wraps up the record in a compact way.
At only 10 songs, this feels like a consistent, strong Manson. Hopefully the band stays this way, making records that may not be “incredible” in any sense but feel content in their tried-and-true, rock-based approach. There’s still a lot of intriguing colors to add to the Manson template after all, as this record shows.