Marilyn Manson – WE ARE CHAOS (Album Review)

As one of the kings of Shock Rock, Marilyn Manson cultivated a career out of the obscene, grotesque, and unflinching. Both the visuals from his early videos and the lyrical content of his music caused more than their fair share of chaos and outrage in the late ’90s and early 2000s. Back then parents would forbid their children from listening to the Antichrist Superstar or bearing witness to his scantily clad, androgyny-embracing music videos. From blaming him for national tragedies to staging full protests at record stores daring to carry his albums, parents at the time were in no short supply of outrage at the Pale Emperor. 

Over the years, Manson has experienced a shift in his music and style. While he’s still no stranger to stoking controversy, with age has come a different kind of maturity for Manson. With his eleventh studio album, WE ARE CHAOS, released on Friday, September 11, 2020, Manson partnered with Grammy Award winner Shooter Jennings to produce an album unlike much of his former work. The depth of work on We Are Chaos is very much resonant of the times we live in, despite being developed in the pre-pandemic era of society.

Chugging right off the bat is “RED BLACK AND BLUE” beginning the trend throughout of the album of introducing mixed influences, beginning with New Wave era vibes.There is a lot of classic Manson composition and orchestration here with the dichotomous levels of intensity varying from soft and spooky to raucous and raspy. From there we spill directly into the title track “WE ARE CHAOS” that is interesting in its anthemic and atmospheric ambiance. Despite lamenting the hopeless and incurable nature of a chaotic being, opens itself up to a strange aspirational hopefulness.

Released as a single, “DON’T CHASE THE DEAD” is a thriving uptempo tune that carries with it a wistfulness. The lead-in is riveting and engaging before erupting into a yowling scream and rolling right into Manson’s trademark gritty vocals. Maintaining a balance between the eerie warnings and it’s almost freeing and ethereal bridge and outro, “DON’T CHASE THE DEAD” will easily find its place as a fan favorite on this record. “PAINT YOU WITH MY LOVE” follows with a tone that is both superficially romantic musically, but subliminally darker, seductive, and perverse. Here the listener gets more of that bluesy guitar tone and vibe that permeates much of the album. 

“HALF-WAY & ONE STEP FORWARD” brings with it a more serious tone that feels heavier than its immediate predecessors. With lyrics like Don’t wanna know/Don’t need to know/ You got champagne problems. It feels like a dissection and criticism on celebrity culture and the dissonance between celebs and the real world. In the second verse he takes it one step further in addressing the way the public spends more time mourning someone after they have passed than they do considering their feelings when they are alive.I need a raincoat for tomorrow/It’s about how much people cry/When you die/It’s not about the storm of tears/That you make when you’re alive.” 

Manson continues his assault on celebrity culture with the industrial-infused “INFINITE DARKNESS” and his proclamation Just ‘cuz you’re famous doesn’t mean you’re worth anything.” It’s here that listeners get a taste of the old school Mechanical Animals era Manson with some definite “The Dope Show” vibes radiating throughout the track. Of course what is any Manson album without some Satanic shit to rile up the masses. Forever keeping good Christian ladies clutching their pearls, the Pale Emperor uses “Perfume” to make a bed for the original Prince of Darkness, and we don’t mean Ozzy. Only Marilyn Manson could create an almost anthemic song about the Devil that is both still a critique of fame and borderline innuendo. Surprisingly bouncy and catchy, “Perfume” is a strange and enthralling warning that if you’re going to summon your demons be prepared to lay with them. 

Don’t try to change someone else/ You’ll just end up changin’ yourself,Manson warns on “KEEP MY HEAD TOGETHER.” A quick romp that is over just as quickly as it begins with its message on repeat. As we near the end of our journey with “SOLVE COAGULA” the shock-rocker continues the theme of being surprisingly introspective and self aware. With an outro proclaiming I’m not special/I’m just broken/And I don’t wanna be fixed, he gives an unfiltered perspective into the reality of “the other half” and what it’s like to be exalted but flawed. Bringing this journey to an end is the ballady, Southern-rock influenced “BROKEN NEEDLE.” It has the soul of a classic country song interjected with the almost discordant tinkling off piano keys. Overall, the song is introspective, self-effacing, emotional, and most importantly, incredibly human. 

Forever weighing the balance of light and dark, on WE ARE CHAOS Manson tip toes on both sides of the scale and makes us decide where we’ll land. There are no easy decisions here, only discussions to be had and perspectives weighed both within the listener and society as a whole. Something Manson’s mastered over the years is making the listener finish the story for themselves. He doesn’t give you the answers and he doesn’t make it easy for you to take a stance, it’s up to you. It’s a “choose your own adventure” of the conscience and soul. So, for its exploration of the human condition and daring emotional rawness, Cryptic Rock gives WE ARE CHAOS 4.5 out 5 stars.

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