‘The Pale Emperor’: When Marilyn Manson Showed His True Colors
With a new creative foil and a fresh focus, ‘The Pale Emperor’ found Marilyn Manson turning his mirror on himself as he waved goodbye to The God Of F__k.
Marilyn Manson has made a career out of reinvention. Throughout the 2010s, however, an increasingly noisy social media landscape desensitised the world to his shock tactics. The public became wise to his desire to deliberately provoke, so he needed a new approach. Instead of holding a mirror up to reflect the worst of society, he turned that mirror on himself. By 2015, the God Of F__k was long gone, with a new persona emerging: The Pale Emperor.
Listen to The Pale Emperor on Apple Music and Spotify.
Less a rebirth than a rejuvenation
Released on January 16, 2015, in parts of Europe (with UK and US releases following on January 19 and 20, respectively) The Pale Emperor, Marilyn Manson’s ninth album, was not so much a rebirth as a rejuvenation. Of course, the indelible mark of David Bowie permeates every beat and groove here (hello, The Thin White Duke), but it’s an influence that, by this point, had seeped into Manson’s own DNA.
For around a decade, Manson’s personal life had been in turmoil. His divorce from burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese was followed by a nasty break-up with fiancée Evan Rachel Wood, which sent the musician spiralling into a drug-fuelled depression. Not only had the light dimmed in the artist’s real world, but the shine of his musical endeavours also began to fade, too, with the once stunningly visceral live performer beginning to turn out some of the least inspired live shows of his career.
Manson had, however, found a new creative outlet: in the 2010s, he scored acting roles in the cult TV shows Californication and Sons Of Anarchy, and it was while filming the former that he met Tyler Bates, who would become a trusted collaborator and open new avenues of exposure for Manson’s music.
Venomous industrial rock
The first anyone heard of The Pale Emperor was the darkly infectious “Cupid Carries A Gun,” which emerged as the theme tune for TV show Salem, nine months before the album’s release. That show’s music was handled by – you guessed it – Tyler Bates, who is also credited with writing all the music for The Pale Emperor. The ominous, pulsating synths of the album’s opening track, “Killing Strangers,” surfaced later in the movie John Wick, further re-elevating Manson’s profile.
The Pale Emperor’s official lead single, “Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge,” lumbers with an almost country-blues influence, nodding to Manson’s creative best on Mechanical Animals. But it was the second single, the penetrating “Deep Six,” that most closely touched on the venomous industrial rock of Manson’s heyday, recalling the ferocity of his Antichrist Superstar era.
Master of his own destiny
It’s perhaps the brooding “The Mephistopheles Of Los Angeles” that most closely reflected Manson’s headspace during the gestation of The Pale Emperor, allowing the listener a glimpse into his world. Sure, he had been swallowed up by the trappings of Hollywood, but he became wise to its pitfalls, emerging as still the master of his own destiny. With Marilyn Manson (the group) at this point consisting of only Manson, Bates and drummer Gil Sharone, the frontman was able to clear the slate and refocus his energy. On handing the songwriting reins over to Bates, the band re-centred and Manson regained his focus.
Bates had studied Marilyn Manson’s back catalogue and selected all the ammunition from their arsenal that worked best. There was a danger that an outsider from a cinematic universe would take all these ingredients and mix them into a hackneyed and overwrought version of the band, but Bates’ talents proved to be better than that. The Pale Emperor emerged as what many described as Marilyn Manson’s best album in over a decade.
The Pale Emperor can be bought here.
Listen to the best of Marilyn Manson on Apple Music and Spotify.