I haven’t seen an album with this messy of a rollout since The Life of Pablo.
Announced last year as Say10, the new Marilyn Manson album was slated for release on Valentine’s Day of 2017. The anticipation was killing me, and when Valentine’s Day finally rolled around, the album was nowhere to be found. I didn’t hear a word about it from the music press, nor from Manson himself. I was left confused and disappointed.
Months later, in September, Manson finally came forward with an announcement to release the album the following month with a new title, Heaven Upside Down. At that point, I had pretty much forgotten about the album. But with this announcement, my excitement had piqued once again, and when the release date rolled out I tore into it as if the previous tease was still fresh in my mind.
Production-wise, this album has been built up by the music press and by Manson himself as a sort of “back-to-the-basics” album, with callbacks to the industrial metal found on albums like Antichrist Superstar and Mechanical Animals.
Nowhere is this more apparent than on the album’s best track, “We Know Where You F**king Live.” The way Manson’s searing vocals weave through the instrumental’s pulsating industrial grind on the chorus gives it an anthemic quality reminiscent of Antichrist Superstar’s fascist rally aesthetic. Choruses like this are all over the album.
But Manson keeps it from slipping into a gimmicky nostalgia-fest by adding splashes of The Pale Emperor’s watery guitar tones and danceable grooves.
And this is what makes something like the aforementioned anthemic choruses maintain some freshness. Songwriting like this has been a staple of Manson’s discography from the very beginning, but the fuller production brings it to a whole new level.
Previous stadium-ready Manson tracks benefited from more youthful performances, sure, but the production was oftentimes thin and tinny. It fell victim to its own industrial sensibilities.
But on Heaven Upside Down, it seamlessly weaves that sensibility with walls upon walls of atmospheric guitars that feel like they’re enveloping you. The older stuff may have worked better in a mosh pit, but many of these tracks sound like the apocalypse. The title track especially flaunts this sound well.
The album isn’t without duds however, like the eight minute long “Saturnalia,” which has absolutely no reason to be eight minutes. You would expect this to at least give it some memorability, but the way it doesn’t mix anything up and sort of just meanders throughout the long runtime made it pretty forgettable for me. “Say10” merely feels like Manson going through the motions, and unfortunately sees him falling into corny territory. Lyrically, this track feels like he’s parodying himself. And while “Threats Of Romance” isn’t that bad of a song, it’s pretty weak by closing track standards. I think the title track would have worked much better as the album’s closer.
The flaws continue with the album’s lyrics, which suffer from either corniness and servitude to old tropes, or from blandness.
“Tattooed in Reverse,” “Say10,” “Je$us Cri$is,” and “Blood Honey” all tread the grounds of, you guessed it, sex, violence, and anti-religion. I love sex, violence, and anti-religion, but Manson communicates these themes as if he still has the relevance and bite that he did in the ‘90s and early 2000’s. I actually cringed when I heard him say “f**k your Bible” on “Tattooed in Reverse.”
This is especially disappointing seeing as how this album comes right after The Pale Emperor, which saw Manson flexing his best set of lyrics yet, deftly balancing his gothic roots, an artsier side, and the drunken ramblings of Jim Morrison during his later years all at once. Instead of building on this, he just pulled an Eminem and completely reverted.
And it’s even more disappointing in the context of Trump’s presidency, which he doesn’t tackle on this album despite doing so in interviews and videos. I bet he could actually stir up some decent controversy if he tore into Trump, so why he passed that up is beyond me. It just proves my belief that hip-hop is the only potent form of music left, but I digress.
Altogether, Heaven Upside Down is a decent album. It benefits from throbbing, monumental production but is undercut by tacky lyrics and some bland tracks that don’t always amount to much. But there’s just barely enough good stuff here to recommend as well.