On Marilyn Manson’s ninth album, The Pale Emperor, the unholy, self-proclaimed God of Fuck sounds more like the God of Slow-Groove. Set for a January 20 release on his own Hell, etc. label, it is Manson’s most straight-forward rock album in years.

“Killing Strangers” opens with a snotty bass line and a boot-kicking groove that’ll shake the caked mud from your face. Manson, in his devilish croak, makes the case for killing strangers as a way to keep from killing those we truly love.

It’s a typical Manson sentiment, grotesque and callous, but one he’s built a career on defining. If this were Manson’s cultural heyday, he’d have the Religious Right all in grumbles over a pro-murder chorus. Luckily, neither party crosses paths anymore and a Marilyn Manson record can be heard for what it is. The man doesn’t stray from the ugly, he spreads it apart and thrusts himself inward, no apologies.

The slithering “Deep Six” moves like a snake across the swamp. “You wanna know what Zeus said to Narcissist?” Manson asks in a warning squall, “You better watch yourself.” “Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge,” one of rock and roll’s great song titles, was the first official single from the album. Manson breathes through clenched jaws as a sullen bass creeps along a dark tunnel with no light at the end. He sounds weary and on the cusp of a paranoiac outbreak as he wonders where he’ll be in four days’ time.

Manson’s vocals are low and burble like melting tar, but every now and then, his scream hits like scorched Earth and evokes unprovoked fear. “Slave Only Dreams To Be King” greases the albums up with a grave-digging guitar crunch and Manson’s screech slipping around. The awesome refrain of “Slave never dreams to be free / Slave only dreams to be king” pounds into any skull within earshot. “The Mephistopheles Of Los Angeles” flips the oft-used marching drum beat of “Beautiful People” before falling into a rousing chorus.

On “The Devil Beneath My Feet” Manson walks a path in the light of Satan and wears his affiliation proudly. “Don’t need a mother fucker looking down on me,” he seethes before exiting back into total darkness. Manson then takes the listener on a long sprawl through the underworld where he has many acquaintances. “Birds Of Hell Awaiting” sounds like something Hexxus from FernGully: The Last Rainforest would get down to.

Manson’s slight production adds a layer of twilight, not too dissimilar from frenemy Billy Corgan’s work on The Smashing Pumpkins’ brilliant album Adore. The songs are minimal with the tempo stuck in place throughout. They’re evil and heavy, but come out sounding more bluesy than metal. The Pale Emperor is a sturdy album from one of the most polarizing figures in popular music and quietly reasserts Manson into the fold.

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