If one word could be used to describe the present year, it would be chaos. Civil unrest, economic recession, a housing crisis — and oh yeah, there’s that stinking pandemic that never seems to rest its ugly head. 2020 has truly been a junction of jeopardy, confusion, desolation and chaos.
In these pandemoniac times of disarray, melancholic music has been a year-definer across a litany of genres. One of the year’s most critically acclaimed albums, Fiona Apple’s “Fetch The Bolt Cutters,” was sardonically solicitous, upcoming star Phoebe Bridgers’ “Punisher” has attained a cult following for its morose sincerity and the year’s highest-selling album, Taylor Swift’s “folklore,” features the artist’s most muted and reflective songwriting to date.
With these previously released projects marking the woeful worries of the year, who better than the iconic and controversial icon Marilyn Manson to reflect the collective consciousness of madness?
Manson’s newest record, “WE ARE CHAOS,” is a statement record for the self-proclaimed god of f***, capturing the raucous energy of his defining album, 1996’s “Antichrist Superstar,” while also displaying a maturity in songwriting and tonality. Manson maintains his edge, but he improves the nuance in which he describes his thoughts and fears.
While not exactly ditching the industrial drums and metal riffs that defined his previous material — songs like “PERFUME” and “DON’T CHASE THE DEAD” showcase these sounds perfectly — Manson opts for a thematic pop sound reminiscent of David Bowie.
This influence can be felt in the sonic soundscape of the leading single “WE ARE CHAOS.” The lyrics are similar to gothic poetry, and the resounding and anthemic chorus feels reminiscent of the theatrical emo sound of the early 2000s. The dichotomy between the upbeat kicks and rapid strumming acoustics are juxtaposed by Manson’s pessimistic thoughts, leading to a strange yet complimentary sound.
Despite veering into poppier ventures, classic Manson fans nostalgic for his late ‘90s and early 2000s antics will love the album intro “RED BLACK AND BLUE.” Manson’s iconic voice is on display as he beckons to the audience with a spoken word poem that defines the subject matter of the project, hatred of political parties, mentions of death and Manson’s framing of himself as a member of the afterlife. After the poem ends and hectic screams are heard, humping reverb-heavy drums and amped-up metallic guitar licks compliment Manson’s distorted and eery vocals. It makes for a compelling listen.
Those familiar with David Bowie’s discography will notice the musical similarities between “WE ARE CHAOS” and Bowie’s “Diamond Dogs.” Both albums see the artists form new personas. Both albums’ spoken word intros showcase their personas as being hybrid creatures: Bowie being half-man, half-dog and Manson being half-god, half-demon. Manson has consistently used demonic imagery throughout his musical career, and the declaration of his hybrid nature serves to show the audience that despite his maturation in lyrical content, he’s still the same contentious apolitical entity he’s always framed himself as.
“PAINT YOU WITH MY LOVE” is an incredibly refreshing track with some of the best songwriting on the album. The storyline follows Manson’s woes with attempting to fester desirable traits into a partner. The track’s plucky pianos are pampering to the ears, and Manson gives one of the best performances on the project. What initially begins as a ballad ramps up into a mixture of distorted guitars and hard drums, catapulting into a cacophony of madness. It’s absolutely wonderful.
If there was an area in which the project falters, it is the production. While the aforementioned songs are pleasing to the ears, when the songs turn up the rage, the sound tends to turn muddy. Sounds bleed into each other, and instrumentation is hard to discern. The mixing of Manson’s gravely vocals can turn sour, especially in tracks like “KEEP MY HEAD TOGETHER,” where the distortion of both Manson’s vocals and the guitars lead to a badly compressed sound.
Despite some production woes, “WE ARE CHAOS” still serves as one of Manson’s best releases to date. Since his new era sparked by 2015’s “THE PALE EMPEROR,” Manson has attempted to match the energy of his younger days with maturation in sound. On “WE ARE CHAOS,” it finally comes together. In a time of madness, Manson has found his home wallowing in it and channelling the chaos.