Twenty-five years plus into his career, Marilyn Manson continues to be an enigma, wrapped tight inside a riddle, not wishing to be fully known. By never making the same album twice with his namesake band, he continues to defy expectations, and be equally loved and hated. While his early albums are masterworks that others from the 1990s would kill to rest their reputations on. However, as the rockstar gains on years and gets further away from his early years, he has transformed into a much more interesting character than when he was freaking out pastors and scarring moms and dads.
We Are Chaos (Loma Vista) has threads of his brilliant last few albums, as well as little callbacks to other eras of his musical history. At the same time, the influence of producer Shooter Jennings can’t be understated as well as Manson’s own ambition as a writer. This is the most experimental album of his entire career. That is no small feat, when your goal is to keep reinventing yourself, like his hero, David Bowie. And yes, like middle era Bowie, the album cover is a self-portrait, and among his best works.
Starting with an evil spoken word that sees elder statesman of rock Marilyn approximating a deeply measured tone, setting the table for the opening track “Red Black and Blue”. When he is not screaming in the chorus, he croons and swoons in his bassy lowest register. The track is heavy, and although it doesn’t have a huge crunching guitar sound, it does the classic loud/soft Manson dynamics well. A good opener and a clever misdirect for the album, which you can argue the covers Manson released pre-drop also telegraphed something differently entirely.
Oddly, the title track is the polar opposite of the opener, which has more in common with folksy Bruce Springsteen and even the last a perfect circle album with hits chiming guitars, poetic verses, and marchy beat. Of course, only Manson could make a major key sound bleak. It’s a unique and different vibe for him.
The heart of the album is in the early-middle third. Songs such as “Don’t Chase The Dead” bring back the Mechanical Animals swing and swagger. “Paint You With My Love” might seem like a poor euphemism for sex, but lyrically it’s a lot smarter and deeper. This is a Jennings/MM masterwork with church chords, plinking pianos, handclaps, and lap steel as if channeling Elvis singing Faith No More’s “Take This Bottle.”
“Infinite Darkness” is another heavy banger full of ebbs and flows. The nearly spoken/sung verses build into a wicked crescendo by the time the chorus crushes and kills. If you have been missing riffy/slightly industrial sounding MM, this is your track to ride or die by.
Bringing back some of the best callbacks on the album with “Perfume”, lyrically, vocally, and a near moodier clone of the “Rock Is Dead” beat for effect, another track od Bowie-isms and clever lyrics. The original leaked titled of the album a year ago, “Get Behind Me Satan” pops up inm the lyrics. The idea of religion and putting on airs as a thing you wear to disguise your true self, attract others, a clear mockery of religion that is cheese for all of the rats (haters) he trolls. Stay lit, yall.
“Half-Way One Step Forward“ again revisits the grandeur of the late 90s, with a piano hook and a fresh beat and a big chorus. Ladies find your local pole class for this track! There are definitely some cool risks, twists, and turns here and this one of the more unique tracks on a unique album. Back to the rock, “Keep My Head” is all riffs and synths. Manson has never shied away from repping his former mentor, and I bet when Trent Reznor hears this track, he is gonna be mad jealous that he didn’t copy this Killing Joke-esque bassline first. RIP Paul Raven while we are at it. Come to think of it, there is also quite a bit of legit post-Punk charm here, mixed with an earthy folk song. Great lyrics on this one too, as only the dark one can deliver.
“Solve Coagula” has a grandeur to it that makes me wish it was the last track, or just went twice as long on the run time. More of the Jennings ear candy, weepy keys, sad guitar eeps into your ear while a hypnotic bass and drum bedrock reels you in. Similarly, the closing track “Broken Needle” has some of the same elements of the previous track with a more “wall of sound to it” bigness. It is a very “Nashville” in Jennings kind of way.
The album is excellent and holds up on repeat listens, but because it is so expansive-sounding in scope and trying to touch all these things Manson has never tried before, it doesn’t have the power of either Pale Emperor or Heaven Upside Down. Definitely unexpected, unconventional by most standards, and another mood on the big palate Manson paints with.
8 / 10