“If you wanna fuck,” drawls Brian Warner on Je$us Cri$i$; “I will fuck you.”
And call the project whatever you will – Marilyn Manson aren’t dishonest. Across ten tracks and forty-seven brain-mashing minutes, Heaven Upside Down howls, screams and attacks you. In many respects, yes – it’s quite the reverent aural seeing to he promises us.
But the schtick is just so stale now. It’s an angst that belongs in the brainless era of Slipknot and Suicide Silence, where the fact of violence was infinitely more interesting or stimulating than the after effects. This is a phenomenon observable in all shock media – the question of what will work next becoming more prevalent with each blow to the system. Eventually with these things, you end up in one of two places – a state of gut wrenching, potentially not even legal depravity; or, hopeless imitation of the thing that made you initially interesting. Here, on Heaven Upside Down, it’s the latter. The style is gruellingly clumsy – right down to its witless title. And why? Because worse then Slipknot or Suicide Silence (who at least have the integrity to shamelessly continue doing the same thing), Manson seem to think the project has matured or evolved in some way… and whilst it absolutely hasn’t, the times resolutely have.
Manson’s approach cannot be called much other than straightforward. The black and white extremes of his fairly limited ideas are right there in… well… black and white. He’s a consistent wordsmith too, bookending the collective’s tenth LP with quality wordplay on the opener (“we’ll paint the town red / with the blood of tourists”), puns in the middle (“cocaine and abel…”) and a disgusting, over-graphic bridge ham-fistedly equating semen and trees on the closer (not even quoting it). Throughout, industrial metal’s favourite confusingly titled band (both it and its lead singer are called the same thing) are everything from offensive (“fuck your bible”) to eye-rollingly unoriginal (“I’m unstable”). Whatever the questionable songwriting tactic however, there’s a universal flavour on this record – and it’s needless aggression.
This record is just so horrible. I don’t mean badly constructed or annoying – I mean plain fucking nasty. There’s nothing sophisticated or measured about this album – it’s compositions and lyrics alike are pounding, eroticised ultra-violence, sensationalising fear, anxiety and negativity without a fraction of a second’s consideration for constructive or clever thinking. It’s a musical mood totally devoid of artistic power; one that revels in filth, disparity and rage. I can’t take anything from it, and that feels like failure to me.
Perhaps annoyingly then, the music is really great. Fans of moody electronica and industrial will have a field day here as producer Tyler Bates pulls out all the stops, beautifully mixing vocal double-tracks, super clean distortion and bubbling synths that never sound unwelcome or incongruous. Every song has a gigantic, anthemic sound, superbly recorded and with an extremely tight arrangement. Even Manson’s voice is strong, as demonstrated on WE KNOW WHERE YOU FUCKING LIVE, where a scorching chorus vocal gives way to sinister, intimate whispering. Heaven Upside Down is also a fabulously paced record; it gets fast and slows back down again exactly where you need it to – be it the bounding Saturnalia creeping into the loud stamping of Je$us Cri$i$, or the twisted Americana of the title track blending into the foul, snarling cabaret of Threats of Romance.
It’s a real shame – there’s a lot of talent here, clearly, but Manson is just beyond bearable lyrically. He’s clichéd and obscene and ultimately, it’s boring and desensitising. In that respect then, he might even be getting more than he bargained for in that line from Cri$i$ – ‘fucking’ both you and himself at the same time.