To be young and angry in the late ’90s and early ’00s was an absolute pleasure. With the advent of rock- and metal-oriented TV channels (Kerrang! foremost amongst them), alternative music of all kinds became more accessible than it had ever been. Classic videos from Foo Fighters, Limp Bizkit, Queens Of The Stone Age, Sum 41, Blink 182, Slipknot, and hundreds more were all played in a rolling, 24-hour-news aping cycle of endless repetition.
Then in 2004, the movement reached its peak, and rock went stratospheric with Green Day and My Chemical Romance saddling up on the back of a dying music industry and riding off into the sunset. Within two years, alternative culture had faded away. Rock and metal music has failed to gain that level of traction since, and its relevance has faded with each passing year. Rock, as a wise man once said, is dead.
Not one of those bands – not a single one – can claim to have been as influential or as iconic as Marilyn Manson. The last truly iconic rock star, the last musician who truly felt dangerous, the last man standing. Though his sound has grown and diversified over the years, this new album, We Are Chaos, represents his most complete artistic statement since 2000’s Holy Wood. All of the regular influences are here: the rusted, serrated industrial chug of Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral; the buzzing, electric-shock stomp of Iggy Pop’s The Idiot; the glitter-dusted theatrics of David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane and Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies; the angular guitar grind of Bauhaus and Killing Joke… In many ways, We Are Chaos feels like a culmination of the Marilyn Manson project.
Recorded with Shooter Jennings, We Are Chaos is Manson’s 11th studio album, and his first since 2017’s Heaven Upside Down. Not that you’d know that, of course – Manson’s star has been on the wane for at least 15 years, and his musical output (though mostly superb) has failed to capture anywhere near the critical or commercial success that his early work managed. Put simply – what’s left of a shock-rocker when the real world is more shocking than anything he can conjure? The answer, thankfully, is an artist who knows his strengths, and uses them to his advantage.
Despite never making a bad album, Manson’s career stumbled a little after 2007’s high-gloss Eat Me, Drink Me, and hit its nadir with 2009’s underwhelming The High End Of Low. Born Villain failed to inspire with its retro-goth stylings in 2012, but it’s 2015’s The Pale Emperor that put him back on the right track. He’s continued in a rich vein of form since, and We Are Chaos finds him firing on all cylinders.
The opening triptych sets the tone for the record: From the deep, dark glam metal stomp of opener Red Black And Blue, to the T Rex-indebted title track, to the Depeche Mode-meets-Don’t Chase The Dead, it’s clear that Manson has his groove back, and each of the songs offer different thrills from the track before it. He’s attempted this kind of grab-bag, ‘wear your influence on your sleeve’ style before, to limited effect, but here it really works.
Paint You With My Love goes back to the Bowie/Marc Bolan glam-ballad well for more sky-gazing atmospherics, and then Half-Way & One Step Forward takes us back into Depeche Mode territory, circa Songs of Faith & Devotion, with an earnest piano line whorling around Manson’s broken-hearted baritone.
Infinite Darkness is probably the closest he takes us to the classic Manson sound, with roaring guitars and sibilant, hissing percussion rising into a monstrous chorus. It’s undoubtedly a throwback to the oppressive, gloomy ’90s industrial rock that first made his name, but in this context is still sounds fresh. Perfume, with its glammy stomp and thunderous percussion, recalls his Mechanical Animals era, but with more weathered, less pristine.
Across the three remaining tracks, you get scuzzy rock fury on Keep My Head Together, low-slung barroom sleaze on Solve Coagula and greasy Southern Rock cowboy doom on Broken Needle. While not the best tracks on the album, each adds to the overall impact, and demonstrates Manson’s all-encompassing artistic vision. Despite being 11 albums in, and peaking 20 years ago, Manson has given his audience a collection of tracks that are stronger, tougher and better than they have any right to be. His ascendance led to the death of the original rock era, but his music is more vital and creative than ever. A stunning work.