There's a body suspended limp from the gallows, its puffed face bloodied and blue. An icon of flesh, rope and wood. And it's speaking... it wants to be heard... it says "I am the hanging man. I am Marilyn Manson."
And indeed, he has hanged this past couple of years since his last album, Mechanical Animals. Rightly, the man isn't very happy, not one bit. Blamed for influencing the protagonists in the Columbine shootings and generally despised by good, wholesome religious folk for being, as Christianity.com once described him, "the devil's cabana boy", the articulately vitriolic Brian Warner Mk. II is back. And this time, it's personal.
The latest disc, Holy Wood (In The Shadow of the Valley Of Death) supposedly completes the trilogy started by Antichrist Superstar - the album that put him and his fellow Spooky Kids on the map. Part autobiographical, part accusational, the 19 tracks that form the album mix thought-provoking lyrics with his now-trademark glam-esque guitars, horror movie soundscapes and near tribal angst anthems. So is it any good? Having dissected and digested for a week now, I think so. Here's why.
Opening track Godeatgod (which is announced by what sounds like guns clicking shut after loading) draws from the spooky soundscapes box of the band's repertoir. Referring, in part, to both John F. Kennedy (who will crop up a lot later on) and the martyrisation of those who die in the public eye. Although not very engaging, musically, it does seem to say "Get ready for it..."
And then all hell breaks loose.
Second track The Love Song is far from what the name might suggest. Gone are the harmonies and "Ooh baby baby" refrains, the song deals with what Marilyn Manson believes are 3 of middle America's true loves. "Do you love your guns? God? And government?" he screams, with the band riposting with a firm "Yeah!" every time.
Then more guitars chug before leaving what sounds like Song 2's drum pattern kicking in. This, ladies and gentlemen, is Fight Song. The first rule of Fight Song is you should talk about Fight Song. The second rule of Fight Song is it too seems to touch upon the use of tragic death as a form of entertainment for the masses. The post-chorus chants of "Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!" however could easily have come from any school playground in Essex.
Warm-up single Disposable Teens, with its Gary Glitter inspired glam stompings and recurring references to God, revolution and the exploitation of tragedy can only serve as a brief summary to the story presented on this compact disc. It's hella catchy but certainly not the best... mainly cause it seems a little bit "too" like Rock Is Dead from the last album, which in turn seemed a little too much like a more upbeat Beautiful People from the album before that. It's still a good song.
The next song is definitely a shining moment. A fairly well flanged guitar arpeggiates as Marilyn Manson croons more of the previous ideas and theories, this time name dropping the Kennedy's, Aldous Huxley, William Shakespeare, "Booth and Oswald, pinks and cocaine too." With lots of chugging guitars and string bending, the chorus is announced... "And I see all the young believers, your target audience." Target Audience [Narcissus Narcosis] - I like you a lot.
And this is the first 5 tracks laid bare. There's another 14 waiting, or 15 if you get the special edition with an extra acoustic version of The Nobodies tacked on. The lyrical themes are repeated throughout the album which, depending on your mood, can seem a bit long. Despite this, or because of this, the album is strangely coherent all the way through.
To name favourites, for starters The Nobodies has to be mentioned. And that's both versions if you have the guitar and a voice acoustic version. Perhaps the most obvious reference to Columbine, it echoes sentiments anyone could express - aspirations of something grander yet an unfaltering knowledge of the futility of such aspirations. Andy Warhol's 15 minutes of fame theory, you can't help thinking it's sung from the worm's eye view of the two members of the Trenchcoat Mafia who took firearms and home made explosives into school one day...
And then there's the middle 8 "Some children died the other day, we fed machines and then we prayed. Puked up and down in morbid faith, you should've seen the ratings that day."
The Lamb of God, featuring a basic hip-hoppish beat, acoustic guitars and some of the albums strongest lyrics, is another. Where other songs on the album might show their disgust at the martyrisation of the dead, this song shows how he's resigned to it. "Nothing's gonna change the world" he sings as he talks of the assassinations of Lennon and Kennedy.
The interlinking trilogy of The Fall of Adam, King Kill 33 and Count To Six and Die [The Vacuum of Infinite Space Encompassing] take us between acoustic guitars, factory production line chanting and ghost on a piano twinkles to end the album and musically they're a nice comedown from the earlier guitars. Loading guns click, their bullet chambers turning, la fin.
There're a number of criticisms that could come Marilyn Manson's way: too much more of the same, too much philosophical posing, too much sloganeering. Regardless, all this needs to attain perfection is a few minutes shaved off of the overall running time. The band play tighter than before (looking at the credits show it to be much more of a team effort), lyrically it actually says something intelligent for once and musically it has a lot more variation and scope than the Limp Bizkits of the world.
To sum up: the least disappointing album by one of the "big hitters" to date this year. And that includes everyone, even those I like more. Even if you don't want to own any of his other albums, you really should give this one a chance.
10Dale Price's Score