I first listened to Heaven Upside Down, the new Marilyn Manson record, a couple of weeks ago when it leaked. I don’t usually listen to pirated music, but I’m broke and I’ve given Manson enough money over the years to make peace with the fact that what I was doing was technically illegal. I listened to the songs in random order and was quite underwhelmed. Sure, the keyboards are fucking great (the best sounding keys since Pogo left) and there are some fun songs, but I felt pretty meh about the experience as a whole. Maybe it was the poor quality of the rip. Maybe, I thought, I’m getting old. Or maybe the album just sucks. After all, that’s entirely possible, as Manson himself has gotten old.
Then the album dropped and I realized there was a fourth possibility. A possibility that I now believe is the most likely scenario. Heaven Upside Down is a concept album. Listening to the songs out of order is doing the art a disservice. The album is doing something very specific here that you won’t grasp unless you listen to the songs in sequential order, preferably in one sitting.
See, there are two Marilyn Mansons (three, if you count the artist who made Holy Wood, an album that carries a strange empathy not present in anything else he’s done, but I digress). First, and probably most famous, there’s the misanthrope who made Antichrist Superstar. Second, and, I believe, far more interesting, is the romantic who wrote Mechanical Animals and Eat Me, Drink Me. There have been attempts to reconcile the two in the past with mixed results. While The High End of Low and Born Villain have good individual songs, they feel a bit uneven as full albums. This is not the case with Heaven Upside Down. There’s cohesion here, even though both Marilyn Mansons are present.
Heaven Upside Down opens with “Revelation #12,” an aggressive track with lyrics that would’ve felt at home on Holy Wood or Antichrist Superstar, and a punk rock energy in the music.
“Tattooed in Reverse” is a track that blends blistering chords with post-punk bounce and some clever lyrics. I like it.
“We Know Where You Fucking Live” is a Marilyn Manson single as we’ve come to know them. Nothing about it particularly stands out, but it’s still kind of fun.
“Say10.” *sigh* I have so many conflicted emotions over this song. Musically, it’s great. It reminds me of Trent Reznor, but with Manson doing the vocals. That’s cool and all, but damn it, the chorus is beyond cheesy. “When you say God/I say Say10.” Like, really, man? Your fans aren’t fifteen anymore, bro.
“Kill4Me” is a track I wanted to hate. It’s… well, it’s essentially a Ke$ha song with Marilyn Manson singing. That said, the chorus is infectious. What can I say? It’s pop, but it’s good pop.
“Saturnalia” is an 8-minute track that feels like it’s 4 minutes. I can’t say enough good things about this song. He’s attempted epic songs in the past, and they’ve always fallen flat for me (“I Want to Kill You Like They Do in the Movies” comes to mind), but this song is just excellent. Great lyrics. A hell of a cool beat and bassline.
With a title like “Je$u$ Cri$i$,” one expects the song to carry an old school vibe. Lots of social commentary and religious criticism. That kind of thing. Cool, right? Yeah, instead we get rape jokes and references to cocaine. You’re better than this, M, and I think you know that, which is kind of what makes this song so infuriating. Still, the music is solid, and while the lyrics are shit, he sounds cool singing them, I guess. Whatever.
The album closes with three songs that feel less like three tracks and more like one composition with three movements. “Blood Honey,” the title track, and “Threats of Romance” are fucking excellent. They’re everything I want from Marilyn Manson and the fit together seamlessly. “Blood Honey” is essentially a BDSM ballad with cool imagery and great piano work, a dirge that drags the listener down with it, before “Heaven Upside Down” brings things back up with a ghost story sung over some truly wonderful guitar work. Then, there’s “Threats of Romance,” which he’s described in interviews as the album’s “end credits.” I totally see that. There’s a finality to it. It really punctuates the album and possibly even his career.
I say that because I don’t know what else he can do from here. He’s reconciled the misanthrope and the romantic in a way that doesn’t feel uneven. He’s told a story. While the songs on their own aren’t all excellent, they work together really well in context with each other. The album feels cinematic to the point where if you listen to it with no distractions, you’re apt to get images in your head. A film, even. Me, I saw two criminal lovers (the misanthrope and the romantic, if you will) hitting the road together as the world unravels around them.
I feel much of this album’s cinematic quality and cohesiveness is thanks to the inclusion of composer, Tyler Bates. It ties together so well, even if its individual parts don’t stand so well on their own. In fact, this is the first album since Holy Wood, where I would really be excited to see all of it performed live, in order. I think the work really lends itself to that kind of storytelling.
All in all, this is a solid effort that needs to be experienced in its entirety in order to be fully appreciated. It’s a culmination of two things: the reconciliation between the two Mansons and his cinematic aspirations. Things he’s been scratching at for a while, at least since Eat Me, Drink Me. And with Heaven Upside Down, I think he finally got there.
Lucas Mangum lives in Austin, Texas. He’s the author of Flesh and Fire, Mania, Engines of Ruin and the forthcoming Gods of the Dark Web. Visit him at lucasmangum.com or follow him on Twitter @LMangumFiction and talk to him about prowrestling and horror movies.