NEW YORK: Marilyn Manson thrived on shock value as the Goth rocker and self-proclaimed Antichrist Superstar rose in the 1990s. Now approaching middle age, Manson’s vision is no less violent but he has found a more subtle musical outlet — the blues.
“The Pale Emperor,” Manson’s first album in three years which was released Tuesday, moves beyond the searing aggression of the distorted guitars and synthesized minor chords that helped define him as he became one of rock’s most controversial stars.
The opening track on the new album, “Killing Strangers,” starts with the heavy thump of bass and drums familiar to longtime fans but is immediately followed by a guitar that owes more to Mississippi Delta bluesmen than to the arena heavy metal that was Manson’s most obvious influence.
But the two genres are hardly strangers, as heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath created the band’s sound from blues roots.
Manson strikes a new balance in songs such as “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles” and “Cupid With a Gun,” with the melancholic expressivity of the blues playing off the thundering darkness of the metal rhythm section.
Manson, in interviews ahead of the release of “The Pale Emperor,” said he was drawn to the gritty quality of the blues, and wanted to shake up his sound for his ninth studio album.
“The redneck in me comes out in my voice, and it’s got some old blues mixed with the very hard elements,” Manson, who grew up in a working class family in Ohio, told the British metal magazine Kerrang!
While saying he wanted to preserve strong qualities in his past music, the singer who relishes his shock value feared that he had become too predictable.
“If there’s no chaos, things are just linear. There always has to be someone who wrecks the game plan that everybody has,” Manson told the magazine.
Manson has sowed plenty of chaos during his career.
His tour for his 1996 album “Antichrist Superstar” was full of angry passion, with Manson — decked out in horror film-like makeup — scandalizing many Christians by tearing apart copies of the Bible on stage.
The singer came under intense attack after the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, where the teenage gunmen were reported to have listened to his music.
Manson, who has said that his views on organized religion were inspired by Nietzsche, steadfastly denied responsibility for the killings and insisted that US society needed a scapegoat.
Manson, who recently turned 46, has not changed his worldview. On “Killing Strangers,” he once more belittles society for a selective condemnation of violence, singing, “We’re killing strangers, so we don’t kill the ones that we love.”
His theological views come out again on “The Devil Beneath My Feet” as he sings, “Don’t want your God and his higher power” and, using an expletive, “Don’t need (someone) looking down on me.”
Manson attributes his persona in part to his childhood as, in a seemingly ordinary church-going family, he would observe his grandfather sneaking out to indulge in bestiality pornography. But Manson was close to his mother, whose death last year affected him.
With the music pared down, Manson hinted that his more sensational stage persona may also be on its way out.
“That P.T. Barnum aspect of Marilyn Manson has sort of evaporated,” he told Rolling Stone, referring to the circus legend.