Sound — 6
Sometimes, it's a bloody wonder Marilyn Manson (the singer AND the band, as they are two seperate entities) keeps going after all these years. Between the revolving-door band lineup and various "wasted mistakes" by the band's eponymous frontman, it's strange that they ever even have the time to put together a new album. And under the original title of "SAY10", Manson and his band were intending to release this album much earlier in the year, back in February. However, Manson had expressed "dissatisfaction" with the recordings after the release date had come and gone, opting to record a further three songs for the album. Featuring a band consisting of Manson himself on vocals, Tyler Bates on guitars and keyboards, long-time member Twiggy Ramirez on bass, and relative newcomer Gil Sharone (perhaps best known for his work with The Dillinger Escape Plan) on drums, for his second Manson album after "The Pale Emperor".
Promising a sound that would be different from "The Pale Emperor", "Heaven Upside Down" eschews the former album's blues-rock influences and returns to a form that should be more familiar to Manson fans, a heavily over-produced industrial rock album that, much like his work on the "Mechanical Animals" album, shows some influence from 70s glam-rockers like David Bowie and T. Rex, though still steeped in Manson's usual style. Most of the songs come off as noisy, almost punk-rock in their intensity, straight from the opening of "Revelation 12" and first single "We Know Where You Fucking Live", but there are still highly danceable tunes with a huge amount of pop appeal like "Tattooed In Reverse" and "Say10". The "Mechanical Animals" 70s glam-rock style comes into play quite heavily on "Kill4Me" and closing track "Threats of Romance". A couple of tracks even flirt with gloomy, somewhat dated industrial nu-metal tinges, like "Blood Honey", which sounds like could have come off of any recent Korn album. The eight-minute "Saturnalia" is sort of the album's centerpiece, with a lot of noisy guitars and a pretty decent bass riff and some very dance-oriented drumming, and some very disorienting-sounding vocals and lead guitars.
There's very much a mix of all the different styles Manson has performed in his career, and him and the band do a pretty good job of tying them together in a coherent way. But sadly, the styles on this album are quite dated, and there's just not enough variety to keep this record all that interesting. And while musicianship is clearly not the top priority on any Manson record, I do feel that this record is just lacking in any kind of iconic riffs, beats, or melodies that made a lot of his older records classics. That's not to say that Tyler Bates isn't a competent guitar player or producer, or that Twiggy's bass playing or Gil's drumming aren't good, but there just doesn't seem to be a moment that stands out on this record where one can pinpoint a future classic. And a lot of the time, the album feels a little overproduced, with many songs being far too noisy for the sake of being noisy, and far too much slapback delay and reverb on the guitars to the point where everything is just drowning in it. On the positive side, the mix is actually fairly decent throughout, and Twiggy's bass is clearly audible on even some of the album's noisiest and loudest tracks.
Lyrics — 7
It pretty much goes without saying that one of the more important aspects of any Marilyn Manson record is its lyrical concept, and nearly all of his records so far have had some kind of underlying lyrical narrative to them, even extending across records for lyrical trilogies. This record is no exception, with a thread of disaffection towards the world in general weaving through this record, mostly aimed at the political systems and social media in the USA at the moment. There are still references to drugs ("Sucking snow white powder/White powder, snow white powder/High as a tower/Fall to the street like a viper" in "Jesus Crisis"), and sexual deviancy ("Things that are pretty are always kept behind glass/Someone like me, someone like me can't make it last/I like you damaged, but I need something left/Something for me, something for me to wreck" from "Threats of Romance"), but there's a lot of anger towards the general state of the world in 2017 throughout the record. Biblical references make up the majority of "Revelation #12" ("We'll paint the town red, we'll paint the town red/With the blood of the children/One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten/Revelations come in twelve, I say it again"), and he continues playing with religious references in the original title track, "Say10" ("Open your mouth, love/Like a gutted church/My goat horns are napalm trees/And a crown of thorns is hard to swallow"), making it easy to peg these tracks as overtly satanic, but within the context of the whole piece, they definitely seem to come off as more generally anti-religious than anything else. The aggressive political statements come in on the riot-inducing track "We Know Where You Fucking Live" ("Let's make something clear/We're all recording this as it happens/Those diamond bullets, storefront blood bank/Splinters and stained glass/We don't need to move a single prayer bone/Dodge burn so loud and so low/We don't need to move a single prayer bone/Hi-def is still life").
Vocally, Marilyn Manson has no new tricks up his sleeve, simply singing the way you'd generally expect him to without any real surprises, and if you liked his vocals on past releases, you're probably going to like this one, though I did find some of his melodic singing on "Tattooed In Reverse" (during the "I'm unstable, I'm not a show horse/I can't be bridled, of course" section) sounds like it might have been made possible with some help from pitch-correction, and might be the only section where his vocals sound a little off.
Overall Impression — 6
Once upon a time, there was some actual shock value to Marilyn Manson's music, and it was unlike anything else on the music scene. These days, with an oversaturation of new bands in the extreme metal scene, and specifically with metalcore bands taking on electronic and industrial metal textures, Manson's sound is really nothing new, and the only thing of any real shock value to him anymore are clickbait-y news articles about his latest drug-addled, drunken escapades. And rather than show any inclination towards changing on the music front, Manson has decided with "Heaven Upside Down" to give us a business-as-usual album. Frankly, the shift into blues-rock territory on "The Pale Emperor" was a very welcome change from Manson, garnering him considerable acclaim in the music press, with many calling it his best album in over a decade. So it's a bit of a shame that "returning to form" has left me somewhat cold with this album.
And it's not necessarily a bad record, as there are some perfectly serviceable songs on here that could have worked well on any of his older records, though here they sound perhaps a little "too 1998" to work today. However, it just feels a little phoned-in and not at all innovative or even really that shocking. In fact, it almost feels "safe". Ten studio albums into his career, it's safe to say not all of his works are going to show him and his band in top form, and that certainly feels like the case on this record. Hopefully, future records will yield better results, but this album does feel like a backwards step from "The Pale Emperor" and sadly, it's a bit of a forgettable record.