2012’s Born Villain is the eighth full-length studio album by Marilyn Manson. As with the previous two albums it was self-produced, mixed by Sean Beavan and no living drummer is fully credited throughout. The line-up features Manson, Vrenna & Ramirez like the previous album, only now with Fred Sablan on bass. Interestingly though, Vrenna left the band before the album’s release.
For many fans, the band’s golden period is considered to be The Triptych (Antichrist Superstar, Mechanical Animals & Holywood), a trilogy of three interlinked concept albums that were released at the height of Manson’s fame, critical acclaim, cultural relevance and commercial success. Ever since then; after a decade of line-up instability, notably poor live performances and albums that didn’t meet many fan’s expectations, the band’s stock has diminished considerably in the eyes of the media and a large portion of the fanbase.
After hearing the best moments here, many people may rush to proclaim this a return to form and excitedly declare that he is back to his old standard again, just like they did last time around, only to lose enthusiasm pretty quickly. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this new record a comeback, but it is undeniably strong and consistent. I’d urge you to forget any pretentious interviews or music videos associated with it and give the music a fair and honest chance.
If you have liked the last three Manson albums, then Born Villain is certainly worth trying out. The album has some seriously enjoyable songs that would fit well into a live set or compilation album, and isn’t overly full of ballads or slow tracks that don’t go anywhere. It isn’t just a dull dirge… It is louder, more bombastic and more confident than any of the last few records. Even the rhythmic ‘Overneath The Path Of Misery’ when separated from its pretentious music video is hugely catchy and surprisingly heavy in album-context.
Stylistically, It seems that Manson is going for a mix between trying new things and delving into his back catalogue as well. Opening track ‘Hey, Cruel World…’ for example has a nice catchy chugging riff, and even some double-kicks at one point, but there is also a section towards the end that sounds like it would have fit well on Portrait Of An American Family. Then the album version of ‘No Reflection’ has a whole build-up section in it that is reminiscent of Holywood’s heavier tracks and there are even a few allusions to Mechanical Animal’s style in ‘Flowers Of Evil’ and ‘Breaking The Same Old Ground.’
There is also some material that is totally new for the band as well; ‘Slo-Mo-Tion’ is unlike any of his older material, ‘Lay Down Your Goddamn Arms’ borders on Stoner-Rock territory at times and ‘Murders Are Getting Prettier Every Day’ is deliberately in-your-face-heavy.
Overall, I think the right balance has been struck between innovation and giving the fans what they want. The album covers a lot of ground, but crucially doesn’t sound confused for all the diversity. There are loads of little moments like the hi-hat being way louder in the chorus or an effect on the vocals coming in the third time around etc that really give the tracks a power and ‘umph’ that has arguably been missing for a while.
In my own personal opinion Born Villain is my favourite Manson album since Holywood. That being said however, this album does not meet the same artistic height as any of the individual parts in the aforementioned Triptych and I suspect that if you only enjoy those albums, this probably won’t win you back.
To be absolutely fair, if the band’s career consisted of only their debut and then the albums from Golden Age Of The Grotesque onwards, then Born Villain would be readily considered a great album as it such a solid, creative and well-made album in its own right. It is only because it has the unfair expectation of having to compete with three albums that have been absolutely beloved by millions of fans for over a decade as well as having to redeem, excuse and justify the aforementioned decade of decline that Born Villain unfortunately doesn’t measure up.
In summary; if you try and be objective then the album will seem a lot better than you probably expect it to be, but at the same time there is no getting around that Marilyn Manson has made better albums than this in the past and this record isn’t up to the highest standards that the band have set for themselves.
I feel that this is easily his strongest non-Triptych album and if you have given up on Manson in recent years, it is good enough to at least warrant a cautious test-listen. If you have stayed a fan all along however, this will doubtless be an immensely enjoyable album indeed.