Gig Review: Marilyn Manson, Hammersmith Apollo, 19/11/2015

Since the late 1980s Marilyn Manson (MM), both the man and the band, has produced art steeped in Weirdness at virtually every level. From their music, lyrics, Manson’s stage personas and life, conceptual narratives and general aesthetics, the intelligence and complexity of MM is frequently lost amidst the tide of controversy that inevitably follows in their wake.

Given the importance that Weird Metal Blog attaches to MM in this field, this post – a review of their recent triumphant return to London – will be followed by another post, which takes a broad look at various aspects of Weirdness in the art of MM. Keep your eyes peeled…

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Tonight’s support act Krokodil take their moniker from the street name of an especially nasty Russian drug – Desomorphine, an opiate derivative of cocaine – that’s sometimes referred to as the “zombie drug” for its alleged link to horrific flesh-eating conditions. If that kind of tabloid-baiting story wasn’t Weird enough, its been claimed that centres in Siberia allegedly set up for the purposes of rehabilitation from Desomorphine are fronts for strange religious cults.

Also, song titles from the band’s debut album Nachash (2014) – Hebrew for snake or serpent – reference Greek and Norse mythology (‘Sleep well, Medusa’, ‘Ragnarok’), and their lyrics portray quintessentially Weird imagery (‘Through this door/Through this black door/Follow me to another world’). So Weird Metal Blog doesn’t need much convincing to hit the Apollo early tonight.

The effects of the drug Krokodil are known to be especially fast-acting and short-lived – making it an especially apt name for this six-piece, who waste no time delivering their progressive, hardcore-tinged metal to the gathered crowd. From the moment they bound on stage, to the whine of feedback as they close approximately thirty minutes later, they’re energetic, passionate and seriously tight.

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A pretty eclectic bunch, Krokodil meld various sub-genres and styles of metal with seamless fluidity. Reference points include Mastodon for their banjo-esque pull-off licks, Faith No More or any of Mike Patton’s projects for vocal styles as accomplished as they are un-hinged, and Dillinger Escape Plan for jagged, dissonant riffs and jarring time-signatures.

With three guitarists, Krokodil can deliver the widdly dual-lead parts that we all know and love but keep the power chords going underneath for extra weight, which sounds incredible. (They even close the set with triple lead guitar; now there’s a thing.) Their songs manage to be unpredictable – brutal riffs are just as likely to yield head-turning, slamming breakdowns as they are melodic choruses or complex prog-out instrumental interludes – yet also logical, well-crafted and satisfying.

Having seen Krokodil whip up ferocious pits at both Bloodstock and Temples festivals in the past, it’s a shame that the masses tonight seem to be saving their energy for the headliners, although they do make quite a lot of noise in appreciation.

The Dope Show

Returning to London for the first time since 2012, Marilyn Manson are promoting their latest, generally well-received album The Pale Emperor (2015). Recent tragedies are still raw for everyone, especially European concert goers. Before MM emerge tonight, blue, white and red lights spear the roof in the already familiar gesture of solidarity with Paris, and when MM finally begin it’s fifteen minutes late, possibly due to heightened security measures. Never one for subtlety, MM uses no less than three intro songs (devil-themed country Golden Oldies juxtaposed with hip hop), as well as several elaborate flurries of laser and dry ice, in a wonderfully pompous entrance somewhere between The Phantom of the Opera and the World Wrestling Federation.

What we get is essentially a greatest hits set with a focus on Antichrist Superstar, including a smattering of tracks from Mechanical Animals, HolywoodBorn Villain and The Golden Age of the Grotesque. Manson’s up to his old tricks tonight – the stilts and crutches routine for ‘Sweet Dreams (are made of this)’, the Bible-burning preacher/Führer for ‘Antichrist Superstar’, the knife/mirror/microphone for ‘No Reflection’ – and it’s all the slightly camp, pretty sinister theatre we’ve come to expect.

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It’s a little odd that, while MM’s new material is some of the best they’ve produced for years, they play only two new tracks, and the stage show doesn’t seem to have been adapted much to accompany the aesthetics of the latest album, relying mostly on tried and tested set-pieces developed on previous tours. The Pale Emperor – with lyrics referencing Roman history, Greek myth and German folklore – leaves plenty of room for Manson to reinvent himself in a fresh stage persona, as he has done so effectively in the past – perhaps the titular wan patriarch himself.

Still, it’s impossible to deny the power of tracks like ‘Irresponsible Hate Anthem’, which the band rip through with the ferocity of old, and ‘Sweet Dreams’ is as Weirdly-satisfying as when it first graced MTV. There’s nothing like a Manson show for getting the crowd involved. You can practically smell the angst wafting out during ‘Disposable Teens’, and we’re all singing along heartily to every word.  With nine albums under his belt, MM can pull out anthem after anthem, keeping the crowd crazy with all those big, hall-filling chants: ‘Fuck it!’, ‘REPENT’, ‘Be obscene, be be obscene’, ‘we’re disposable teens’. Early material in live sets has inevitably dwindled over the years and the old-school fans don’t even get ‘Lunchbox’ tonight, let alone ‘Dope Hat’.

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MM may feature only one familiar member alongside the mainman himself – Manson’s long-term partner in crime bass-player Twiggy Ramirez – but he’s assembled a hydra of a band, including former members of the Dillinger Escape Plan and Mushroomhead.  Twiggy’s bass still sounds bad-ass and raunchy, and he looks nonchalant when Manson pulls him over for a few brief man-hugs.

After ‘The Beautiful People’ inevitably closes the set, MM return for an encore of ‘Coma White’ – still an eerily-sedated suicide ballad and powerful anti-drug anthem – to a stage the draped in flowers and scattered with falling snow.

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Shock is Dead

Manson’s days of courting serious controversy and making tabloid headlines are probably behind him, give or take some bomb threats and forced cancellations in Russia. The world has much more convincing targets for blame regarding unspeakable public shootings. Obama is vaguely down with the metal kids. The US Christian Right has mostly resigned itself to the band’s longevity. Even public self-mutilation is old hat, it turns out: tonight Manson appears to cut his hand with a broken bottle, yet not as prominently as in other recent shows, and this all pales in comparison with the multiply-slashed torso he sported on the infamous Dead to the World tour back in the ’90s.

Yet Manson has always been so much more than merely shock-rock, and the man remains as enigmatic, intelligent and endearingly narcissistic as ever, even if he now occupies the comfortable Hollywood niche his songs predicted years ago. If MM’s live show sticks to a tried and tested formula, it’s still the best rock opera in town, proving the beast can still deliver a fearsome bite.

Shock is dead. Long live the Pale Emperor.

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