An artist as calculated and ostensibly one-dimensional as Marilyn Manson shouldn't be making music anything this close to respectable 20 years into his career. As demonstrated on his last LP, 2012's Born Villain, Manson understands precisely how to inject the right balance of musical growth into his work while shrewdly treading the right amount of familiar territory.
Adding two more musicians into the band's endlessly revolving cast (former Dillinger Escape Plan drummer Gil Sharone and film composer Tyler Bates on guitar and keyboards), Manson manages to keep all of the dark, dangerous and asexual tropes afloat on The Pale Emperor, his ninth outing. On the album's strongest tracks, "Killing Strangers" and "Slave Only Dreams to Be King," Manson sounds more cinematic, sleek and restrained than ever. But even when his band reverts to gauche nu-metal posturing, Manson keeps his melodies stylish and well conceived. The Pale Emperor is downright ambitious when it wants to be and lazy when it can get away with it. (Dine Alone)