Marilyn Manson posits himself as the walking id disguised as the walking dead, the horrifying subconscious unleashed to terrify prudes and politicians. But therein lies the paradox: Shock entails an element of surprise, so any artist known to be regularly shocking can, after a while, never be shocking. Further playing into his self-fulfilling prophecy of impotence, Manson frequently reiterates his position that organized religion breeds true hatred and evil, but even if he speaks at least a loose truth, it does his own music no favor: If religion is the true evil, what does that say about the mock menace of his mere rock 'n'roll albums? From the crucifixion-themed cover to the lyrics, Manson comes out with guns blazing (so to speak) on his new Holy Wood, a return to his neo-Goth roots following a brief but oddly refreshing foray into glam-rock. As usual in Manson's world, the goal of maximum discomfort supercedes the music, which sticks to familiar and reliably doom-laden but catchy pop-metal on "Disposable Teens" and "The Love Song." The Columbine shootings haunt this disc, an ironic turnabout for a bogeyman accustomed to doing the haunting. Talk of guns, authority, and (of course) death courses through "The Fight Song" and "King Kill 33(infinity)," while "Target Audience" even more explicitly references the Colorado tragedy. But that sort of agitprop is thoroughly predictable, and the only thing that could prove shocking about Manson's antics would be if the singer actually evinced any power over his followers. Here, he seems entranced by his own power, which may be why his dark worldview sounds baseless even as he offers sharp hooks others would kill for.

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