Artists tend to have this natural flow, where the wellspring of content that flows first is the strongest, most undiluted when speaking to genuine artistry and imagination. This is true also in the case of Marilyn Manson, a kid from Canton Ohio, obsessed with Kiss and Van Halen, who wanted to be larger than life.
This story starts in 1996, with the release of the blockbuster “Anti-Christ Superstar.” You can imagine parents terror everywhere when their precious children start aging up and delving into this type of entertainment. Manson is the biggest star in heavy rock music, carefully cultivating a following based on talent, but also with a brain capable of truly amazing spectacles live in concert. Manson, or Brian as he’s known in the daylight, grew up on Ozzy, Dio, Kiss, all of them. What this does is it teaches you what gets people's attention, and how to get your point across if you want to be something in the world of music. The best way, of course, is parental outrage. I know it worked for me, probably in the same way it worked for my parents who loved these bands and films like “The Exorcist,” even though their parents would've loved to erase all of it from the history books.
It’s why he’s been so successful. Even from ACSS, the cultivation of the image was paramount. It had to be something persuasive that would get kids thinking about concepts like evil, conquering death and living to the fullest. The album, and the two successive albums are all linked by a story we won’t fully examine here, but the story, known as the Triptych, is well thought out and explained. It's a violent indictment of our times, and looking back, it has aged well but horribly in the corruption seeing the light of day. Songs like “Irresponsible Hate Anthem” are purposeful, but also calculated to push the idea of a man becoming more than. Produced by Trent Reznor in the same Nola studio that created The Fragile, the record brims with a darkness that the industry needed at the time, and Manson’s success made it easier for bands like Korn and others to get big returns with records and tours in the years following. Now, obviously having Reznor involved in the bands early albums and tours was pivotal, but Manson was always going to be a star, even if his later albums don’t match up to what is being discussed here.
When you’re a teenager, hating your life is easy because you’ve known very few things that will become tangibly important. Myself, I hated everything, I resented my parents for sure because of the perceived hypocrisy of my life, and in ways I was right. Hearing songs like “Tourniquet” delivered the message to me that I was in this fight alone, and that my success depended mostly on my persistence and pursuit of knowledge. Much in the way the main character of the Triptych evolves and becomes more, people like me were listening for the first and hearing things that got our minds going. I was already questioning the existence of god our savior, and the concepts popping around in my head ending up being concepts explored in the course of ACSS. I wasn’t alone, and my intuition was proving me right.
Song after song on the record proved to me that music like this, often dismissed as being too negative and ripe with disillusionment and apocalyptic thoughts, could also be positively transformative. It opened me up to a world of knowledge I’d only wondered about in my early formative years. Songs like the title track “Anti-Christ Superstar” rise and fall with authoritarian swagger, which was probably pretty close to what parents thought was going on with their kids. In truth, it's just an anxious but deliberately orchestrated song. Like I said previously, the beat hammers in and out, with Manson’s vocals stretching across the surface. There’s alot going on here, but it's terror and force are overwhelming. Presented live in concert, with the ACSS podium front and center and a flag adorned across the stage, it’s a mesmerizing image, and in the context of the record it speaks to the slow takeover of the main character in his relentless journey. This song, followed by the truly anti establishment track “1996,” set the stage for our Adam to overtake all the bad in the world, but it comes with a price, and it’s that there’s no one left for you.
That conclusion is realized as the moments of “The Reflecting God” and the finale of “Man that You Fear” percolate over your ears and brain. “Man that you Fear” is an especially dark moment in the record, but it elicits its darkness and pain in a beautifully symbolic way. That's one of the best things about the song, and well, the artist himself. Warner, or Manson has never had difficulty in explaining things in metaphorical ways that also perfectly convey what he’s feeling. As the song wanders on, the line “Pray your life was just a dream” is delivered as a prayer but also a curse. You can win everything, but none of it is real, as long as you don’t want it to be. Our Adam has no choice in bringing the doom to the world, it’s merely his place and purpose. To make all the wrongs right means, he has to destroy everything. He’s the “Anti-Christ Superstar,” and his message of “When all of your wishes are granted, many of your dreams will be destroyed,” has been delivered.
Now, shortly following the profound success of “ACSS” and its massive two year tour, somehow Manson and company, which still featured Twiggy, Pogo, Ginger Fish, all the great members, had produced a new album, which was the middle part of the planned trilogy. “Mechanical Animals” had arrived, and the story was about to evolve.
So, I hope if you’re reading this you have a little previous knowledge about this, because here is where it gets a little weird and confusing. Basically, this masterpiece, often overlooked, is the middle of the trilogy, which is easy enough, except this story is told backwards. ACSS, which we just discussed, is the culmination of the story, and the yet unmentioned third album is the beginning. This is important because of the landscape in which this record takes place. The setting, in a landscape motivated by popularity, excess, and celebrity worship, is the catalyst for the character of Adam to view the world in such a way that leads to the end of this journey. All concepts aside though, it's a damn great album that nearly rivals ACSS in terms of pushing the limits. It’s a glam industrial record,pure and simple. It’s rock n roll for sure, like Bowie was, but while it's clearly paying Homage to that version of Bowie, it feels more fresh than it has reason to.
Once again, like with ACSS, the title track is a stand out that reinforces an important idea of being used and tossed aside by those that would never understand you. The lyrics are almost filtered through a fan in a way, both menacing and enticing. The production here and on the album is exceptional, and you can really tell the tutelage of Reznor helped create a more dynamic, soundscape type of record. It’s futuristic and implemented with modern emotional conditions of loneliness, depression, and overcoming your obstacles. The only difference, is in this context the obstacles are the world, and you’ve been entrusted to change it, for better or worse. Getting back to narration, the album is undoubtedly a warning to the overindulgent and empty, but what it captures so brilliantly is the element of persuasiveness that the character at this point feels. “I Don’t like the Drugs (But the Drugs like Me)” speaks to the charm of early drug use, where its glamorous but deeply intoxicating, while “New Model No. 15” delves into the recycled nature of our world, and how the beauty of the outside is often created at the expense of the emptiness inside.
Both songs are more menacing and downtrodden than the upbeat nature of the instrumental would suggest, but it's done in such a unique, subtle way, the listener doesn’t even really know at first how to take it. Finally you get “User Friendly,” with its horrible message of empty use and refuse. People so desperate to feel they choose to feel hate and resentment towards those that give them pleasure. By the end of the record. Our character knows what the path is, and the emptiness of the world around him is the last straw in a desolate world that used to be perfect. Like the song says, they threw him away. Like millions of others, this spoke to me. I was taking meds for depression, consumed by the world changing around me, and I resented all of it. “Come White,” as a finale, is almost as good as that of “Man that You Fear,” but the songwriting is captivating and engrossing in its apathy towards the forced confirmations of a world that doesn’t make any sense.
When I finally saw the tour, in New Orleans with my dad Kevin, it was simply amazing, and the sets were even better than they had looked on MTV. My dad said the stage show and playing was great, which at the time I wasn’t sure if it was true, but it was.
And now, the beginning of the descent into becoming the Anti-Christ Superstar, with “Holy Wood.” By 2000, Manson had written an amazing auto-biography that captured my friends and I’s imagination in a way no book had before. Maybe that last part was just me though. Anyway, the book was filled with stories that might be partially based on truth, but it built the image that was necessary for his success. After all., this was the music business. He had had feuds with Reznor and made up, been blamed for school shootings, been branded every bad thing you could be branded, and still, he had become a giant success and a real pioneer of thought provoking heavy music. It was time for this tale to end, and he wanted to do it full steam ahead.
It wasn’t easy though. After all, Manson was just a man trying to make art. The criticisms of him and his music after Columbine were so bad he was forced to retreat into the darkness where he couldn’t be harmed by the pushed negativity campaign against him, He was even forced to cancel his Denver appearance at Ozzfest because of backlash. I tend to think pushing art into the background because of a social issue is bad news, but the worse impact was what it potentially did to Warner the man.
The record itself is filled with more anger than either of the other ones, and while speaking to this time in his life, it also explains where our Adam comes from. “The Fight Song” rebels against the conformity of the religious world of “Guns, God & Government.” The album isn’t as sharp as the previous works, but it still holds up very well. One might say it's even more relevant today than it ever was.
I haven’t really talked about the big singles of these albums, but there’s an interesting overlay I’ve been considering. “The Beautiful People,” “Dope Show,” and “Disposable Teens” all follow a path of wanting to be part of something, and then spurning it in the face of its hypocrisy; whether it’s because of the messaging, the feeling of losing the excitement, or the feeling of not being good enough. All three songs convey all of these ideas in brilliant, albeit different ways.
As the album descends deeper into the story of the why and not the how, Manson and his band take some chances musically that probably wouldn’t have been hugely successful early on. “In the Shadow of the Valley of Death” is a perfect example of that. What starts out as a bleak country ballad, soon evolves into a full orchestral demon, with Manson's voice slowly crawling back from the abyss. Another example is the science fiction coldness of “Crucifiction in Space.”
Seeing “CIS” in concert was probably one of the dopest things I’ve still seen, visually speaking. Mansons begin the song with this wedged type dress on, and gradually Manson rises to the ceiling of the now abandoned State Palace Theatre in New Orleans, as the dress becomes enormous and all encompassing. I’ll never forget that night. With one of my best friends, Manson played for over two hours, there was a Reznor spotting, and it was the shit, basically.
By this point in my life and his career, I was starting to branch out more and more in what I liked in music, but Manson was never too far away. This album still holds up, but we still haven’t answered the question of why this character went this way. In short, the emptiness of the world and the realizing that a changing force is filling you with untold powers and challenges alike.
In short, Adam was consumed by the recklessness of the world, saw the world and it’s “mechanical animals” as things that needed to be “put to rest in the sun” and “in the dirt.” You see him become unimpressed by the state of the world, and by the time we get to the unhinged violence and caustic actions of “Burning Flag,” there’s no turning back from what he knows he must do.
And here, the journey has become. A worm will become a man, and the emptiness of the world will be purged. First it shall be purged through drug consumption and emptiness, and then the “Reflecting God” will come before you, and there will finally be a “Man that you Fear.”
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Landon Murray is a music connooisseur who craves sounds of all shapes and textures. He's seen over 2000 bands and looks forward to welcoming you into his world of sound,
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