On 8th October 1996, Musical artist Marilyn Manson released his seminal work “Antichrist Superstar”. – (‘Antichrist Superstar’, 2019)
Strongly influenced by Gothic rock and Industrial metal, this concept album helped Manson break through into the mainstream, albeit for controversial reasons.
In this album we are guided through a story, very much based around Manson’s early life and his meteoric rise to fame, where a metaphorical worm transforms into a winged being gaining mastery over its own life and destroying a world it had grown to despise. From a weak worm to a powerful “antichrist” figure, this transformative journey was one of the most iconic moments of Manson’s career, where he spoke at length in television interviews about growing up attending a Christian faith school and how he later freed himself from the guilt complexes this had given him. One questions as his career has progressed whether he has in fact freed himself from this faith, as it seems to be one of the main things he addresses in his work, almost obsessively. Whatever his religious convictions are, we get a sense that he has never truly recovered from his childhood nightmares. In his autobiography, he writes: “Marilyn Manson was the perfect story protagonist for a frustrated writer like myself. He was a character who, because of his contempt for the world around him and, more so, himself, does everything he can to trick people into liking him. And then, once he wins their confidence, he uses it to destroy them.”- Manson (1998 p.79) This suggests a broken character, who after years of being told he had little value has suddenly found in his own rage, a self-belief that has helped bolster his ego and self-identity.
What follows is my analysis of Antichrist Superstar and its accompanying tour: “The Dead to the World Tour” and how this influenced me personally growing up, as well as its impact on 1990s culture and beyond into modern times.
Marilyn Manson began his musical career experimenting with noise loops and drum machines blended with the guitar sounds of fellow bandmate Daisy Berkowitz who wrote a lot of the early songs. Other members have joined and left over the years, but it is perhaps Daisy’s falling out with singer Marilyn that in essence led to the change of direction that Antichrist Superstar brought for the band. Whilst the band overindulged in illicit drugs, sleep deprivation and self-harm in an attempt to capture this chaos in the studio recordings, Daisy felt himself to be isolated both musically and personally until he acknowledged he was no longer on the same page as Marilyn with this project and he quit the band. Trent Reznor of the band Nine Inch Nails was pivotal in production of this album but is also said to have behaved cruelly to Daisy, on one occasion destroying a guitar that had been gifted to him by his father. – (‘Antichrist Superstar’, 2019)
Dave “Rave” Ogilvie also helped produce the album, – Alexander Reed (2013 p.174) later adding remixes of the lead singles.
Reznor’s influence is plain to see on the record with its nod to industrial metal, something that is said to have irked Manson at the time who had wanted initially for this to be more of a rock album. In “Electronics in Music” by F. C Judd we discover: “Electronic musical instruments were only a dreamed of possibility until (circa 1907) the scientist Lee de-Forest put the ‘grid’ into a diode valve and produced the thermionic triode valve which was capable not only of generating electrical signals suitable for musical voices but of amplifying them as well.”- Judd (2012 p.48) Whilst in Nine Inch Nails we can see that Reznor has embraced this technology, I doubt very much it had the same “Rock N’ Roll” aesthetic that interested Manson. Since Antichrist Superstar the pair have not worked together, and, Manson’s music has taken a more hard rock direction than the Industrial loop laden era of this record.
I have always enjoyed the guitars in this album. They are precise in their performance and sound warm and fuzzy with their distortion. Most of the guitars and bass were performed by Twiggy Ramirez after Daisy left the band, and ZimZum was brought in to play guitar on the accompanying tour.
The impact of Antichrist Superstar upon conservative America was frenzied at the time. Manson said he received death threats regularly and his shows were almost always protested by religious groups, even here in the UK. – (‘Antichrist Superstar’, 2019) The band stoked the embers of this negative publicity and succeeded in their attempt to become cultural icons. A lot of bands have used shock tactics to gain notoriety, what strikes me about Manson though is he had a message behind his work rather than some histrionic, desperate search for attention (although he no doubt has elements of this to his personality). He has held a mirror up to America and said in effect “This is what you have created.” His name derived from Marilyn Monroe and Charles Manson is a commentary on America’s fascination with fame, beauty and also its own evil. American conservatives hated his band because he highlighted in every way they had gone wrong as parents. Generation X were simply forgotten about by self-driven baby boomers and left to the misery of drug abuse, grunge music and suicidal ideation. Dave Grohl of the band Foo Fighters has recently said that Marilyn Manson helped move music forwards from the grunge era. – (Childers, 2018) Indeed Manson was certainly a spectacle, embracing the theatrics of the bands he grew up listening to in the 1980s. It is possible that grunge had become passé and boring to an emerging millennial generation who wanted their own ways to make a statement to their parents. Whilst at the time, I myself was enamoured with this album, it is only in later years I have learned more about it and the messages it tries to convey. For instance, there are ideas heavily borrowed from the Jewish mystical schools of Kabbalah. These ideas state that humanity did not feel worthy to receive endless love from God and so were forced to find their own self actualisation and become their own masters, and in effect, to produce their own inner light. – (‘Kabbalah’, 2019)
“The Power of Kabbalah” by Yehuda Berg says: “Everything that a human being truly desires from life is Spiritual Light!” – Berg (2004 p.30) With Antichrist Superstar, Manson sees himself in a transformative state leading towards an apotheosis of sorts as he becomes the monster he always feared, free at last from his Christian upbringing. During this period he became an ordained minister at Anton Lavey’s Church of Satan espousing the doctrine of “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law”. This appealed to Manson’s ideas of personal responsibility and not relying on supernatural beings as a focus of blame, or even indeed gratitude. In Manson’s mind, we create our own destiny through our individual decisions not as spectators in a divine dictatorship over which we have no influence or personal choices to act upon. A quote from Lavey’s “The Satanic Bible” says: “Satanism represents kindness to those who deserve it instead of love wasted on ingrates!” – Lavey (1969 p.64) This has clearly found expression in the song “Wormboy” on the album where Manson sings: “Love everybody is destroying the value of, but all hate has got me nowhere.”
Marilyn Manson (The band) have typically been a five piece although members have fluidly joined, left and then re-joined again, and new members have made brief appearances too. The band usually consists of Manson on vocals, a bassist, a guitarist, a drummer and a keyboardist, although they have also used additional musicians for special appearances.
We can assume that Manson would include narcotics as an integral technological addition to his music-making, given how it is suggested they have inspired a lot of the album. The band also experimented with samplers using a technique called “backwards masking” and you can hear the input of Trent Reznor’s synthesisers on many of the songs. They just have a very Nine Inch Nails style to them.
The guitars are generally double tracked or even multi layered giving the album a very “fat” sound to it. The signature drum pattern of “The Beautiful People” is possibly the most creative thing I have heard the band do. Manson obviously thought so too since most albums following would include at least one song with a variation of this pattern, which sounded almost like a military march.
Other technological aspects would be the props that were used in the videos and the tour. There is a device he wears in the music videos resembling a dental clamp with various tools attached to it reminiscent of a boy scout’s penknife protruding from his mouth. On the tour he walked around the stage on a pair of stilts with various devices attached to his body. He said he enjoyed collecting prosthetic limbs and medical devices as when he was a child he would be sent for evaluations with other children who had been marred by the legacy of Agent Orange. His father had been involved in the Vietnam War and doctors were concerned that these soldier’s children could have experienced birth defects or mental retardation. – Manson (1998 p.28)
The imagery surrounding Manson is clearly very important to him and how he presents himself. He reminds me of Richard Wagner in his relentless self-promotion. In “Richard Wagner” by Nicholas Vazsonyi it says: “The term “image” can be understood both visually and conceptually. Because the advent of photography coincided with Wagner’s life, we have an even more accurate idea of how Wagner looked than we do of his illustrious predecessors like Mozart or Beethoven.” – Vazsonyi (2010 p.8) Manson uses imagery in his photographic and video presentations to create a nightmare world in the imagination of his audience. He has gone beyond photography, to artistically etching these images in the mind by the very myths he perpetuates about himself.
It is hard to relate Antichrist Superstar with economic factors as Marilyn never really addressed these things within this particular work. He certainly mentioned Fascism quite a lot but this had little to do with Nazi economic theory but more to do with how he thought Capitalism had created an obsession with beauty, commoditising it for a youth already struggling with low self-esteem. This he saw as a true Fascism in modern times. No doubt he had realised this growing up as a teenager, who was not classically attractive to the opposite sex and often bullied by the “Jocks” at his school for being a little odd.
Antichrist Superstar has sold over 7 Million copies worldwide and so Manson’s personal wealth is not to be sniffed at. He has made a lot of money through paintings in later years too, selling mostly to other celebrities. I suspect this may be a private joke of his as he sees himself as very different to this modern bourgeoisie and now mingles with those very people in their pompous soirees, selling to them artefacts of his warped imagination.
If we are to generalise, we can say that most fans of this album were youngsters from white, middle class backgrounds. His music never appealed to urbanised, black teenagers, and no doubt it wasn’t intended to. The struggles of the white middle classes were very different to those of black Americans growing up in ghettoes. One could argue that they were trivial in comparison, but maybe being a forgotten generation of kids who turned to drugs and Heavy Metal tells us that all was not well with suburban America, and despite the middle classes enjoying a lifestyle that previous generations could only dream about, their busy work life meant their children were often neglected and raised essentially by the television set instead.
To conclude, we must understand that Antichrist Superstar was very much a product of its time, and the fundamental message that so shocked the world would be difficult to replicate in modern times, despite Marilyn Manson trying very hard to do so with his subsequent musical releases. People are less shocked by opposition to religious institutions and the dogma they espouse in these present times. Can we say Marilyn Manson played a vital role in this zeitgeist, or is it simply a case that access to more education through the internet has forced younger generations to question these long established myths, handed down to us over several thousand years?
One could argue that maybe these things happened together in a moment of serendipity that allowed for the rise of Manson. Whilst he is still successful today, he is seen more of a “cartoon villain” than the monster he was once feared as. I personally feel he played a pivotal role in my own quest for understanding, and most certainly in the collective psyche of Christian America from the late 90s onwards.
CORPORATE CHRIST 
Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music – S. Alexander Reed
Electronics in Music – F. C. Judd
Richard Wagner: Self-Promotion and the Making of a Brand – Nicholas Vazsonyi
The Long Hard Road Out Of Hell – Marilyn Manson and Neil Strauss
The Power of Kabbalah – Yehuda Berg
The Satanic Bible – Anton Szandor Lavey
Alexander Reed, S. (2013) Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music. Oxford University Press.
‘Antichrist Superstar’ (2019) Wikipedia Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antichrist_Superstar. (Accessed: 07 May 2019)
Judd, F. C. (2012) Electronics in Music. Foruli LTD.
‘Kabbalah’ (2019) Wikipedia Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kabbalah (Accessed: 07 May 2019)
Lavey, Anton Szandor (1969) The Satanic Bible. Avon Books.
Childers, C. (2018) Loudwire.com. Available at: https://loudwire.com/dave-grohl-marilyn-manson-replaced-grunge/ (Accessed: 07 May 2019)
Manson, Marilyn (1998) The Long Hard Road Out Of Hell. Plexus Publishing Limited.
Vazsonyi, Nicholas (2010) Richard Wagner: Self-Promotion and the Making of a Brand. Cambridge University Press.
Berg, Yehuda (2004) The Power of Kabbalah. Hodder and Stoughton