I am usually very fair and easy going in making judgments of anything now that I am an adult, but back when I first got into music I was subject to dozens of ludicrous and often contradictory extreme prejudices of varying nature that could absolutely bias my opinion on anything. Though I wouldn’t hate something for a stupid and arbitrary reason now, the opinions that I formed early on have been lodged in there for so long they are often hard to shake.
In this article, I’ll be discussing Marilyn Manson’s Antichrist Superstar and as you can imagine, I’ll be sounding like a total bell end doing so from start to finish.
Along with Green Day’s Dookie, Slipknot’s Self Titled debut, Metallica’s Master Of Puppets and Limp Bizkit’s Chocolate Starfish’ record, Marilyn Manson’s Antichrist Superstar is one of the earliest rock and metal albums that I had ever heard all the way through.
I had heard bits of Sepultura’s Roots, Pantera’s Vulgar Display’ & ‘Driven, and selections from Metallica’s back catalogue through my cousins back in the early to mid nineties, but in the year 2000 when I turned twelve, I left primary school and got into music myself as a full on hobby.
I say Antichrist was one of the first albums I’d heard but before that I had actually heard Holywood first, though it was hard for a twelve year old to really digest that, seeing as how it was a long and dense twenty track concept album full of political references that I had no experience with, at that age.
Soon after I got a copy of Antichrist Superstar from the small local independent music shop, based primarily off of my interest in the song ‘The Beautiful People’ which was played quite often on MTV2 at the time, just before Kerrang TV launched and played it absolutely to death.
When I went into the shop to pick up a copy, there were some twelve year old girls from my school (well, half from my school, due to the gender segregation at the time causing one school to be two schools) who reacted with teasing and disapproval to my browsing of Marilyn Manson cds based on a literal fear of the man and his supposedly ‘scary’ music. It was the same reaction I would have got for browsing pornography or racist propaganda.
Looking at Marilyn Manson now in the cold light of day, as an adult and in 2012 with everything that has happened since, it seems so ludicrous that anyone would be scared by Marilyn Manson. Its like being afraid of Pineapples or The Daily Telegraph.
Actually listening to the album for the first few times back then, I enjoyed all of the more raucous tracks, like ‘Irresponsible Hate Anthem,’ ‘The Beautiful People,’ and ‘1996’ but didn’t really know what to make of either the weirder tracks or the more commercial tracks until much later. I suppose I just wanted to collect a few more ‘Turn Me On Mr Deadman’-s or ‘Last Resort’-s, and didn’t understand what Manson really had to offer. Like Holywood, the album was arguably too much for a twelve year old to really understand and it took me many listens over several years to really get it properly.
Then, after I had read Manson’s biography, in which the terrible condition’s of the albums recording are detailed, as well as the ruined state of his equipment and everything else, I decided that the album was cheap and crappy sounding and poorly made.
Then later I decided that it was actually a classic album that transcended its technical limitations, was greater than the sum of its parts and shouldn’t be so good considering all the personality and equipment flaws surrounding its creation. Which has remained my opinion mostly ever since with only a few changes back and forth along the way.
I suppose the main thing about a twelve-year-old blank slate hearing Marilyn Manson is that you don’t hear any of his influences in the music. If you’ve never heard any Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, David Bowie or Dark 80s Pop Music then you don’t really understand the music in the same way that the band do, you are just hearing something genuinely unique to your ears, with no frame of reference.
Having heard it so early in my life and so free of any musical lineage, Antichrist Superstar is an album that I can go back to and listen to now that essentially doesn’t sound a thing like how I originally heard it. It is such a difference that if I could use technology to rip my original experience to disc, if I played the two albums side by side they would sound totally different.
The child-eyed, sense of wonder, lack of context experience of listening to albums for the first time is interesting, because, obviously the music on the disc never actually never changes, but your brains ability to process it does. You pick up different things the more you learn, and stop filtering out things once you become interested in them.
When I listened to the album now, I hear the line ‘History was written by the winners’ and a really chunky bass guitar sound on the opening track that simply was not there when I listened to the album all those years ago.
Essentially, when I first heard the album I was only listening to a caricature of it. When I become interesting in things like production value, guitar tones, song structures, genres and everything else then I got so much more information thrown at me when my brain responds to the stimulus given out from that same plastic disc that I bought more than a decade ago.
In some ways I almost wish I could hear it the other way again, but I know that this would never be possible again.
On this Relistening, I found myself really enjoying ‘Dried Up, Tied And Dead To The World’ which I wouldn’t have given the time of day back when I bought the record, but which has since become one of my favourite songs.
Another thing I notice is that ‘Tourniquet’ is actually a much, much faster song than I remember. When I first heard the album, that song was painfully slow as it held up the rockers (like 1996) When I hear it now, it doesn’t feel like a ballad, it is just a good and artistic song. Sure, some of the sloppy drumming and feedback make it fit in with the grunge era from which it comes but there is a lot of depth and creativity in there besides.
The track, along with its successor ‘Little Horn’ are really quintessentially 1990s and absolutely ooze out MTV2 from every orifice. Hearing them instantly brings up the film grain in Offspring and Hole music videos, the lighting from Korn’s ‘Blind’ video and a million other visual references that are stored in my brain beside the shelf holding Antichrist Superstar memories.
It is interesting how much more of a vocal range Manson had on this album when compared to the last three albums he has made; The High End Of Low, Eat Me Drink Me and The Golden Age Of Grotesque. I’ve heard it claimed that after the Triptych (Antichrist, Mechanical Animals and Holywood) Manson ran out of things to say and other similar negative opinions of his newer albums, but regardless of your opinion on that matter it seems to me that he definitely had more voices back here, his vocal range was much bigger. Not in the sense of an Operatic singer like Bruce Dickenson, but just that across three songs you’d find him singing in fifteen different ways. He doesn’t do that anymore.
‘Deformography’ sort of reminds me of Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Head Like A Hole’ after a fashion. I remember the first time I really heard was on a school sports day, when I had taken my portable cd player and cheap £1 pair of tinny-as-fuck terrible quality portable speakers with me to school, and me and a few friends avoided playing sports and instead enjoyed the glorious sunshine by sitting on a grassy hill listening to Antichrist Superstar. I’m glad I’ve changed my attitude to physical exercise since then, but I still wouldn’t change a single thing about that experience.
It is interesting how progressive and artistic that this album is, even if he can b accused of stealing from other artists, or just being a baby Nine Inch Nails (he can’t really, but was at the time apparently) it is hard to imagine that any album sounds anything like this one. Antichrist Superstar stands so uniquely against everything else I have ever heard in my life. Things that steal from it don’t even sound like it, other Manson albums don’t sound like it. I don’t think even Manson could make it again if the original one got erased from history and he had to time travel to put things right again. It seems like the album was an amazing fluke.
There are touches of prog in there (Such as the reuse of ‘Prick your finger it is done the moon has now eclipsed the sun, the angel has spread its wings, the time has come for bitter things’ the album being split into acts and the underlying narrative) touches of electronic/industrial stuff, touches of the 90s grunge and rock scene as discussed already and hundreds of other points of inspiration I can’t be bothered to pinpoint and then justify.
When ‘Mr Superstar’ kicks in now, it just makes me happy from beginning to end. I think it seems as artistic and creative as anything Radiohead were able to do in the mid-nineties, when people were constantly told that things like metal and prog were dead. Incidentally, the fact that there was so bloody much prog and metal going on in the nineties makes the fact that people believed this baffling in retrospect, but regardless, hindsight doesn’t change people’s experience at the time, something that would be harder to happen now in the internet age.
In case you are wondering why I keep talking about prog when this is a Marilyn Manson album, its because there is more to Prog than having Yes’s keyboard tone. It isn’t progressive in terms of sonically sounding anything like The Flower Kings and Manson never self-identified as prog, but it is music that no one else made, which is the true spirit of progressive music. Don’t forget too that it is a concept album full of weird noises and recurring musical and lyrical themes.
‘The Angel With The Scabbed Wings’ is just wonderful. It is so much greater than the sum of its parts it could win a world record in that. I always loved this song and I still found that to be the case this time around. All the little touches absolutely make it, like the inhale before ‘Dead Is What He Is’ or all the high pitched squealing noises that could never be reproduced live, every second of the song has something great about it.
‘Kinderfield’ always reminded me of an evil dentist, the opening sounds like a Jack In The Box with a dental drill. Most of the song is just a fat slow bass line over half a drum beat, but it seems so sinister somehow. When you listen to this song, with its breaking up glitching vocals, sound effects, plodding tempo and weird production you really have to question how so many people got into Marilyn Manson. This is not a commercial album and based on how few people usually like music this challenging, it should follow that few people would like this.
I mean really go and listen to ‘Kinderfield’ and tell me how on earth Antichrist Superstar sold seven million copies. It seems illogical. It certainly deserves it, but given that most other things that also deserve it sell so, so much less I’m sure you can understand what I’m driving at.
The five songs that follow are five of the best songs in Manson’s whole career, five of the best songs of the nineties and five of the best songs ever to close any album that I’ve ever heard.
I don’t know anymore for how long I’ve felt like that, but there was some point in the five years I was at Secondary School when I really got my head around the second half of the album, and after discovering ‘Minute Of Decay’ and ‘The Reflecting God’ I’ve been furiously strong in my liking towards the end of this album. So its been my position for a good seven years or more at this point and though I haven’t listened to the album properly in a while, this relistening brought it all crashing back.
‘I’m on my way down now, I’d like to take you with me’
‘Scar, Scar, can you feel my power ?’
Things as good as those lines/performances are very rare in music. I suppose now I can understand why people are so unforgiving for his new stuff. Its really hard to reconcile what I think of Marilyn Manson as, with what I think of this album as.
Was the same bloke that made ‘Born Villain’ really the guy who made this album? It seems unlikely that you could make something this good and then allow yourself to release anything that wasn’t an amazing masterpiece.
Sometimes I get really resentful and skeptical when things get called magic, exciting or a masterpiece, but if I am in the right mood this album can really have an effect on me that just consuming another entertainment product through the ears shouldn’t be able to make.
People can sound like absolute dicks for talking about the music they like, calling it art or dismissing music they don’t like, but in this case, I would have to categorically say that Antichrist Superstar and ‘I Whip My Hair Back And Forth’ are so completely distinct and separate experiences that if one of them is music the other one simply can’t be.
Either Antichrist is art or ‘I Whip My Hair Back And Forth’ is product, but there is no way both of them are music.