In The Desert Of Seth

By G. B. Marian

Marilyn Manson: Antichrist Superstar (1996)


Heavy metal’s avenging angel!

During the late 1980s, heavy metal was reduced to a shallow and over-commercialized “rock ballad” perversion of itself. “Big hair” bands like Cinderella, L. A. Guns, Poison and Whitesnake drove a stake right through the genre’s black corroded heart. Then a band called Nirvana suddenly became extremely popular. This immediately boosted the commercial viability of the grunge rock scene, and black leather, crazy makeup, and flashy theatrics were rendered obsolete. Now everybody wanted plaid shirts, jeans riddled with holes, non-shampooed hair, concerts that resembled local coffee house jams, and songs about being depressed. Which is fine with me; every decade needs its predominant form of popular music, and I actually enjoy a few grunge albums here and there. But the annoying thing about all of this was that it became very typical for teenagers of this era to criticize anyone who preferred older styles of music.

There used to be this live radio show that was broadcast around the country late on Sunday nights, and it was called Modern Rock Live. Every week, the host of that show would have a different band on and they’d take calls from listeners while the host played tracks from their new albums. I would listen to the show on Sunday nights while lying in bed and falling asleep. One weekend, a radio commercial mentioned that the next guest on Modern Rock Live would be “Marilyn Manson.” For some reason, I thought they were referring to Shirley Manson from Garbage, which I loved. (Man, I had a crush on Shirley so bad back in those days.) So I stayed up that night to listen to the interview…and imagine my surprise when “Marilyn Manson” turned out to be male. Imagine how much more surprised I was when I found out his new album was called Antichrist Superstar. And imagine how freaked out I was when Mr. Manson started discussing Satanism and the idea of removing his lower ribs so he could perform fellatio on himself.

Man, this guy was weird.

Born as Brian Warner in Canton, Ohio back in 1969, Manson attended a hardcore Christian school from first to tenth grade. This – along with the fact that his grandfather was obsessed with bestiality and sadomasochism – apparently warped young Warner’s mind to such an extent that he fantasized about becoming the Antichrist when he grew up. He started reading books by Friedrich Nietzsche, Aleister Crowley and Anton Szandor LaVey, and he listened to music by artists like Alice Cooper, David Bowie and Kiss. After his family moved to Florida, Warner became a journalism student; then he met a guy named Scott Putesky, with whom he developed the idea of a shock rock band that would poke fun at the American media’s tendency to obsess over supermodels and serial killers. This led to the formation of “Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids” in 1989. The band played an interesting fusion of industrial and psychedelic rock, exploring themes of sex, drugs and religious hypocrisy in their songs. They also wore androgynous clothing and make-up that made them look like characters from nightmarish versions of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang (1968) and any number of books by Dr. Seuss.

After developing a sizeable cult following, the Spooky Kids were soon discovered by Trent Reznor, who so enjoyed their frightening performance art that he immediately offered them a contract with his new record label, Nothing Records. Then the band shortened their name to just “Marilyn Manson” and cut their first album, Portrait of an American Family (1994). As great as that album is, it fared badly in stores at the time; so the band went back to the studio for round two. They went in meaning to produce a single for the song “Dope Hat,” but they ended up creating an hour-long EP filled with cover songs, remixes, tapped phone conversations and audio clips from daytime TV shows (in which the band had appeared). The result was Smells Like Children, which featured the band’s very first hit: a cover of 1983’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by the Eurythmics. A music video was made for the song, and it spread like wildfire all over MTV back in 1995. That’s when Marilyn Manson suddenly became a force to be reckoned with.

By this time, Brian Warner – who was the band’s vocalist – was now going by the name “Marilyn Manson” in public. He had also met one of his heroes, Anton Szandor LaVey, at the Church of Satan in San Francisco. LaVey predicted that Manson would “leave a dent in this world” and he made the performer an honorary Reverend in his Church. And suddenly, Marilyn Manson was something more than just another heavy metal shock rocker whom evangelical Christians could only accuse of being “Satanic” (e.g., Ozzy Osbourne). In interviews and other public appearances, Manson actually endorsed Satanism – as taught by the Church of Satan – and proclaimed that he wanted to “bring an end to Christianity.” While many religious conservatives already believed that America was involved in what they called a “culture war” (i.e., an imaginary “war” between Christians and everyone else), Manson gave them something real to rally against. He styled himself as a culture war iconoclast, an “All-American Antichrist,” and his next album – Antichrist Superstar – would be a “musical ritual designed to bring about the Apocalypse.”

The album cover for Antichrist Superstar

While recording this album in New Orleans (the Vodun capital of the United States), the Marilyn Manson band deprived themselves of sleep, used drugs constantly, and dabbled in weird Qabalic rituals. The songs they composed in the middle of all this were unlike anything anyone had ever heard before. Collectively, they form a three-part semi-autobiographical escape fantasy in which a boy eventually becomes Friedrich Nietzsche’s ubermensch. Part One (“The Hierophant”) includes the songs “Irresponsible Hate Anthem,” “The Beautiful People,” “Dried Up, Tied Up and Dead to the World” and “Tourniquet.” These detail the childhood of Manson’s Antichrist character, who begins as a powerless boy in a society controlled by rich and sexually desirable uber-Christians. As he is increasingly alienated from this oppressive society, Antichrist rebels, deliberately identifying himself with everything that his society fears (e.g., abortion, Satan, suicide, transgenderism, etc.).

Part Two of the album (“The Inauguration of the Worm”) includes the songs “Little Horn,” “Cryptorchid,” “Deformography,” “Wormboy,” “Mister Superstar,” “Angel with the Scabbed Wings” and “Kinderfeld.” These follow the rise of Antichrist, who has transformed himself into a counter-cultural role model and gained a large enough following to strike fear in the heart of his society. Many of the poor, the “ugly” and the non-Christian are drawn to his message of reckless self-empowerment, but they eventually prove to be just as shallow as their oppressors. Antichrist wants his followers to become their own Gods, but they continue to mindlessly worship him as their God, and he begins to resent them for it. This leads into Part Three of the album (“Disintegrator Rising”), which includes “Antichrist Superstar,” “1996,” “Minute of Decay,” “The Reflecting God” and “The Man That You Fear.” In this part of the cycle, Antichrist becomes the ultimate nihilist and resolves upon destroying everything, including all opposites (e.g., Jehovah and Satan, feminism and sexism, gays and homophobes, abortion and pro-lifers, etc.). The album ends with Antichrist telling anyone who survives his holocaust that “There’s no one left to hear you scream.”

This was some really heavy stuff for 1996, and it effectively murdered the grunge scene’s stronghold on popular music. Once again, it was “cool” to be heavy metal, and newer artists like Korn, Rob Zombie and Coal Chamber all reached the height of their success soon after Antichrist Superstar was released. They ushered in a new wave of metal (or “numetal”) music that came to dominate the market in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The careers of older artists who had inspired Marilyn Manson in the first place (e.g., Alice Cooper, Slayer, Kiss, and Rob Halford of Judas Priest) were revitalized during this period as well. Many of these artists had received little to no serious attention during the 1990s and were consigned to classic rock radio stations (if they were played on the radio at all). But Manson fans took an interest in them and bought many of their older albums, encouraging them to release new material. And due to Manson’s success, contemporary rock stations quickly started playing their new singles. I’ll never forget the day in 1998 when I heard Black Sabbath’s “Psycho Man” and Kiss’ “Psycho Circus” on a station that normally played cuts from bands like Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. Heavy metal was back from the dead, and as far as I’m concerned, Marilyn Manson’s the ghoul who reanimated it.

At the time that Antichrist Superstar was released, I was still an agnostic; aside from researching a few things I heard about in horror movies (e.g., Samhain, Neodruidism, Wicca), I really didn’t think about spirituality very much. That changed when I heard Marilyn Manson say that Satanism is about “being your own God” and that it “doesn’t really have a whole lot to do with worshiping the devil.” I thought this was just about the nuttiest thing I’d ever heard anyone say; of course Satanists worship Satan! But I decided to research the matter for myself. Not only was Manson correct about the Church of Satan, but I learned that the Church had an offshoot called the Temple of Set. This is the very first group I ever learned about that actually believed in an ancient Egyptian God. (I didn’t know about the Church of the Eternal Source, the Ausar Auset Society or the House of Netjer yet.) Up to that point, I’d always wanted to be an Egyptian polytheist but felt this wasn’t a viable option since no one else seemed to agree. Finally, here were some people who agreed. That was what triggered my religious conversion, and Marilyn Manson was my initiator.

(Considering how many people I’ve known who became occultists or polytheists of one kind or another after listening to Antichrist Superstar, I think quite a few Deities were probably using Marilyn Manson to attract some new followers. Since he was playing around with ceremonial magic while recording this album, I don’t think this idea is very far-fetched at all.)

In Antichrist Superstar, Manson observes that popular culture values appearance over substance and that true creativity and meaning come from the self. Furthermore, it doesn’t seem to matter how innovative or revolutionary an individual’s way of looking at the world may be; as soon as that perspective is adopted by the masses, it becomes resistant to change. This is most likely what happened to Jesus Christ, whose anti-establishment teachings were later used to justify new establishments that were equally as oppressive as their predecessors. Through Manson’s Antichrist persona, we learn that even if something like LaVeyan Satanism – or Thelema, Paganism or atheism – were to replace Christianity as the dominant philosophy on Earth today, the end result would be exactly the same; people would still value appearance and predictability over substance and innovation. Mainstream popularity breeds complacency, and dissenters are always troublesome for the powers-that-be (regardless of whoever’s in charge).

In my interpretation of Egyptian religion, the God Horus’ primary objective is to preserve the cosmic status quo; yet He’s also blind in one eye, meaning that His vision of reality is severely limited. We see this in our own human tendency to make everything about appearances, to let the egos of the privileged run wild, and to let institutional religion legislate “the meaning of life” for us. On the other hand, Seth-Typhon’s job is to challenge the status quo (by killing Osiris) and to prevent the future from being aborted (by protecting Ra); yet He’s also been castrated and can’t reproduce. He can transform things that already exist, but He can’t produce entirely new things like Horus can. This causes situations in which appearances become mirages, egos are stripped bare and we’re left to create a new “meaning of life” all by ourselves (whether we want to or not). As nephew and uncle, Horus and Seth are arch-rivals; but as twin brothers, They’re two sides of the same coin. Seth appears to challenge Horus, and Horus appears to domesticate Seth; then the cycle begins again. And without both of Them, Ma’at will end and Apophis will win.

The Alice Cooper of the 1990s

The way I see it, Manson’s Antichrist is a true Typhonian hero for the first two parts of the album; he’s an emissary of Seth in the realm of Horus, and he becomes a catalyst for the transformation of that realm. Yet Antichrist fails to realize that Horus and Seth are both necessary, and as his gospel of Antichristianity becomes more mainstream, it inevitably becomes a part of Horus’ realm. Instead of just allowing this to occur and waiting for the next emissary of Seth to start the creative cycle all over again, Antichrist becomes a completely evil agent of Apophis and tries to dissolve everything back into Nun. Of course, Marilyn Manson had the good sense to make his lyrics as ambiguous as possible, allowing his listeners to interpret Antichrist Superstar in almost any way they please. But for me at least, the album doesn’t end on a positive note at all; I don’t think the final destruction of the world is something that anyone should want to have happen.

One could argue that Antichrist Superstar succeeded as a “musical ritual designed to bring about the Apocalypse” in that it caused a cultural, psychological and musical “Apocalypse” of sorts. The world didn’t end it when it was released, but certain ways of understanding the world definitely ended for some of the people who listened to it. Of course, the word Apocalypse itself means nothing more than “Revelation” in ancient Greek, so perhaps this is just as well. All I know is that this album changed my life significantly; it opened the final door between my agnostic childhood and my adult life as a polytheist. (I even keep an unopened copy of the album on my altar to Seth as a reminder to me of how we first met.) It also transformed me into a metalhead, leading me to track down all of Manson’s influences and eventually become a hardcore Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Dio, Judas Priest, Kiss and Ozzy Osbourne fan. For these reasons, Antichrist Superstar is on my list of the top 10 all-time greatest heavy metal albums of all time.



4 responses to “Marilyn Manson: Antichrist Superstar (1996)

  1. Ita Shetani May 29, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    Great post. I have been a fan of MM’s since the beginning. A lot of people misinterpret his message because they are too wrapped up in his “image”. I notice that he is listed under heavy metal by a lot of people. I guess I can see that but I have always described his music as Industrial Metal.


  2. Cassie Sophie Tina October 19, 2016 at 6:12 am

    Interesting timing. Tina has recently discovered MM and is quite deeply into that and similar stuff. I will get her to read this. Sophie and I were never big fans of heavy metal (we hunt around for Satanic Trance music which you would probably loath!) but I always quite liked Marilyn Manson… Interesting article and connections to your path. Cassie

    Liked by 1 person

    • G. B. Marian October 19, 2016 at 12:12 pm

      Actually Satanic Trance music sounds pretty awesome! I also dig dark and moody synthesizer music, a la John Carpenter, Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, etc. Are there any particular artists that you and Sophie would recommend?

      Also, I wonder if Tina might enjoy Ghost; I’m working on a review for one of their albums right now.


  3. MIKE EYE November 6, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    Marilyn Manson’s dark and glorious Antichrist Superstar is a super sakrid album that has so much enjoyment and significance associated with it, it’s uncanny. It is without a doubt One of those rare, rare musikal productions of a masterpiece so intense and synchronically relevant to the society, the counter culture, AND the kurrent Kollective Unconscious of that time in “199666,” perhaps the most relevant year of my life thus far. (Remember, 1996 was also the same year that TOOL’s Aenima and Rage Against the Machine’s Evil Empire came out, 2 albums that are, in my opinion just as soul-blowing as this One. I also, too, had an incredibly ridiculous teen boy krush on Shirley Manson at this time and got to see her and Garbage perform that same monumental year as well, when they opened up for The Smashing Pumpkins during their legendary Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness Tour.) I was the perfect age for this stuff when it came out, 13, and nothing scared me. Although, I must say that during the first few listens to Antichrist Superstar during that time and also while trying to understand it during the following year, I was actually, honestly truly scared shitless while listening to this album. -MIKE EYE 👁

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: