The Angel With Scabbed Wings: Marilyn Manson’s Antichrist Superstar Revisited
Concept album. The scourge of Bible belt America. Blamed for it all. Hated by thousands and loved by millions. Marilyn Manson’s second album saw the band slash their way into America’s consciousness. Simon Tucker looks back at what he believes is the last truly great American rock album.
“We hate love / we love hate”. So begins the crowds chant, spurred on by by some otherworldly sounding voice emitting from what feels like above. In come a band all full of piss and vinegar, tearing away at their instruments before a bounce and groove settle in and the creature for which the crowd seem to be here for makes his / its appearance. “I am so all-American. I’d sell you suicide”. As opening lyrical statements go this is pretty strong. The creature then continues:
“I am totalitarian. I’ve got abortions in my eyes.
I hate the haters. I rape the rapers
I am the animal who will not be himself.
There it is. Intent laid out bare all blood and bile. In an opening verse, Marilyn Manson (for this is the name we are given) manages to take aim and fire right into the heart of conservative America. Talking about abortions, rape and the dangers of concealing your true self to fit a put-upon-you image, Manson and his droogs announce their arrival with viscous intent. The song is Irresponsible Hate Anthem and was our gateway into the grandly operatic and dark hearted world of Antichrist Superstar the second album by the latest shocker from America, Marilyn Manson.
Timing is everything in the arts. Works can take on different meanings and have more relevance during different time periods. How often have you seen articles written about things stating that they are now “more relevant than ever”? We can bend time through art and it would be tempting to do just that with Antichrist Superstar. Its themes and concepts would fit well into the time of Trump, MAGA, increased gun violence, fake news, social media justice and rising global tensions. This could be done but what makes Antichrist Superstar such a powerful record isn’t how adaptable it is to 2019 but how utterly 1990’s it is. It is the last great statement album made in the metal genre. It was the last great statement album until Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly.
Looking back at Antichrist Superstar now the reasons for it success are pretty obvious. We tend to hold the 1990’s up as some golden period where things were rosy both here and abroad but there were artists on both sides of the Atlantic warning us that things were not as they seemed. By 1996 Britpop was a faded force leaving many with nosebleeds and regret. Bristol bands were guiding us through the comedown. Dance culture was allowing us a freedom of expression whilst retaining a focus on the importance of mental expansion. The Gulf War had been and gone leaving a lingering shadow that would grow and grow until it consumed us in the forthcoming decade. We weren’t to know that just yet. Over in the good ol’ US of A things had gotten ugly. The voice of a generation and the unwilling leader of a youth movement Kurt Cobain had ended things in such a bleak and violent manner. Cobain’s death was the ultimate American ending with guns, drugs and the suffocation of American celebrity. His death even provided us with the ghoulish image, shared all over the world of what was once a beautiful man laid down, just an arm visible…gone forever.
Violence reigned throughout 1990’s America. White police officers could beat a Black man on camera and get away with it. Homegrown terrorism claims the lives of over 100 people whilst injuring over 800 more in Oklahoma. O.J. Simpson’s glove doesn’t fit so he walks away from a murder charge. Floods, heatwaves and earthquakes kill and injure hundreds. This is where Antichrist Superstar sits. All of these events swirl and stew in its creation. It is the ultimate statement of its era and as the internet had still not fully grasped us it allowed for the disenfranchised, scared, angry, and confused American youth to gather and grow…the movement was upon us.
Lead single Beautiful People gave most of the world its first taste of Manson and what a creature we were presented with. Beautiful, twisted, androgynous, nihilistic. Rolling in on Glitter band drums immediately throwing its arms across the sea to our little island, Beautiful People is a gorgeous statement of intent and is pitched perfectly to capture the hearts and minds of the youth. It is a song that in its structure and production allows for mass singalongs helping us understand that the creature that landed among us with Irresponsible Hate Anthem is now calling us to his cause. “Hey you / what do you see? / Something beautiful and something free”. Here was Ziggy’s Star Man’s bastard child dethroning his father who is now old and tired and reaching out to a new and fed the fuck up generation. The quoted line acting as armor for the bullied child teased because of their look, demeanor, sexuality. You are not just ok….you are beautiful!
Beautiful People also serves as Manson’s first offensive on the holy trinity of American beliefs (God, money, government). The holier-than-thou Christians who preach the word of the Bible yet go home and abuse their offspring (“you can’t smell your own shit on your knees”), the capitalists whose only focus is on the “size of your steeple”. Antichrist Superstar, like Pink Floyd’s The Wall, is a theatrical concept based on reality and when the character of Manson states “the worms will live in every host / it’s hard to pick which one they hate the most” he is skirting the line between storytelling and fact. Is the worm a force for good about to destroy from the inside the evils of the world? Unlikely as the song tells us we should “hate every mother fucker that’s in your way” and “old-fashioned fascism will take it away”. Unlike the work of Cobain who had proven to be a guide for those looking there is no real empathy on display on the opening half of this album. This is all about destruction and raising yourselves up. A leader that is not promising us a golden dawn but one who states the journey will be worth it.
For Antichrist Superstar to have really connected with people in the way that it did you must also look outside the grandiose themes and theatrics. Controversy will only get you so far. If Marilyn Manson (the band for at the time it was as such) just concerned themselves with upsetting the status quo and made making music secondary then they would have been no better than the shit flinging pimple dick gobshite GG Allin. Luckily the music was a powerhouse that swerved and slithered through many a stylistic change of pace. For the metal purists there were tracks like Angel With Scabbed Wings, Little Horn, and 1996 which all smashed and tore through the riffs and chest-slapping snare hits. Then you get the erotic side of the album and make no mistake about it this is one sexy fucking record. Destructive sex it may be but it is appealing all the same. The grind of the albums title track make loins grin as Manson sings “REPENT”..we are sinning in the eyes of the Lord and it feels fantastic. Further investigation into the album reveals the kinky aspects. Dried Up, Tied and Dead To The World is the ultimate drug-fuck anthem with its “I’ll be your lover / I’ll be forever / I’ll be tomorrow / I am anything when I’m high / Don’t you want some of this? / Don’t you need some of this?” section that leads into the sweat dripping section:
“You shove your hair down my throat
I feel your fingers in me
Tear this bitter fruit to mess
Wrap it in your soiled dress
Now you must spit out the seeds”
Following this with the frankly beautiful Tourniquet and you get a one-two punch that hangs up there with all those albums we credit as “classics”. Tourniquet is updated ballad for Generation X and whilst the band perform their roles immaculately it is Mr Manson himself who steals the show revealing the first real glimpse of why he would soon become the icon he so wished to be. Manson’s vocals on Tourniquet are what he utilises throughout the album all condensed into one song. One minute he is seductively whispering and moaning into your ear (“sealed up with virgin stitch”) the next he is screaming his tortured soul out as he pleads with us to “take your hatred out on me / make your victim my head”. This feeds into the mindset of those listening, upset with the hows and whys of the world. Feeling isolated in their middle America home here was someone who understood their pain, who understood that desire to hurt yourself just to feel something and who was now offering themselves up as a sacrifice so that we can release all of this pain and anguish from out of ourselves. It is only when revisiting the album do you really appreciate what a truly talented vocalist Manson was (and some would say still is).
Whilst Antichrist Superstar is drenched in American cultural references, musically it is actually quite UK influenced. The grandiose themes and character driven narrative is a direct descendant of Bowie and Pink Floyd with Manson being a relation to Pink’s nihilsitic rock star / fascist inner voice (he even cribbed the red and black imagery for his shows). It’s themes also mirror the shadowy beauty of Manic Street Preachers masterpiece The Holy Bible.
Other major influences would be the standard Glam and Sabbath riffing that many had mined before but this time, via co-producer Trent Reznor they were married to the glitch and synth of Coil and Throbbing Gristle. It is the former that seem to have the most sweeping influence on the album with their darker treatments of sex and violence married to grinding and dense productions. If you were of an investigative mind you would find the trail between Antichrist and Coil making this album not only a stand alone piece but one that fits in well to the underground. Subversive by its very nature, Antichrist is underground culture married to mass appeal.
What Manson offered young America was not just an arm around the shoulder or fuel for your fire but a way of being and of accepting yourself for who you are. He also gave grown-ups and authority figures a chance to atone for their sins and if these people where willing to listen they would see that in the end he was indeed pointing the finger at you but also saying it was possible to change. Album closer Man That You Fear is Antichrist Superstar’s Rock and Roll Suicide. It is a funeral march that sees our narrator stood on a rock addressing everyone not just his followers but those who would scorn us and who run the world. He holds the mirror up to them
“you poisoned all your children / to camouflage your scars”
Say sorry, repent…it is not too late for us or our elders. Man That You Fear is a confession. It is the song that tells elders that you may love your children now but if you fuck this up they will grow up damaged and turn into something you do not recognise. Manson himself is offering himself up as a sacrifice. Take it all out on him and set your demons free. Man That You Fear is a classic blues update which pulls at every emotion. It has the power to make you cry, scream and collapse…tired but free.
Marilyn Manson became America’s most wanted. Of course he did. Them and young Black Americans, who were also narrating from the front-line at the time, scared the shit out of Conservative America. They were everything that they feared writ large and they had the ears and hearts of their young. They looked at Manson like he was some kind of nightmare yet he was the American Dream writ large. He was the toxic shit that comes from swallowing McDonalds and gun adverts, pedophile priests and 10062 television channels. He was the mocking middle finger to Nu-Metal’s frat boy posturing and American Pie red cup drinking diluted punk. Manson had to exist. Antichrist Superstar had to exist. The internet would soon quash any chance of further large-scale youth movements. Manson himself would go on to create interesting works but it is here that he laid down the legend and cemented the reputation. Manson would get swallowed by the beast he created but before that happened the band gave us a vivid portrait of nineties America. Sometimes beautiful, often ugly..Antichrist is intoxicating, erotic, terrifying, funny, and cathartic.
A pivotal record that retains its punch and purpose to this very day.