MORAL PANIC MONTH #7: Antichrist Superstar, by Marilyn Manson (1996)

Type of Media: Music Album
In the late 90s he was the bogeyman who lived in every parent’s closet. He was on the news constantly. Politicians and preachers called him a threat to the nation. There were urban legends about his concerts devolving into orgies filled with bestiality and human sacrifice. With his smudgy makeup, fetishwear outfits, and one creepy contact lense, Marilyn Manson managed to dominate the public consciousness like a supervillain, spreading like a virus as the thing we all must hate for God, country, and the sake of our children. Ironically, the people who actually listened to Manson’s breakthrough album Antichrist Superstar knew that this was exactly what he wanted.
Antichrist Superstar is a concept album, seemingly autobiographical to how Marilyn Manson sees his own life. The main story is about a worm who, rejected by society, unleashes his hatred for the conformity and hypocrisy he sees all around him. He metamorphoses into an angel, gaining power from the world’s loathing of him, and eventually exterminates all of humanity. As nihilistic as that sounds, Manson is a very compelling performer. His vocals are as much acted as they’re sung, drawing you into the emotions of his delivery and letting you revel in his rebellion.
Musically Antichrist Superstar is mostly industrial rock, drawing some inspiration from death metal’s raw intensity and punk rock’s blunt simplicity, but still manages to be incredibly poppy. Standout single The Beautiful People starts with some primal drumming, chugging low-tuned guitar, and distorted power chords, but its structure is a repetitive, catchy verse-chorus-verse earworm. When Manson screams it’s mixed so you feel his ferocity, but it isn’t abrasive to your ears. Tourniquet, the album’s other single, wouldn’t be out of place on an alternative rock playlist. It’s an album that has teeth, but is still incredibly accessible.
Well, at least musically. Lyrically Manson is going for gasps, as he dwells on topics of hate, death, drug abuse, and other gloomy subjects. He really likes the words ‘abortion’ and ‘rape’, using them both literally and metaphorically multiple times throughout the album, and in the opening track he throws in a racial epithet that really isn’t warranted even in the context of its use. However, that doesn’t mean Manson is all shocks and no substance. His commentary on people creating their own enemies, the power of infamy, and the disconnect between the Christian and capitalist aspects of America is compelling and seems informed by experience. And, whether you like the whole grotesque goth theme he has going on, it’s impossible to deny that he does it well.
Of course, that dark mystique is the same thing that made his bad reputation swell among older and more conservative people in America. They filled in the blanks with the aforementioned urban legends, and protested his concerts so hard several states introduced legislation to outright ban him from performing in state-owned venues. He appeared on talk shows, panels, and documentaries, calmly defending himself by saying his music promotes embracing your individuality, not hurting yourself and others. Then, in 1999, the Columbine High School massacre happened.
News organizations, pundits, and religious groups almost immediately pointed the finger at Manson because the shooters were supposedly fans of his, though that was later debunked. Many people, including some families of the victims, laid the blame at his feet. Manson and his bandmates retreated from the public eye for a while, declining interviews and cancelling concert dates out of respect for those the shooters had killed. The only major word to come from Manson about the massacre was an article he wrote for Rolling Stone two months after the incident, where he scolded the media for promoting the shooters into martyrs and potentially inspiring copycats. Manson did survive the ordeal, and actually used it as inspiration for his 2000 album Holy Wood, which draws connections between celebrity, violence, entertainment, and religion. A lot of Manson fans argue over whether it’s better than Antichrist Superstar.
Despite growing up morbid and socially awkward, I had never really listened to Marilyn Manson’s music before. I’m glad that I did, and if you grew up in the 90s only hearing about Marilyn Manson’s crazy exploits you should give him a try too. I know that if I had listened to Antichrist Superstar when I was a kid, I never would have shut up about it.