1990s \

Review: Marilyn Manson – Antichrist Superstar

Marilyn Manson's Antichrist Superstar was released on October 8, 1996. To mark its 21st anniversary, we've digitized our original review. 

Marilyn Manson is a philosopher. No, really—this cross-dressing ghoul’s blend of antichristianity, cabalistic prophecy, Theosophical elitism, transformational science fiction, and horror-movie schlock actually coheres as an argument against right-wing piety. He should be invited to debate Bill Bennett the next time the old virtuemonger’s on Larry King. Or Bill could just pick up Antichrist Superstar, which distills Manson’s views to their scalding essence. Here’s the gist: So-called morality has repressed the human spirit to such an extent that only hate remains. Rock’n’roll can metamorphose its practitioners into the energetic embodiment of that hate, freeing them from the lie of a good society. Marilyn Manson, a lowly worm in this concept album, enacts that process and becomes the Antichrist Superstar everyone secretly desires. He ain’t pretty, folks, but he’s our just deserts.

By dressing it in fake gore, Manson qualifies the emotional impact of his already garish vision; he’s not as subtle, musically or otherwise, as his spiritual older brother Trent. If Reznor’s like Wes Craven running rampant on the set of A Nightmare on Elm Street, the worm-avenger plot that frames Antichrist Superstar is pure shriek movie. True to that tradition, though, Manson knows his bogeyman’s also a joke. Horror’s thrill rides on the fine line between hysteria and hilarity; it’s a gas to see Freddy Krueger’s green grin – once you’re over the fact that he’s just scared your pants off.

Antichrist Superstar taps into the tension by parodying the fears it cultivates—in songs like “1996” and “Irresponsible Hate Anthem,” Manson employs his multifaceted Exorcist growl to taunt those who condemn him, using cartoon evil images that carry just enough poison to sting. Chuckle when he chants “You’re such a dirty, dirty rock star” in “Deformography”; you’ll recoil in fearful recognition when he whispers, “I am the one you want.” Manson’s message, beneath that makeup, is that people need their nightmares. No matter how much we try to be polite, anger and desire will claim us in the dark once again.

Until now, Manson’s ideas carried more weight than his music, but Antichrist Superstar’s sound matches the garish grandiosity of his arguments. Its 16 songs rock like ’70s Sabbath-style metal, but harder; the arrangements echo Queen in operatic scope but are more intense; the mood owes its vampiric chill to Bauhaus, but this band actually bites the vein. Manson and guitarist Twiggy Ramirez, bassist/keyboardist Madonna Wayne Gacy, and drummer Ginger Fish—once an undifferentiated mass of thrashing amateurs, now a true Army of Darkness—honor these sources, then pound them into submission. Coproducers Trent Reznor, Dave Ogilvie, and Manson spent seven months in Reznor’s hi-tech New Orleans studio opening up the band’s sound, much like Eno did with U2—only here the landscape’s infernal, not celestial. “When you get to heaven, you will wish you’re in hell,” Manson intones on “Wormboy.” The music, punctuated by ghostly choirs, beastly growls, menacing decibel shifts, and twisted synthesizer interjections, proves him right. There’s so much life in this dungeon, you’ll never want to leave.