The metamorphosis of Marilyn Manson began when he was still a boy. As the shy and vulnerable Brian Warner took his first steps into adulthood, he also began the transformation that would one day see him become the self-proclaimed Antichrist Superstar, a larger than life rock star that embraced the darker aspects of his personality, from his taste for debauchery to his penchant for destruction. But all too soon his hedonistic and masochistic tendencies threatened to tumble all that he had built. This rise and fall of a notorious icon would be echoed through the narrative of Antichrist Superstar, the 1996 commercial breakthrough of his eponymous group, one that ultimately turned him from a cult shock rocker to the most feared man in America. And much like the antagonist of the piece, the demonic figure that he personified, the Disintegrator, Manson descended through his own personal hell in order to bring his nightmarish vision to the masses.
Much like the creator of the tale, its central character, depicted as a figurative worm, began its life as a weak and downtrodden creature that eventually transformed into a fallen angel. Desperate to save humanity from all its pain and suffering, he soon comes to realise that mankind is content on its path of self-destruction, and believing that they live to serve a master, he takes on the role of the Antichrist Superstar, a nihilistic dictator that is intent on annihilating society and everyone within it. ‘Antichrist Superstar was a metaphor for my plan of becoming a superstar by going against the grain, by doing it all the wrong way,’ claimed Manson to Ray Gun Magazine in 1997. ‘And also the idea that everything that I aimed to destroy – breaking down the identity of Christianity and things like that – by doing so, I’m just creating another form of it through rock music.’
Much like the worm evolving into an angel, Manson too underwent a transmutation of his own, as his band Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids progressed from popular local act to rising stars with their debut album Portrait of An American Family. Finally rebranding themselves Marilyn Manson, the group initially gained a loyal following through their shocking theatrics, but it would be their cover of the Eurythmics classic Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) that Manson and his cohorts made their transition. And with Antichrist Superstar, their ambitious opus, they intended on taking over the world, just like the album’s eponymous antihero. Taken under the wing of Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor, whose own record The Downward Spiral reflected the mental state of its creator, Manson was finally able to explore the musical and thematic potential of his band.
For Manson, the concept of an Antichrist had first taken root in his mind during his early teens. ‘The idea of the end of the world was something that’s always fascinated me since I was thirteen, because I was told it was coming,’ he recalled in an interview with Metal Edge. ‘I kept staying up every night being terrified about the end of the world, and at some point when I finally realised that it wasn’t happening, I guess I almost became what I was afraid of. When there was no Antichrist, I decided to assume that role, and it’s just been something that’s been building and building, and finally now has taken shape. And for me the idea of an apocalypse, I started thinking about it at great length, and I almost saw it on two different levels: there’s a physical apocalypse, and there’s a mental apocalypse. The same goes for the Antichrist: there’s a figurehead, and then there’s a collective idea.’
While their debut album had satirised American culture, from the hypocrisy of the media to its obsession with turning villains into stars, the latter emphasised with lyrical passages taken from convicted killer Charles Manson, Antichrist Superstar followed a loose narrative that depicted a society that creates a monster, only for this unholy being to lead a revolt against the world that it has grown to hate. The Antichrist Superstar represented Manson’s own anger at a society he had felt rejected him, and as he began to grow more powerful as notoriety around the band increased, all of his anger, frustration, and hatred would be utilised throughout the long and arduous process of creating the album. If Portrait of An American Family had been a statement, then its follow-up would be an act of violence.
As one may expect with a nightmare such as Antichrist Superstar, its vivid portrayal of an apocalyptic revolution had first been conceived in the dreams of Marilyn Manson. ‘A few years ago I started having dreams and visions of the world being destroyed, and me being the only one left,’ he told Rolling Stone. ‘It was like an ultimate retribution for all of the things that have happened to me growing up. One dream took place sometime in the future, it may even have been in Fort Lauderdale. Entertainment had gone to such an extreme that they had taken people and made them into zombies, almost just for entertainment’s sake. And I had this strange vision of these women who were completely brain dead; they were just dancing in cages, and their jaws were wired shut, so they wouldn’t bite off the dicks of all these guys that were around them masturbating. It was a complete Sodom and Gomorrah.’
While this dream would inspire Little Horn which, in the overall narrative of Antichrist Superstar, represented the first stage of metamorphosis as the worm transforms into an angel, there were other nightmares that left a lasting influence on Manson. ‘I travelled back in my mind to Canton, Ohio,’ he detailed in his autobiography The Long Hard Road Out of Hell. ‘I was speeding down Thirty-Fifth Street, in my old neighbourhood, and there were hundreds of decaying corpses in the road trying to stop me. Their skin was yellow and the wind was blowing their loose, nacreous teeth back and forth in their mouths. I kept ploughing into them and the instant the car touched them, they disintegrated into dust…At the end of the road I saw a group moving towards me, like a tribe. Their leader was Traci Lords. Her skin was even more yellowed than those of the corpses, and she had a neon pink cross painted across her face. Her motions seemed animatronic.’
These dreams of apocalyptic freak shows, and former porn stars reanimated as snarling ghouls, would lay the foundation for the nightmare that became Antichrist Superstar, a bleak portrayal of the end of the world at the hands of an angel that had once tried to save it. But even as the concept began to grow in his mind, the band had started self-destructing as bruised egos and drug abuse threatened to bring about its own Armageddon. Since the recording of Portrait of An American Family two years earlier, bassist Gidget Gein and drummer Sara Lee Lucas had been replaced by Twiggy Ramirez and Ginger Fish, respectively, while tensions had since developed between guitarist Daisy Berkowitz and his bandmates. Along with Berkowitz, Manson and keyboardist Madonna Wayne Gacy, known affectionately as Pogo, remained the sole members of Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids.
From the earliest sessions of what would become Antichrist Superstar, it was clear that their relationship with Berkowitz was fractured, and that this could cause problems when they entered the studio. ‘On tour last year our relationship with him was very turbulent,’ Manson explained. ‘There’s always been an element of friction there, one of those singer/guitar player things. But in our case it never really jelled into a good working dynamic. From the beginning, Daisy was always more concerned representing his own style, which wasn’t always what I wanted. I always had the song or the album in mind. I’m always looking at the bigger picture. Sometimes his vision was a little narrower. When we were writing this record, his participation was minimal. In the past, he had been the predominant songwriter, so there was a lot of problems there. We wanted to approach this record in a much more experimental, open-minded way.’
But Manson had no intention of allowing his concept to be compromised, and so as he felt Berkowitz alienate himself from the band, Ramirez would take a more significant role in both songwriting and recording, performing guitar and bass for the majority of the sessions. While Berkowitz received writing credit for only four of the sixteen tracks that populated Antichrist Superstar, Ramirez would contribute to all but two. Yet despite the growing tension, rehearsals commenced with Berkowitz in attendance before the band relocated to New Orleans in Louisiana, with Reznor where they set up camp at his studio. Despite having recorded The Downward Spiral in Los Angeles, at the site of the infamous Manson Family murders, he would oversee the sessions for Antichrist Superstar at Nothing Studios. Located at 4500 Magazine Street, the building had been the base of operations for portions of Broken, Reznor’s 1992 release, as well as albums from the likes of Pricks and Pantera.
I don’t think this is as good as it could be
‘I’ve been friends with Brian for quite a long time, and I think he looked at me as a sounding board with an honest opinion,’ stated Reznor on his relationship with Manson. ‘Not that it’s always a great opinion, but at least it’s no bullshit. If something’s bad, I’ll say I think it’s bad. On the Portrait album, they worked with a different producer, and they’d done this whole series of mixes. After it was done, he played it for me and I listened, and listened overnight. I went to him the next day and said, ‘I know you don’t want to hear this, but I’m saying this as a fan, I don’t think this is as good as it could be.” The friendship between Reznor and Manson had begun in the early nineties, when Brian Warner was a local music journalist, but after he adopted the moniker of Marilyn Manson, Reznor helped to hone his talents before seducing his record label Interscope into signing the controversial group. By the time that the second sessions for Portrait of An American Family had come to an end, the two had become close friends.
Perhaps it was poetic that the time they spent in New Orleans would prove to be an unbearable nightmare, ultimately influencing the nihilistic tone of the album. But the torture began even before they entered the studio, as each member struggled with living in New Orleans. ‘I hate that place,’ confessed Gacy the following year. ‘It’s got beautiful architecture and it’s nice in the wintertime, but in the summer it’s oppressively hot. I guess it might be good to torment you to the point where a lot of hate comes out of you and gets focused into the record. I guess in that respect it’s good. There is some amazing architecture and good culture, but it just seems like a town where everyone is just filthy and drunk and smelly. People think that is somehow more real, but I don’t think living in a sewer is somehow more real.’
The oppressive heat, along with narcotics, strained relationships, self-abuse, and a variety of experimental methods of altering their perception of reality, each played a part during the sessions for Antichrist Superstar, even proving more extreme than those that had dominated The Downward Spiral. ‘We probably spent more time than we needed to, but there were a lot of things I felt really needed to come out, musically and lyrically,’ admitted Manson. ‘So we put ourselves through a lot of different circumstances that involved the things that I’ve talked about in the past; pain rituals, and sleep deprivation, experimenting with drugs, and every possible circumstance you can think of. But I wanted to open every door and make sure there wasn’t anything untapped, so that we could really bring about the best thing we had in us at the time.’
Through the cheers of adoring fans it can be heard, piercing through the applause with an electronic rasp. ‘When you are suffering, know that I have betrayed you,’ the ominous voice announced. And so began Irresponsible Hate Anthem, the opening track to Antichrist Superstar, that laid out the themes, concepts, and emotions that the album would explore. The song would introduce the central character as someone who rebels in a totalitarian America, punishing those he feels are sinful, and proposing the massacre of every living soul, forcing each person to face judgement in the afterlife. From a narrative standpoint, it could be argued that the record commences near the conclusion of the story, as the antagonist has already declared his contempt for society, having evolved from the worm that he is during the first act of the tale.
The notion that Irresponsible Hate Anthem was set towards the end of the story could be further emphasised by a footnote in the liner notes that states the song was recorded live on Valentine’s Day 1997, four months after the release of the album. ‘It hasn’t been recorded yet,’ boasted Manson during the promotion of the record. ‘It’s hard to explain in simple terms. Our keyboardist uses his computer with a lot of old Hebrew Kabbalism and numerology, complicated equations that only he understands. But that, combined with extreme drug use, has given us the ability to capture and record things from different eras. We recorded Irresponsible Hate Anthem in February of next year, and for Antichrist Superstar, we recorded the Vienna Boys’ Choir in Hamburg, Germany. So, go figure it out!’
Their claims that, through science and mysticism, they had somehow achieved the unimaginable in order to create an album that defied reality, would be a recurring theme during the promotion of Antichrist Superstar, with Gacy further elaborating on Manson’s claims in an interview with the Gauntlet many years later. ‘I did a lot of numerology on Antichrist Superstar,’ he insisted. ‘I have always had an interest in alchemy and all those esoteric things. I brought that into the band and I kind of had some fun with it. It’s always kind of fun, and it’s not to be deprecating towards it because we were doing it in a serious way. We were trying to represent on Antichrist that there is an apocalypse, but it’s not at one time. Everyone has their own apocalypse when they die, so there is always an apocalypse going on for someone. An apocalypse is an internal thing to you, just like your birth and death.’
If Irresponsible Hate Anthem served as the perfect introduction to the concept of Antichrist Superstar, then its follow-up track, The Beautiful People, would represent the character’s disgust with the shallow vanity of those that surround him. Marking the band’s first Top 20 hit in the United Kingdom, the song laid out the template that many future Marilyn Manson singles adopted, with Disposable Teens and mOBSCENE employing a similar style. ‘The Beautiful People is a statement on the fascism of beauty,’ explained Manson. ‘With commercialism and television, everything’s completely dictated to you, and if you don’t fit into the status quo, you’re made to feel not as good as everyone else. The type of totalitarianism that Antichrist Superstar suggests is a group of individuals banding together to change what the mainstream is. It’s like a pop rally for the apocalypse.’
With Reznor having re-recorded Portrait of An American Family, bringing the band to the attention of his fan base, he seemed like the ideal candidate to oversee the sessions for Antichrist Superstar. And while his influence over the album cannot be denied, the other members of the band struggled with now having to appease two dominating forces. ‘Both are very demanding,’ revealed Ramirez, when comparing the work ethics of Reznor and Manson. ‘But with Nine Inch Nails, you aren’t in a creative situation, it’s Trent’s band. His expectations are very high, he is a very talented musician, you learn a lot with him. He is more responsible than Manson. With Manson, it’s more about surviving chaos, the emotional chaos that he tries to express in his songs with the use of my music. He is less demanding on a technical point-of-view. With Reznor, you need discipline and rigor, and he shows you who the boss is. His search for perfection makes you a better musician.’
Despite his demand for perfection and his proven record with The Downward Spiral, Reznor was impressed with the clear vision and passion that Manson had during the early sessions for Antichrist Superstar, and the two soon became a collaborative match made in heaven. ‘Manson has a pretty good idea of what he wants and he’s a really hard worker,’ Reznor told Spin. ‘And he’s learned a lot from when I first met him. He’s gone from not knowing how to get the sound he has in his head to pretty much having a grip on how the studio works. My role in this record was to create an environment where I kept the flow going. There were some internal problems with getting rid of the guitar player. There was such animosity between the camp that, on one hand, I was playing counsellor, using a lot of stuff I learned from working with Flood.’
To assist in the sessions, Reznor brought in Dave Ogilvie, a respected engineer that had started his career in the eighties producing the likes of Skinny Puppy, before offering remixes for Die Krupps, Mötley Crüe, and Nine Inch Nails. While his influence over the final product is a matter of debate, and his tendency to disappear to play video games may have soon become an annoyance, Ogilvie made a suitable first impression on Manson. ‘He was a short Canadian with glasses, the kind of guy who looked like he got beat up a lot at school, not unlike Corey Haim in the movie Lucas, but he was also childish in a way that I enjoyed,’ recalled Manson. ‘As we killed time waiting for Trent – he was always the last to arrive – I faded out the xenomorphs and barking dogs, and thought about why I was here and what I was about to embark on.’
Although the sessions for Antichrist Superstar would eventually devolve into chaos, Manson and his band entered Nothing Studios with a clear vision and a single-minded determination. This was a story, a rock opera, and every single beat was integral to the flow of the story. ‘There is a high thematic content,’ claimed Gacy. ‘A lot of the songs were particularly chosen to be in a particular order for the structure of the album. There is a lot of numerological significance to what songs we put in there and how they’re set up. I’ve been studying up on Hebrew Kabbalistic and numerological texts. We’ve been coming up with some strange things with numbers. Spooky! Hebrew numbers are letters like Roman numbers are letters. So therefore every word has a number that it is associated with, as well as every sound does. There are a lot of very powerful things to words that people don’t realise.’
Let’s try something different
While sleep deprivation and drug abuse would set the tone for the experimental nature of the sessions, when the band were hard at work in the studio, the creative freedom they were afforded allowed for some new techniques to be attempted. One such incident would occur during the recording of the track 1996. ‘By accident, I programmed sixteenth notes at a really fast rate, and when he heard it, Manson liked it,’ recalled Fish. ‘And then he sped it up, so that it was 170bpm on the drum machine, and all sixteenth notes with the bass drum. Now, I practiced on the road, I’ve got a Gibraltar set on the bus. So there I was, every day before the show, running an hour or two on my double bass practise set, thinking that after we go into the studio to record, when it comes time to go out on the road, I’m going to have to play this part night after night. But when we got into the studio, Trent did a funny thing that producers do. He said, ‘Let’s try something different. Let’s take out this beat and that beat.’ And 1996 went from being full-on sixteenth note, into a more syncopated feel.’
Through his lyrics, Manson would revel in an array of concepts and themes, with the nightmarish images of his dreams influencing the likes of Tourniquet, while he explored both his own feelings towards himself and the perceptions of his fans in Mr Superstar. The album would end on a sombre note with the gruelling Man That You Fear, the first conventional ballad by Marilyn Manson. ‘That is the first song I wrote, and that’s why it’s the last song on the album,’ he explained. ‘It’s kind of a resignation. People will see it as a suicide end or a failure, but for me it’s almost an ‘if you can’t beat them, join them.’ It’s accepting things for the way they are, and whether that’s dying in your mind or dying in the world, or if it’s being born again, or whatever. That’s going to be for people to decide how they want to really apply that, but for me that was the way for me to finish the whole thing.’
Even as the sessions proved to be prolific, the band’s desire to indulge in excess, and its singer’s self-destructive friendship with their producer, would cause the attention to shift from the rock ‘n’ roll to the sex and drugs. Both Reznor and Manson had shared their love of debauchery in Los Angeles during the making of The Downward Spiral and the mixing of Portrait of An American Family, but their behaviour in New Orleans proved even more reprehensible. Despite Manson having brought his girlfriend, identified in his memoir merely as Missi, when he was not in the studio he spent every waking moment with his new best friend, attempting to outdo each other’s ridiculous shenanigans. While Berkowitz further distanced himself, and Missi remaining alone, chaos ruled over the streets of New Orleans as a troupe of twenty-something rock stars tested both their moral fabric and their mortality.
Manson’s reliance on his producer left Berkowitz, already disillusioned with his role in the band, feeling ostracised as he no longer had any creative input, although the singer has maintained that this had always been Berkowitz’s decision. Regardless, Reznor’s presence caused a certain degree of resentment. ‘I definitely feel like he treated us like we were his pet project,’ revealed Berkowitz in 2011. ‘Any time someone would say that our record was amazing, he would feel more like we were something he discovered. He had to make it look like he was the one responsible for this. He had nothing to do with our development. I appreciate whatever he did for us, professionally and career-wise.’ Yet while Berkowitz expressed personal reservations towards Reznor, Manson was more than happy to live the life of a rock star with his new partner in crime.
As with the sessions for The Downward Spiral, the objective soon became finding the most entertaining methods of terrorising those around them, while pushing each other to their limits. One notorious incident resulted in the band members smoking bones. ‘What happened was when we lived in New Orleans, Twiggy and I collected a big bag of human bones,’ Manson told Select. ‘They can’t bury the dead properly in New Orleans, the ground is swampy and it shifts around. So, if you go walking in a graveyard, you’ll see hands and leg bones poking out. So we were carrying this bundle around for a while, like an extra relative or something. We were in L.A. with some people who thought they were hip. I don’t particularly like people who think they’re cool. So I convinced them that smoking bones was the new crack. Everyone chipped some off the bones and put them in the pipe.’
Once again the chaos would find its way into the studio, as faith in the concept of Antichrist Superstar was gradually replaced by faith in destruction. ‘On July fourth, the day in the studio consisted of everybody getting drunk as Trent and I lit fireworks, threw them into the microwave, and tossed the whole radiated mess into the street,’ revealed Manson in 1998. ’This was followed by the destruction of my collection of Spawn toys, along with a Venom action figure, a villain from Spider-Man comic books taken off the market because it said, ‘I wanna eat your brain,’ much like the drugs were doing to most of us. The only common thread holding the night together was the constant barrage of bottles thrown at Ginger; not out of good fun, but out of resentment, because he had managed to find some semblance of happiness in his shallow strip dancers. The only company the rest of us could find was misery. By sunrise, Twiggy was looking for marshmallows to roast over the mixing console that Trent was planning to set on fire. It wasn’t just destruction: it was a very violent form of procrastination.’
On the rare occasions that the band attempted to act professionally and focus on the sessions, these would often result in some kind of gimmick to entertain themselves. ‘On this one, we did a lot of really bizarre things in the studio,’ admitted Gacy. ‘We made some strange little contraptions to torture ourselves. We stopped eating and sleeping, and did things in an attempt to alter our own perception.’ The excessive experimental and practical jokes were not restricted to members of the band, however, as during one of their escapades, Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan snorted Sea-Monkeys. ‘You can take them out of water and dry them out into a white powder,’ explained Manson. ‘You can leave them for years, but when they come in contact with moisture, they come alive again. Billy thought it was coke and he snorted it. He’s gonna have little fleas living in his sinuses for two years. He’s pissing out little prawns!’
Even when drugs were not a common factor, the band and their producer would still indulge in outrageous and juvenile behaviour, anything to escape the monotony of having to work. ‘A lot of ridiculous stuff went down,’ agreed Reznor. ‘The first rule was we all had to grow moustaches. Mine comes in this horrible colour of red for someone reason. When we’d grown them we all laughed, except for Twiggy. He was too fucking vein! There was a show coming up he wanted to go see, so he shaved. But we got to the point where we looked stupid. You’d run into somebody and you forget you had it on. Then you’d try to explain, ‘This is a joke.’ Manson and I joked about getting spotted in Tower Records and instantly our records get returned. You know, ‘These guys aren’t cool anymore!’’
As work began to stall on Antichrist Superstar, Berkowitz grew more frustrated with the band, and even before the sessions had concluded on the album he announced his departure. ‘I left because I wasn’t getting the respect and appreciation and work that I deserved,’ stated Berkowitz. ‘I did a lot of demos, more or less a year before we started recording. When we finished recording, I had about ten or twelve demos for Brian to listen to, so we could develop something. I don’t know if he listened to any of them, but he never wanted to work on any of them. We had a number of unreleased songs that were contenders for Antichrist that Brian didn’t want to do, or Trent didn’t want to, so I was being muscled out.’
For Manson, the departure of Berkowitz was a mixed blessing. ‘The sissy made the first manly move of his life, and called a meeting and quit,’ he explained. ‘The meeting went surprisingly well. In some ways, I actually respected him for staying true to what he wanted to do, instead of remaining with us. At the time, I treated it as a joke, telling everyone that the only thing I would miss was watching Daisy, the Sexual Janitor, pick up used condoms, as he dusted and mopped behind the band and the crew, buying chocolate and flowers in an attempt to seduce girls we had all slept with. But the truth was that I felt worse than ever. Every single person I had formed the band with was gone, and everyone who was left was beginning to side against me. I was the only one with a girlfriend in New Orleans, and the only one who seemed to want to work.’
They were more open to trying different things
Gradually, the concept that they had once all believed in was slowly starting to unravel, with Reznor and Manson also agreeing to dismiss Ogilvie, whom they had felt was becoming a negative influence in the studio. With all involved regularly moving between indifference and fighting for creative control, the sessions had become plagued with hostility and uncertainty. ‘Because the band broke down into Twiggy, Pogo, and Manson doing everything, they were more open to trying different things,’ said Reznor. ‘There were times when we were all sitting down with guitars, trying stuff together. What I wanted to do was show the band had some scope. It wasn’t all just guitar-bass-drum rock. I thought one song should sound like it was recorded on a Walkman, and the next would have a Queen-level of over-production. They said, ‘But we want it to be tough!’’
Before long, even Manson’s relationship with Reznor became strained under the endless drug-fuelled adventures and creative disputes. Manson had also once claimed that he felt Reznor resented Antichrist Superstar, because it was distracting him from writing the highly-anticipated follow-up to The Downward Spiral. ‘It was decadent. I think he felt unable to deal with it, and it crumbled our relationship,’ claimed Manson. ‘I would go to bed at 7am, wake up at 4pm, and then begin drinking and doing drugs. The funniest point, which is something I just watched a videotape of, was a day when I wore only a blonde wig, a Burger King crown, and a paper towel tube around my penis. I walked around like that until broad daylight.’
While Ramirez had filled in for Berkowitz throughout the sessions, it was decided that they would need to hire a replacement before the promotion for the album was underway, and so set up an audition to allow a variety of young hopefuls to try out for the role. ‘There were maybe fifteen people there,’ recalled Timothy Michael Linton, an inexperienced guitarist who had recently turned twenty-seven. ‘I stood around most of the day, while one guitar player after the next went in. It was a typical mix; you had an alternative crowd, five or six Twiggs in the room, a couple of goth guys. I had no idea where I would fit in. I wore a black T-shirt and black jeans. The weird thing was Trent came into the room and said, ‘Good luck!’ I figured, well, it’s time for me to go. I went in and played Get Your Gunn. After I played, I stopped, and didn’t roll through the rest of the songs. There was a spotlight in my face. It was the only light in the room. And Manson, Twiggy, and Pogo were sitting on a couch, about two feet in front of me. I couldn’t really see them.’
While the band had struggled through the sessions without a committed guitarist, Manson was immediately sold on Linton the moment he walked into the darkened room. ‘We met him and we knew he was right even before we heard him play guitar,’ insisted Manson. Linton would become the first member of Marilyn Manson not to adopt the famous beauty-convicted killer stage name, with Manson instead bestowing him with a moniker that carried religious connotations. ‘The idea of z͍imz͍um has biblical figures, primarily as a precondition of the possibility of creation. However, in earlier biblical midrashic traditions, z͍imz͍um features primarily as a condition of the possibility of revelation,’ explained Paul Franks in Foundations of Natural Right. ‘Biblical texts do not use the word z͍imz͍um or any cognate. But they speak pertinently of the force of the divine presence, and of the consequent danger of confronting this presence directly.’
While Zim Zum would offer no songwriting contributions to Antichrist Superstar, he was invited into the studio to perform ‘live guitar’ on Irresponsible Hate Anthem, the song that had allegedly been recorded in the future. But Zim Zum joined the band during their most turbulent and self-destructive period, and before long he found himself drawn into their world of depravity. ‘It was always amazing what some people would do,’ Zim Zum told Kerrang! during the subsequent Dead to the World tour. ‘One girl had come to five shows and was relentless about us signing her back, with a razorblade! Finally, we did it. I did mine as lightly as I could. I didn’t see blood. But Twiggy was cutting in Iron Maiden symbols on this girl’s back. We had sex in front of each other quite often. I can remember many a time walking in the back lounge of the bus, and seeing Ginger in a simultaneously exciting and disgusting act with various girls.’
The excessive indulgences of the Antichrist Superstar sessions would almost claim several casualties, as one morning following a particularly hedonistic night, Manson awoke to find himself in a hospital bed, lying next to a deceased patient. Returning home late from the studio on another occasion, he entered the bedroom to find Missi, unresponsive and with a burning fever. Having been neglected by Manson for some time, she had developed the flu, and after Reznor had driven the couple of a nearby Emergency Room, they discovered that she was three months pregnant. While Missi recovered from her near-death experience, Manson returned to Nothing Studios, where he attempted to distract himself by working on Tourniquet. ‘In a daze, I picked up the microphone plugged into the computer,’ he detailed. ‘Very slowly and firmly, I drummed my left hand on the table as if tapping an S.O.S. into a telegraph, and whispered into the microphone, ‘This is my most vulnerable moment.’ I flipped the waveform around, so that it was backwards, and added it to the beginning of the song, a distress call heard by no one but myself.’
By the time that the sessions came to an end, the friendship between Manson and Reznor had been destroyed. One of the final nails driven into the coffin would come with the assistance of filmmaker David Lynch. It had been four years since the venomous critical reaction to his prequel to the cult TV show Twin Peaks, and now Lynch was developing his latest picture, a surreal film called Lost Highway. Manson had been approached by the director to contribute music to its soundtrack, but arriving one morning at Nothing Studios, he was denied entry, only to discover that Reznor and Ogilvie were inside working on music for the feature film. Manson saw this as an act of betrayal, and after putting the final touches to Antichrist Superstar, with the assistance of Sean Beavan, a producer that had contributed to the recording of Portrait of An American Family two years earlier, the relationship between Manson and Reznor turned hostile.
‘It was drug-related on everyone’s part. I won’t incriminate him on anything,’ Manson told the PRP in 2017. ‘Trent came to me and said, ‘We need to stop doing drugs.’ The very next day I listened to him. He was like my mentor, so I stopped doing drugs. Then things changed and I was the nerd. At the time, I think there was a McDonald’s sandwich for adults called the Arch Deluxe. I never ate it, but that was my nickname. Twiggy and Trent called me Arch Deluxe. I hated it because they said don’t do drugs, so I stopped. I was made fun of for doing it, but I had to finish the record. I was that determined, I knew the record was that important. As important as the record I just made. So I didn’t speak to Trent, because at the time when you make an album, it’s on a hard drive, and it’s also on a tape machine. And I just remember when we got into a fight, and he kicked me out of the studio, that he smashed the hard drive. So for many years, I thought that the masters for Antichrist Superstar were destroyed.’
When asked about the dissolution of their professional and personal relationship in a 2009 interview with Mojo, Reznor declared, ‘He is a malicious guy, and will step on anybody’s face to succeed and cross any line of decency. Seeing him now, drugs and alcohol now rule his life, and he’s become a dopey clown. During the Spiral tour, we propped them up to get our audience turned onto them, and at that time a lot of people in my circle were pretty far down the road as alcoholics. Not Manson. His drive for success and self-preservation was so high, he pretended to be fucked up a lot when he wasn’t. Things got shitty between us, and I’m not blameless. The majority of it, though, was coming from a resentful guy, who finally got out from under his master’s umbrella and was able to stab him in the back. He used to be the smartest guy in the room. And as a fan of his talents, I hope he gets his shit together.’
Perhaps as a way to make amends for poaching the project from his friend, Reznor would invite Marilyn Manson to contribute two songs to the soundtrack for Lost Highway. Released through Interscope in early 1997, the album also boasted compositions from Smashing Pumpkins, Lou Reed and Nine Inch Nails, while the offerings from Manson were a cover of ‘Screamin’ Jay’ Hawkins’ I Put a Spell on You – previously released on the EP Smells Like Children – and the exclusive track Apple of Sodom. Written by Manson and originally demoed during the sessions for Antichrist Superstar, the song was recorded alongside Dried Up, Tied and Dead to the World and Kinderfeld with Beavan in New Orleans.
Antichrist Superstar reared its ugly head on 8 October 1996, and its unexpected success would transform Manson from a morbid curiosity into what many felt was the personification of the Devil. The agency that oversaw the running of the Giants Stadium in New Jersey were sued under the First Amendment, after they threatened to halt Ozzfest ’97 from taking place on their grounds if the band remained on the bill, while a high school in Florida warned students that anyone who attended a Marilyn Manson concert would be expelled. The controversy that surrounded the eponymous frontman brought attention to the album, and inadvertently transformed him into the rock star he had always dreamed of becoming. The metamorphosis was complete, and the Antichrist Superstar had finally been unleashed upon the world.
I see the Antichrist mythology different than the Christians do
‘It’s only as serious as you want it to be,’ Manson told Alternative Press. ‘And if you want it to be serious, there’s a lot to look into. But if you wanna just put the CD on and break stuff and fuck your girlfriend, then that works, too. It’s both. Besides, I see the Antichrist mythology different than the Christians do. They see it as a literal apocalypse, the world being destroyed, you know, a rapture with Jesus coming to save them. But I see the Antichrist as an element that exists within everybody’s personality. It’s their rebellious side; it’s their belief in themselves, it’s their belief in the status quo of morality, it’s their disbelief in God and Christianity. And I feel like it’s my job to spur that anti-Christian element. There have been many other people – Caesar, Nero, Napoleon, Hitler, Mussolini, Aleister Crowley, Anton LaVey – who have cracked open the mythical gateways to the end of the world. I feel like the end of the world that I speak about is on a mental level; I see the apocalypse being the old world mentality of Christianity dying off and something new being born…new individuality.’
In some ways the album was a statement on rebirth, of rising from the flames of destruction like the Phoenix. ‘For things to get better, it always must be destroyed for new ways to come about,’ said Gacy. ‘We were working a lot with those concepts very deliberately. There is a lot of significance with the numbers and symbols you see with the record. It isn’t some ridiculous Ozzy thing. We weren’t trying to be like that. It was about the meaningfulness of words and what words are all about. And melodies, too. They’re related to words. The traditional idea of words is the power of words. Vowels vibrate and resonate. That is where tone and melody is. What consonants do is control vowels. They close them off and chain vowels down. We were trying to combine many polar opposites to get past a lot of traditional ideas we had ourselves, of what the universe is all about, and what ourselves are about, because we are the universe.’
Following his departure from Marilyn Manson, Berkowitz would perform under his birth name, Scott Putesky, with a variety of acts that included Jack Off Jill, before forming his own project, Three Ton Gate. But Antichrist Superstar remained his most infamous work. ‘Antichrist was one of the last records that, very simply, scared parents. That highlights the problem with being labelled ‘shock rock.’ You can only shock so much before you’re the Halloween band,’ declared Putesky, whose life was tragically cut short when he succumbed to cancer in 2017. ‘When the album came out in October, it debuted at number three on Billboard, and I was shocked. I was shocked and proud that what we came up with got to that level. I couldn’t believe a title like that, we generated a lot of attention, but I thought that title would be too offensive.’
The birth of the Antichrist Superstar had been a long and painful ordeal that had been marred by both comedy and tragedy. Throughout its creation, Marilyn Manson had endured drug abuse, an abortion, bitter feuds, and the desecration of human remains, and those that survived the descent into hell were transformed into rock superstars, intent on taking over the world. ‘I wanted this record to be my autobiography,’ claimed Manson. ‘You can even break it down into three personalities; the transformation from this vulnerable worm into this angel, that the world sees as more of a devil, which is really a lot like the Lucifer character in the Bible, the fallen angel. Am I really the bad guy or am I not? And the Antichrist Superstar to me is the very nihilistic, hopeless element of my personality that decides, ‘Okay, I’m gonna take this power. I’m not gonna try and help anybody, I’m just gonna bring it all down!’’