Monday, July 30, 2007

Now You'll See Your Star

Let it be known that there are two types of albums which appeal to me above all others: Conceptual and Complicated. I love a cohesive narrative that requires the listener to think and interpret, to find something relevant in the themes or story that is applicable to their own life. I also love music that is built in layers, so that each subsequent listening provides further insight into the sonic foundations of the song. Few albums can attain the musical and lyrical precision to offer both of these attributes at the same time. This article deals with one album that manages that, at least for me.

I know what you're thinking upon looking at the image provided to the left. Marilyn Manson!?!? I know, as if any of us should take him seriously. Trust me, I side with the majority of you. But in 1996, Manson (nee Brian Warner) managed to plumb the depths of his soul and pluck forth a glorious fruit of temptation. Each subsequent release by the band has seen them becoming more and more a parody of themselves, but in 1996 they were just plain evil.

Prior to the release of Antichrist Superstar, Marilyn Manson had only managed two major releases. (Portrait of an American Family and Smells Like Children) Though these were both fine albums in and of themselves, they were nothing particularly special. But the pairing of this band and the legendary Trent Reznor, locked away in the Benedict Canyon home of Sharon Tate and depriving themselves of food and sleep produced a once in a lifetime effort that still holds strong to this day.

As mentioned earlier, Antichrist Superstar is a concept album, a narrative told in three distinct cycles: The Heirophant, Inauguration of the Worm, and Disintegrator Rising. The album itself can be somewhat viewed as Thus Spake Zarathustra by Nietzsche set to music. Every song is a veritable landscape dripping with moody atmospherics, backwards masking, distorted repeating voices, haunting melodies and powerful guitar work. The narrative itself is designed to be open to interpretation. There is no right or wrong answer as to the meaning of the work. Every listener will bring their own experiences to the table and make of the lyrics what they will.

As a loose skeletal frame, the album can be viewed as a semi-autobiographical narrative of Manson's life. We open with Irresponsible Hate Anthem (the beginning of The Heirophant cycle), which presents us with Manson in the near future (claiming to have been recorded on February 14, 1997, though the album was released in October of 96), telling us that he is the poster child for what people fear and subsequently a target for misunderstood criticism. But above all, he wants to tell the listener that he has transcended humanity to become something larger. "I am the animal who will not be himself"

From this point we are propelled backwards to view the events of his childhood that shaped who we would grow into. The seeds of discontent are sown in a triptych of songs that illuminate his early years. The Beautiful People represents his exposure to religious indoctrination (he attended a catholic school). Dried Up, Tied Up and Dead to the World is his detachment from his family stemming from both his rejection of faith and the sexual abuse perpetrated by his grandfather. (This is dealt with more deeply later in the record.) Finally, Tourniquet shows us the depths of his withdrawal, whithering from the rejection he feels and constructing an imaginary companion.

Cycle Two begins with a dream detailing to Manson what he will ultimately become. "The worm" is born within him and his transformation from child to angel begins. The worm is representative of both the decay of who he was and the metamorphosis into who he will become. His transcendence of his mortal shell begins as well, as Manson rejects the spiritual and divine to proclaim himself the god of his own existence, the creator of his own destiny, the very manifestation of power. His rise to fame serves as the means to which he can broadcast this message of strength. The worm slowly takes over his physical form, transforming him into who he was born to be.

The final portion of the album (Disintegrator Rising) concerns the fully transformed Manson, christening himself the Antichrist Superstar. Antichrist in the context of the album does not refer specifically to Satan or the minions of Hell, but to the being he has transformed into, a god unto himself without fear of eternal damnation or promise of eternal bliss. He preaches his message of self empowerment to the masses, promising not eternal or internal peace, but strength and the power to guide one's own destiny. "I went to god just to see / and I was looking at me" Ultimately, his message is rejected. What becomes of him is not certain. Some interpret the end as his death, some his retraction from the public eye, and some as the end of the first act of a play (under the auspice that his two follow-up albums concern the same character).

Whatever one takes from the album, it is hard to deny the powerful message he is trying to portray. Whether you agree or disagree with his philosophies is irrelevant. It is not a condemnation of belief, nor is it an attack on organized religion. Ultimately, it is the presentation of another choice in your life, to take control of your beliefs or to hide behind them.

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Saradevil said...

While I appreciate the reference to Manson creating a Thus Spoke Zarthustra to music I think it's been done (and I dare say possibly done better) by Strauss.

I haven't listened to this particular album from end to end, but you have certainly peeked my curiosity as both a audiophile and literary crank head.

E said...

I certainly cannot deny that Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra is a wonderful piece. But there really is no comparison to be made here. Comparing classical masters to shock rockers is tantamount to arguing the comparative merits of Citizen Kane vs Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey. :)

Bonez said...

Almost thou persuadest me, Sir E.

You make Manson's twisted secular humanist views sound almost interesting enough to deserve another look and listen from me. "Almost" only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, mijn Vriend.

I am not one to brand all secular humanism philosophy as cold-hearted atheistic devilry by any means. In fact, I have been branded as a humanist myself by some, demon possessed by others and even a saint or savior by a few.

Good post!

E said...

Thanks for the comments, Tony. If you cannot bring yourself to listen to the album, then I highly recommend that you at least look into Thus Spake Zarathustra. It is my favorite of all of Nietzsche's works and is directly linked to within the article.

Jod{i} said...

Great review!
Many people wouldnt look at it from that perspective and push it aside. Having always been a Manson fan, not just for the music. As my tastes range and its more with the writing...I can range from Blue October, to Manson, Pantera, to Johnny Cash within one sitting, then back to Gwar,lol. Talk about conceptual. Its the music the writing not what the artist looks like.
Great post!

E said...

Thank you. And by odd coincidence, GWAR is a planned future post of mine. I absolutely love those guys. Your tastes sound about as eclectic as mine. Makes for an interesting ride in my car for people that aren't used to it. I can switch from Iron Butterfly to Manson to Mozart to Slayer to Warrant and not even notice. :P