After the recent release of Marilyn Manson‘s tenth studio album, Heaven Upside Down, Vulture Hound’s Kelly Ronaldson looks back at the story behind the three albums that defined his career and elevated him to the position of one of the most iconic figures in rock; Antichrist Superstar, Mechanical Animals, and Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death), aka Marilyn Manson’s Triptych.
Marilyn Manson has never been one to hide in the shadows. From the early days when the band first gained the unquestionable support of Trent Reznor, to the beautifully annihilated yet immensely popular cover a Soft Cell classic, the self-proclaimed ‘God of Fuck’ has since become a household name, solidifying him as one of the greatest and most distinctive pop culture icons of the 21st century. Despite the band’s earlier cult following, it was undoubtedly their second studio album that managed to throw them into the spotlight, showcasing their impressive signature sound and much-loved grotesque imagery.
In honor of last week’s release of his tenth studio album, Heaven Upside Down, we’re taking a look back at the three remarkable concept albums that formed Manson’s infamous Triptych – Antichrist Superstar (1996), Mechanical Animals (1998), and Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death) (2000). Shortly after the release of Holy Wood, Manson revealed that the Triptych had an autobiographical storyline overarching a reversed timeline, beginning with Holy Wood and then ultimately concluding with Antichrist Superstar. Keeping that in mind, we’re kicking things off with the most recent of the three…
In the aftermath of the Columbine High School massacre a year previously, the mainstream media had attempted to pin the blame on Manson, and Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death) marked his rebuttal to those accusations, referred to by the vocalist as a ‘declaration of war’ and ‘counterattack’. The album tells the story of a man’s commercialised revolution and the process of its destruction, with lyrical themes that tackle the ‘disenfranchisement of contemporary youth’. While ‘Disposable Teens’ echoes The Beatles and George Orwell‘s revolutionary concepts alongside the problematic nature of Hollywood’s celebrity culture, ‘The Fight Song’ mocks high school football anthems in an aggressive post-Columbine statement, addressing violence among America’s youth.
Connecting the first and third instalments of the Triptych, Mechanical Animals dealt with the concept of an androgynous alien named Omega, and another being named Alpha, (the latter of which is based on Manson’s personal experiences following the Antichrist Superstar era). Despite the record’s darker themes of substance abuse, superficial perspectives and nihilism, Mechanical Animals borrows heavily from the lighter elements of 70s alternative music, with influences such as Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, and the ‘original goths’ such as Bauhaus and the early days of The Cure. Lead single ‘The Dope Show’ marks a fan favourite here, blending the band’s earlier industrial sounds with electronic elements and Bowie-esque vocal influences. One of the most memorable and critically acclaimed tracks to come from this record however, is the soul-crushing ‘Coma White’. Despite the media backlash for the track’s music video (see below), this song is arguably one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs in the Manson back catalogue.
Concluding (and yet debuting) the trilogy with the record that ultimately thrust industrial metal into the public eye, Antichrist Superstar was released on October 8th, 1996. A heavy metal rock opera in which a supernatural being seizes power, hell-bent on triggering the apocalypse, the album takes the form of a social commentary, using its storyline as a metaphor to address fascism within Christian America. While the dream-influenced lyrical content and seductive nature of ‘Tourniquet’ certainly marks a stand-out track, the undeniable highlight of this record comes in the form of the incredible first single, ‘The Beautiful People’. Broadly considered one of the greatest metal tracks of all time (and rightfully so), the infectious release addresses the concept of beauty within society, and its accompanying, award-nominated music video effortlessly portrays Manson’s striking signature style.
Often disputed by fans and critics alike, it’s unknown exactly how these records fit together on this reversed timeline. Commenting on the concept however, Manson told Guns, God and Government Magazine, “[Holy Wood is about wanting] to fit into a world that didn’t want me, and fighting really hard to get there. [The album’s deepest elements] are idealism and the desire to start a revolution. If you begin with Holy Wood, the Mechanical Animals really talks about how that revolution gets taken away from you and turned into a product, and then Antichrist Superstar is where you’re given a choice to decide if you’re going to be controlled by the power that you created or if you want to destroy yourself and then start over. It just becomes a cycle.”
Regardless of the concepts you take away from the Triptych, these three records remain at the very top of Manson’s discography – for the musical talent of the band as a whole, for the political and social concepts that the records address, and for the artistic merit that each album has in it’s own right.
Heaven Upside Down is out now via Loma Vista Recordings.