The rise of Marilyn Manson marks the end of the reign of punk realism in rock & roll. This ill-behaved Florida-based quintet, a visual and aural shake 'n' bake of mutilation theatrics, Alice Cooperesque camp and metal-scraping-metal tonality, is a volatile reaction to five years of earnest, post-Nirvana rock. As ghoulishly animated as the Tales From the Crypt comic strip and gory enough for today's discriminating ambulance chaser, Marilyn Manson offer total escapism as a true alternative, complete with carefully crafted gloom wear (no baggy shorts allowed), a frontman who blatantly begs to be in the spotlight and lyric imagery rivaling that of the best slasher movies.
And not only do the Mansons — whose core members include the band's male namesake vocalist and leader, guitarist Twiggy Ramirez and keyboard player Madonna Wayne Gacy — look post-mortem fabulous, they also rock. The group's third and most accessible album draws on the orgasmic din of death metal, the mechanized assault of hard-core industrial rock and swaggering FM-pop trash a la Def Leppard. The combination is sure to terrify impressionable children, scare the bejesus out of their concerned parents and, most important, attract disgruntled teens like moths to a porch light.
Antichrist Superstar is on Trent Reznor's Nothing label and is co-produced by the Nine Inch Nails mastermind; Rez-nor also plays on several tracks. But musically, Marilyn Manson are the fun-house flip side to NIN's suffocating introspection. While Reznor emerges as a button-pushing nerd once the music subsides, you get the sense that Mr. Manson — who wears body accouterments that look like medieval prostheses and more melting makeup than Tammy Faye Bakker — actually kicks around the house in that gear.
Manson's convincing freakishness is just one of many reasons why Antichrist Superstar is an alluringly nasty piece of work. The lurid grind of the mock-live opener, "Irresponsible Hate Anthem," sets a fine example for all the bad behavior to follow: "I am so all-American, I'd sell you suicide." In the catchy "1996," Manson recites a list of conflicting personal and political philosophies — "Anti-choice/Anti-girl ... anti-sober/Anti-whore" — and then offers himself as the simple solution. "Anti-people, now you've gone too far," he sings, "Here's your Antichrist superstar." The ever-present Alice Cooper influence is full-blown in "Tourniquet." It is also here that Manson divulges his idea of a perfectly seductive date — "She comes on like a crippled plaything."
The suspense-filled "Beautiful People" offers enough ooh's and ah's to fuel an entire Hammer horror film. The song has a zombielike, repetitive quality, with ghostly electronic sounds that whoosh by like stale air blowing through ancient catacombs. Manson, in turn, hisses his lines, punctuating certain words with a shrill, insane pitch, others with a retching scream. In the morose death march "Cryptorchid," the even gets a little sentimental, recalling the sweet days of his youth: "When the boy is still a worm, it's hard to/Learn to count to the number seven."
The layered effect of the music recalls that of Ministry, but Marilyn Manson's execution is not as dense. Instead, Antichrist Superstar writhes with a cool, sinister and taunting feel — eerie synthesizer-type whistles, heavy breathing, monster groans and grunts — before lurching out from the shadows with hammering percussion and static-loaded feedback. That dramatic jack-in-the-box ploy should have been used more often; some of the songs here are just too flat, leaving spaces of monotony on the record that feel like popcorn-fetching intermissions. For all of the album's attractions, the band could have compressed Antichrist Superstar into a more powerful blast of evil.