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.
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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.