Numbers added for ease of navigation. If you want to go straight to my interpretation, scroll down to 5. What comes before that is my analyses of relevant sources and why I make the connections I do.
Marilyn Manson’s Triptych is an important work of postmodern musical storytelling.
“Theater” would have made that sentence less cluttered than “storytelling”, if less firmly defensible. Nonetheless, an argument could be made.
A concept album is not (necessarily) as esoteric or pretentious as the name may sound. Many concept albums are composed of nothing more than consistent lyrical and musical themes. This approach was employed by David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and Pink Floyd frequently (though not exclusively).
On the other end of the spectrum are albums that tell a literal story, like Tommy by The Who or the body of work that Emilie Autumn may soon incorporate into an actual work of musical theater (Opheliac, the 4 O’Clock EP and Fight Like A Girl).
Marilyn Manson has frequently voiced his admiration for Bowie and, in particular, Bowie’s early seventies glam-rock material. On our concept album metric, Diamond Dogs, Aladdin Sane and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars are closer to thematic concept albums than narrative concept albums. Yet they contain flourishes of imaginative, fictional events like aliens and global extinction. At the very least, Bowie’s glam trilogy experiments with narrative storytelling without going there in a literal sense.
This is the middle ground where we find Marilyn Manson’s Triptych. This body of work consists of three albums: Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death), Mechanical Animals and Antichrist Superstar. Each one contains distinct lyrical imagery with a small degree of overlap. If we listen to one of them from beginning to end, we will hear about characters like Jack, Omega, Coma White and the Worm. If one confines themselves to the lyrics, these names are usually contextualized as proper nouns.
The context for each phrase remains consistent enough for the proper noun status to be noticeable. At the same time, there is usually enough bluntly obvious or literal subject matter to have a single song make sense on it’s own. In a casual listening, this can convey social commentary with a little bit of word-play. An album-length listening will make the fictional characters and events difficult to not notice, though.
Please don’t think that I mean that the social commentary is a mere “hook” to generate interest with the narrative devices being the “important part.” The simultaneity of the different levels of meaning actually gives the fictional/poetic story the credibility it needs to be accessible and interesting. More so than it would have been if the Triptych was an outright literal story.
This brings us to the “postmodern” part. The simultaneity of the social commentary and the poetic bells and whistles gives them an energy-exchange that is a lot like the exchange between observation and emotion. In fact, the character names and non-literal events usually have an emotional framing. Wormboy on Antichrist Superstar places this dynamic in the foreground.
The object of critique is apparent: vague, simplistic and abstract ideals are used by institutions to control and misdirect. Even the vagueness and the abstraction serve such a purpose: if the ideals of an orthodoxy lack the complexity and detail of lived experience, than lived experience can feel like it is just in the way.
Lyrics like “When you get to Heaven / You will wish you’re in Hell…when will you realize you’re already here” state this plainly, but the lyrics also contain less simple emotional dynamics. The more emotional lyrics also benefit from the successive atmospheric build of the running order of the songs until that point.
Antichrist Superstar is divided into three separate song suites. The second song suite begins with a mysterious, sudden, painful event in the first two songs. The third song in the suite is a visceral, blood-letting reaction to what just happened. Wormboy is the fourth song in the suite, immediately after the blood-letting of Deformography.
Little Horn, Cryptorchid and Deformography can be reasonably interpreted as the emotional low point at that part of the album (before the next low comes in the third suite). So after this visceral trauma, next comes Wormboy.
Early lyrics of the song imply an attempt by the speaker to distance themselves from their own spiraling rage: “So watered down / Your feelings are turned to mud / Love everybody has destroyed the value of / All hate has got me nowhere.” This is also an explicit return to the discussion of binary morality from The Beautiful People. The Beautiful People described alpha-beta, binary ethics as a terrifying and oppressive status quo. Wormboy describes alpha-beta ethics as the source of an inescapable gridlock that offers no satiation and is more trouble than it’s worth.
The succession of different moods within Antichrist Superstar make the emotional attitude of Wormboy more compelling than the speaker’s final, desperate bid for rationality. This furnishes a good example about how the context of the whole album creates different layers of meaning, but the importance of successive “moods” leads us to the reason why the label ‘triptych’ is even appropriate for this body of work.
It also leads us to why I used such a fat, clunky, unappealing word like “postmodern” in the first sentence of this entry. The succession of moods within the Triptych all have a sequential relationship with each other. Different moods that follow a sequential logic, in and of themselves, do not constitute a literal narrative: each one is compelling even without the whole. Yet the sequential order, when experienced from beginning to end, creates the feeling of sequential events or experiences. Events experienced by a single perspective that sequentially lead into other events is one of the defining characteristics of a story.
This is why it is so easy to listen to one of the Triptych albums and get a small, nagging feeling that there is something cinematic just under the surface. Any given song from the Triptych has an accessible emotional center and usually some kind of social commentary. These lucid “hooks” of content then lead deeper into the understated context.
So. The actual word ‘triptych.’ It’s a set of three paintings that, when placed side by side, make up a single panorama. Each third is also, potentially, self-sufficient. If there is a linear, traditional story in this, it fits within three simultaneous and different perspectives.
The word also implies that two of those pieces may fit in to a third. This third would then contain points of departure for the two others. This third, for our purposes, is Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death). Within the story implied by the successive moods subsuming each other, Holy Wood contains two opportunities for a perspective shift.
This is where we get into the role of Manson’s authorial intent. Normally, I hesitate to give authorial intent too much credit. A well-crafted work of art should be comprehensible in and of itself. If it needs a SparkNotes guide to make sense, than that is a failure of the artist. Especially since the designation of ‘Triptych’ implies multiple, simultaneous levels of meaning.
Nonetheless, Manson himself offered a simple guideline during a fan Q&A before the release of Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death). It is not a terribly specific guideline but I think it bears mentioning. After all, the designation of these three albums as a single body of work called the Triptych was coined by Manson himself.
During the Q&A, Manson stated that his Triptych film project would adhere closer to Antichrist Superstar than Holy Wood. Holy Wood was then envisioned to be more of a context source for the film. He also said that the arc of Omega from Mechanical Animals would be part of the story contained within Holy Wood.
If the film would have bore a closer resemblance to the arc of Antichrist Superstar while the album Holy Wood would depict more of a set-up to that story, than we can draw a few conclusions. Manson also stated that, for a linear listening order, Holy Wood would come first, then Mechanical Animals and Antichrist Superstar would mark the ending.
With all this in mind, it makes sense to think that Antichrist Superstar proceeds directly from the end of Holy Wood. Yet popular wisdom among the Marilyn Manson fan community holds that the Holy Wood-Mechanical–Antichrist sequence is literal and canonical. Nick Kushner, who made analyzing the Triptych his archival labor of love on the Nachtkabarett, entertained the idea that Adam (the Holy Wood protagonist) attempted suicide in Count To Six and Die (The Valley). This failed attempt would then lead to the creation of Omega as a psychological alter ego.
I believe Kushner was on to something with this interpretation, but I do not agree with his sequencing of events. Manson’s statement that the appearance of Omega happens within Holy Wood and his remarks on his film idea point to a simpler possibility.
Holy Wood contains four song suites: In The Shadow, The Androgyne, Of Red Earth and The Fallen. If you’ve seen the cover of Mechanical Animals, one of those names will jump out at you.
Both the lyrics and album art of Holy Wood contain numerous Tarot references. Hermetic mysticism has incorporated the Tarot into it’s symbolism and, in the present day, Hermetic mysticism has provided much of the contemporary, popular interpretations of the Tarot. If we’re going to pull back from the actual music (the “text”, as the feller says) we might as well acknowledge that Marilyn Manson has spoken openly about his interest in Hermetic magic.
After Manson contributed voice acting for the video game Area 51, he did a back-and-forth interview with David Duchovny, who also voiced a character in the game. Amidst the spitballing about Jack Parson and the memoir Sex and Rockets and alchemy, Aleister Crowly and his involvement in Hermetic magic came up as a mutual interest. Even if Marilyn Manson was never one for organized religion, there’s still no reason not to incorporate the mythology. The dude made no bones about doing it with Christianity, after all.
A major point of intersection between Hermeticism and the Tarot are the symbology of cups and swords. One is concave and empathic, the other is rational and penetrating. Hermeticism often equates these symbols with femininity and masculinity. More recent pop-culture interpretations of Hermeticism, like Alan Moore’s Promethea comics, emphasize that each person (regardless of sex) contains both of these principles.
If any further evidence was needed to prove the relevance of Hermeticism to the Triptych, consider what Manson named his protagonist: Adam. After Adam Kadmon, a symbol of the Hermetic/Cabalistic ideal of a fully realized individual who is, at the same time, immersed in the collective subconscious of humanity. On a related note, this resembles the symbolic shorthand of classical psychoanalysis, which also pairs rationality with masculinity and the lyrical or chaotic with femininity. Jung, in particular, identified the subconscious with the vaguely feminine label anima.
This all narrows the specificity of the link between the Androgyne song suite and Mechanical Animals. The prominence of the Tarot in Holy Wood make the the cups and swords motifs hard to ignore, along with their gendered symbolism.
The word ‘androgyne’ is basically a portmanteau of the Latin root words for man and woman. A thematic / associative link with the frank gender-bending of the Mechanical Animals era is clearly present. Marilyn Manson is also known for using wordplay in his art, along with fastidious attention to consistency. I think it is fair to assume the associative / thematic link is intentional.
I think that Target Audience (Narcissus Narcosis) – the first song in the Androgyne song suite -is the point of departure for Mechanical Animals. This particular song suite also illustrates a core characteristic of the Triptych: the point of view alternates between that of a character’s experience and the perspective of a recalled memory.
More specifically, the Androgyne suite is about the same thing that Mechanical Animals is about.
The name association conveys a category or content match at least. And if the Androgyne song suite is the point of departure for Mechanical Animals, it remains part of the distinct perspective of the Holy Wood album. This is why the category / association link is especially important. The link, essentially, stops at that level. The perspective is separate between albums. The Tarot / Hermetic symbolism indicating a confrontation with the subconscious enables the point of departure to exist within the perspective of Holy Wood.
In terms of literal story beats, this becomes far more clear when you compare the point of departure of Mechanical Animals with the point of departure of Antichrist Superstar. The first Antichrist Superstar song suite is called The Hierophant. The most commonly understood meaning of the word “hierophant” is one who interprets obscure secrets or mysteries. There is also the obvious meaning within the Tarot, but I think a plain interpretation of the word is enough to get us started for now.
So the opening four songs on Antichrist Superstar are either an exhibition of a mystery or the testimony of one who interprets it. If my reading of Manson’s intentions regarding the succession of Holy Wood by Antichrist Superstar are accurate, then the song Count To Six and Die (The Valley) must be the transitional moment.
This song may allude to either suicide or execution. The sound effects of the spinning chambers of a revolver and dry clicks suggests Russian Roulette and therefore suicide. Yet some of the lyrics describe things happening at a distance from the speaker:
She’s got her eyes open wide
She’s got the dirt and spit of the world
Her mouth on the metal
The lips of a scared little girl
There’s an angel in the lobby
He’s waiting to put me in line
I won’t ask forgiveness
My faith has run dry
She’s got her Christian prescriptures
And death has crawled in her ear
Like elevator music or songs that she shouldn’t hear
This, to me, sounds more like anticipatory dread. A fear of events that are already in motion and out of the control of the speaker, Adam. Hapless insolubility, in and of itself, can drive someone to suicide. But I also think it is possible that these lyrics describe the bearers of death themselves, if it happens to not be Adam. Either way, a near-death experience seems to be result.
If Antichrist Superstar immediately follows this…than the mystery at the center of the Hierophant song suite becomes clear. Adam is just waking up from what he expected to be his death. His memories of the preceding events (Holy Wood) are probably extremely garbled and- if Adam was in and out of consciousness following Count To Six and Die (The Valley) -those garbled memories are probably filtered through partial dreams as well. I therefore think that the Hierophant song suite depicts this garbled, dream-like set of memories. I think that the first two songs of The Inauguration of the Worm are Adam’s first moments in a fully conscious state.
If the point of departure for one album is a shift in Adam’s consciousness, the other point of departure may be as well.
Here we move closer to my personal interpretation of the story within the Triptych.
Each of the Triptych albums contains an atmospheric shift between the fourth and fifth songs. In Antichrist Superstar, the opening song suite contains the first four songs. The first song suite of Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death) also ends after the fourth song.
On Antichrist Superstar, this marks the transition from The Hierophant to Inauguration of the Worm. On Holy Wood, it marks the transition from In The Shadow to The Androgyne. While Mechanical Animals does not have named song suites like the others, this shift between the fourth and fifth songs (Rock Is Dead and Disassociative) is also significant.
Although Mechanical Animals does not have suite names printed on the back or in the booklet, it does contain song suites. Only two of them, though. The track listing of the vinyl release is divided into two distinct halves.
On one half, labeled Alpha, we got: The Great Big White World, Mechanical Animals, Disassociative, The Speed Of Pain, Posthuman, The Last Day On Earth and Coma White.
The other half, labeled Omega, is: The Dope Show, Rock Is Dead, I Want To Disappear, I Don’t Like the Drugs (But the Drugs Like Me), New Model No. 15, User Friendly and Fundamentally Loathsome.
Track four on the CD version, Rock Is Dead, is succeeded by Disassociative. The CD track listing of Mechanical Animals would have the following perspective shifts between the first five songs: Adam (The Great Big White World), Omega (The Dope Show), Mechanical Animals (Adam), Rock Is Dead (Omega) then Disassociative. The four to five transition then goes from one half to the other.
Adam now gets three songs in a row (Disassociative, The Speed Of Pain and Posthuman). Then five songs for Omega (I Want To Disappear, I Don’t Like The Drugs…, New Model No. 15, User Friendly and Fundamentally Loathsome). The album ends with Adam’s final two songs (The Last Day On Earth and Coma White…to say nothing of the fifteenth video track).
If the point of departure from Holy Wood to Mechanical Animals is a shift in consciousness…what can our frame of reference with the psychological segue between Holy Wood and Antichrist Superstar tell us?
If the two psychological segues are analogous…then maybe the altered state that leads into Mechanical Animals is equally dramatic, if not equally destructive. There is subject matter that Mechanical Animals deals with more than the other two. Dope Show, dope stars, “It’s time for recess, please roll up your sleeves”, “I had a dream last night, Cedar Rapids!”, the pill with the word ‘COMA’ etched into it…need I say more? Drugs. It’s drugs.
Or something? Whatever other dimensions there are to those lyrical themes, they also emphasize a consciousness shift. I know we’re supposed to have the source analysis behind us behind us by now, but there’s an interview where Manson almost- but not quite -offers explication on this. He said that the story of Holy Wood is about “an innocent who is offered forbidden fruit.” This fits, since the altered state that leads into Mechanical Animals is roughly at the beginning of the album.
The garbled, dream-filtered version of Holy Wood can indicate a way of interpreting the Mechanical Animals altered state within the centerpiece of Holy Wood. As The Hierophant is the recollection of Holy Wood within Antichrist Superstar, The Androgyne is the recollection of Mechanical Animals within Holy Wood.
Adam wakes up from Mechanical Animals within Holy Wood and wakes up from Holy Wood in Antichrist Superstar. Mechanical Animals, however, has no direct representation of either of the other thirds. From a psychological point of view, this could either indicate suppression or escape.
In an interview with NYROCK in September of 2000, Manson said that the Omega song called Rock Is Dead was a parody of a typical, “rebellious” rock song. Manson also alluded to a parallel song on Holy Wood which I suspect is Disposable Teens. This would make Holy Wood’s opening suite a mirror image of the opening suite of Antichrist Superstar.
In The Shadow is a moment of wakefulness before a vision. The Hierophant is a vision before waking. With this in mind, I think the first four songs on the CD edition of Mechanical Animals are the entry to a lucid dream. During the first glimpse of the dream, both Omega and Adam exist side by side. The following three songs, starting with Disassociative, are the first genuine exertion of will power over the dream. Psychological disassociation is a break from psychological context / continuity, which is often a trauma response. This could give us a way to understand the usage of the space imagery.
Like the real thing, the space metaphors represent a void between worlds, and the space imagery only appears in the songs attributed to Adam. The Speed Of Pain confirms this by description within it’s lyrics, detailing how emotions effect our perception of time. The imagery of falling on a bladed surface from The Reflecting God appears again, this time with the blades being identified as memories. The intermediary state between worlds is then equated with psychological transitions. These psychological images are soon identified with external images like photography and fame in Posthuman.
In these songs and the final two on the album, Adam mourns an inability to make meaningful contact in the external world: milk is devoured, seeds spilled at the feet of children, sad endings planted in gardens to be plucked by their “throats” for no better reason than that they’re pretty.
The isolation of space, to be abstracted between worlds, affords escape but also separation from one’s own internal worlds. One outraces the speed of pain by allowing their memories to recede into the blackness of space, now as separate as different lifetimes (“Yesterday was a million years ago / In all my past lives I played an asshole”).
It is also in the songs of Adam that we learn the most about the white in Coma White. In both philosophical and cosmological terms, the Triptych is set in an amoral universe. Darkness and light are forces of nature, not good and evil.
Light seems to behave a lot like real light and real fire: the light of a dead star is indistinguishable from a real one, rather like photographs. Adam was “a hand grenade that never stopped exploding.” In his first glimpse of the empty landscape of his lucid dream, he imagines himself as “a spaceman / Burnt like a moth in a flame / And the world was so fucking gone.” The white light of Mechanical Animals is implacable and inhumane in it’s hunger. Coma herself, in her own lines in the song Posthuman, says that “all that glitters is cold.” This is true even for Omega: “God is white and unforgiving.”
This imagery remains consistent in the vision of The Androgyne as well: “Angels with needles poke through our eyes” to reveal “the ugly light of the world.” In Diamonds & Pollen, a soundscape reminiscent of Mechanical Animals that was included on one of the Disposable Teens singles, monkeys braid thread with gold needles amid “brilliant sluts and fire worship.”
Another significant connection between The Androgyne and Mechanical Animals is a character glimpsed in the tenth chapter of the Holy Wood novel: President White. In a particularly uncanny and horrific moment, President White simply orders a new daughter after the loss of Coma. Later, there is a coffin salute that mirrors the footage of the child saluting Kennedy’s coffin.
This is a reach, but when I first read that chapter I felt an intuition that this has happened before in the White family. I wondered if both President White’s wife and daughter had been replaced multiple times. I was reminded of the character Jack: between Kinderfeld and the autobiography The Long Hard Road Out of Hell, it’s easy to make a connection to Marilyn Manson’s grandfather, Jack Warner. In Holy Wood, ‘Jack’ as an abbreviation of John F. Kennedy is a more obvious interpretation. As lyrical themes, divorced from any other context, the two ‘Jacks’ can be interpreted as separate.
Within the consistency of the world building, though, the usage of ‘Jack’ suggests that they represent a single character. In a novel or a film, it would make narrative sense to treat the Jack in both Holy Wood and Antichrist Superstar as the same person. In President Dead, a connection is made with the Jack in Cruci-Fiction In Space: “President Dead is clueless and he’s / Caught in a headlight police state / God in his skull is stained glass.” Both the President and Jack have receptacles for heads: one is a wine cup and the other filters incoming light. The latter in particular is reminiscent of Jack Warner, whose moldy basement window was described as stained glass in the memoir.
In President Dead, Adam speculates about this distant antagonist. In Kinderfeld, Adam describes an invasive and unwanted psychological echo of Jack that can seize control whenever it wants and can only be suppressed with pain. It is also just as possible that suppression moves Jack closer to the driver’s seat, though, and the Disintegrator persona could simply be a new expression of him. Whether genuine escape is achieved or if Adam simply becomes an even more voracious Jack is not clear.
Disposable humans that can easily be replaced is echoed elsewhere. In several interviews, Manson described Omega as ersatz. With him being the researcher that he is, I refuse to believe that he doesn’t know any other word for ‘fake.’ So what’s with that one, specifically? It means something offered in place of something else.
If Holy Wood is the strict beginning of the Triptych, then substitutes for family are introduced early: The Love Song introduces the symbolic language of children as bullets, loaded into guns to be aimed and fired by parents. In The Fight Song and Disposable Teens, Adam realizes this for the first time and throws himself into an impulsive battle against the status quo that turns individuals into commodities to be used and discarded (“The death of one is a tragedy / The death of millions is just a statistic”). In so doing, Adam unwittingly walks into his assigned identity as an expendable destructive force (“I wanna thank you mom / I wanna thank you dad / For bringing this fucking world / To a bitter end”). The words Narcissus Narcosis in the next song title communicate a descent into sleep and his internal world of dreams.
This is where we run into the real importance of psychological disassociation. Within Mechanical Animals, Adam alternates between black nothingless between worlds and a fantasy self as Omega, whose only thought is to take and consume as much as possible. Outside of Mechanical Animals, The Androgyne suite tells us that this entire episode is remembered in the worst possible light. Upon awakening during The Nobodies, Adam feels as if he received a cosmic vision telling him that the status quo is airtight and has no possible escape.
If the disassociated dream state after Disposable Teens is the “forbidden fruit” that Manson said was given to an “innocent”, then I think the suite called The Fallen is a calculated, weaponized use of the forbidden fruit. In Coma Black, Adam realizes that the object of his desire is dead and may have been dead for awhile. The placement of the song suggests that his discovery of the death of Coma was somehow a consequence of his second attack. If Coma may have been dead already than the question becomes: did the second, calculated use of the “forbidden fruit” kill Coma or did it simply reveal that she is dead?
From a poetic and musical perspective, the nature of the “forbidden fruit” can be a delicious and rich open-ended question. As is typical in the Triptych, the emotional, social and spiritual inflections are more clear than a literal event or object. This elevates the music to an equal footing with the narrative. The music has to drive it forward. It succeeds, in my opinion, and it’s the reason why the Triptych works as a “cumulative” album rather than musical theater.
From the point of view of a traditional, literal story, though…this just makes the nature of the “forbidden fruit” flatly mysterious. What exactly did Adam encounter during his first, juvenile act of rebellion in Disposable Teens? Was it a mind-altering drug? A weapon? Some sort of omniscience? Something drug-like seems likely to me, but until we actually see the novel or the film, we can’t really know.
There is another a fictional character that I’m surprised is not discussed as frequently as Coma White or Adam: The Hierophant. While this is more defensible than my feeling about President White using and replacing his family like Kleenex…it’s still far from a sure thing.
This is especially murky given the world-building so far. A love story is at the center in the beginning: Adam and Coma seem to exist “literally”, other characters less so.
Even if the usage of the name Jack has various non-literal meanings (Kennedy, Jack Warner, etc.), there is still a fictional point of view named Adam. When this fictional speaker / POV says the name Jack, it is natural to wonder if Adam is discussing memories of a person or is interacting with them in the present.
Or could the existence of Jack be like the existence of Omega or the Disintegrator? I wrote awhile ago that I think the song Kinderfeld describes a mental “echo” of Jack that exists in the mind of Adam. I clearly think that there is room for both. I have also made it clear that I think President White and Jack are the same character, at least on some level.
I’m belaboring all this because, after the brush with death at the end of Holy Wood, we immediately meet someone who is filling the same niche as Jack. This period immediately after the attempt on Adam’s life is also a blend of memories and dreams. Even if the buzzing, mechanical voice at the beginning of Irresponsible Hate Anthem resembles Jack, it must be more of a dream-figure than an actual memory. An amalgam, as the feller says.
The opening song suite on Antichrist Superstar is called The Hierophant. The appearance of a new name suggests a new presence. It follows in my assessment that this new presence is simply the amalgam. The only “new” thing is a combination of dreams and memory. It may possess qualities that Adam remembers from Jack, but what did Adam do before he almost died? He made a last stand through the same means that created the altered state of Mechanical Animals.
Upon awakening, during the Of Red Earth suite, Adam no longer had access to the peaceful isolation of disassociation. The isolation enabled fantasies of becoming the hungry, unstoppable light that Adam once found threatening.
When Adam wakes up, the dissipation of the fantasy leaves the sour taste of complete bullshit, which then curdled into resentment and hatred. The side of Adam that the shouting, militant followers saw during The Fall Of Adam and King Kill 33 probably was not the same side that Adam saw of himself during Mechanical Animals. They saw an Adam whose ideals had been suffocated and replaced by the fury of the vengeful.
If Jack supplied memories for the amalgam, those final moments of righteous fury and despair supplied the dreams. This, I believe, is the ranting demagogue of Adam’s near-death fever dream. In my “reading” of the Triptych, this amalgam is what the suite title “The Hierophant” refers to, both an interpreter of mysteries and a mystery himself.
In the troubled nightmares before consciousness, this amalgam is both unstoppable and seductive. Adam is powerless to do anything but submit, regardless of what the amalgam-being demands of him (Irresponsible Hate Anthem & The Beautiful People).
While submission entails communion with other followers, Adam enjoys a kind of privacy: the emotional bluntness of the herd leaves him no outlet. He is then alone with his emotions and self-knowledge, which has an almost meditative security (Dried Up, Tied and Dead to the World).
This next transition is one of the strongest and most interesting in the Triptych. For a work of art that is so complex and bombastic and colorful, it also contains powerful moments of subtlety. The succession of Tourniquet from Dried Up, Tied and Dead to the World depicts the tension between one’s private thoughts and the memories of others. Memories that impose relationships or other demands from the outside world.
The available chapter of the Holy Wood novel depicts Adam and Coma as lovers separated from one another. For those who have lost someone they love, it feels as though that person continues to exist in your thoughts. It’s been my experience, anyway. Adam had no knowledge of Coma’s death until after the fact. His belief was an impression of her that, for awhile, was alive longer than her body was.
There are some truly complicated emotional dynamics here. Adam’s dream companion, derived from the memory of Coma, is a fellow traveler with Adam across the veil. At this point, Adam is in a delirious stupor and probably believes himself dead. In one way, Adam and Coma achieved the impossible together and escaped death. In another way, Adam is alone with the lifeless remains of his love.
A personal note that may effect my perception of this: I have Borderline Personality Disorder, a mental illness that disposes one to black and white emotional reactions. To be more specific, black and white emotional responses to how we perceive relationships. These emotions concern our self-image: if anything goes wrong, those of us with BPD are likely to think it is because there is something wrong with ourselves. We have a masochistic tendency to feel like we are either pure evil or nothing. Literally, nothing: we feel either like we don’t exist or that our existence is less real than the existence of others.
Adam seems to have a lot of BPD characteristics. The Mechanical Animals altered state went from pure light to a miserable false promise. This desolation and fury blend with his self-image, like someone with BPD. This “worst possible version” of himself is seen, in the delirious world of his dreams, as a separate person. This personification is a keeper of knowledge that Adam wishes he did not have.
Perhaps the Hierophant amalgam is the keeper of the memories of what literally happened during the events masked by the fever dream. Maybe they are things that only the worst version of himself can claim to know.
This is most definitely a postmodern story. The narrator is far from reliable and what the narrator feels is often more clear than what the narrator describes. It is on this level that one of the more dramatic moments in the Triptych occurs: Adam experiences a depth of masochism at which he begins to identify as the bearer of all evil and the deserving sacrifice: “Make your victim my head.” Adam believes his head is worth more to someone else as a sacrifice than it is to himself. The word choice is also reminiscent of the digression within the available chapter of the Holy Wood, when the narration mentions the Celtic linguistic root of the name “Kennedy”, meaning ‘ugly or wounded head.’
This same metaphorical language is how sacrifice is described in the third and fourth songs of Antichrist Superstar. Adam visualizes himself as a desiccated bundle, held together only by its’ bindings, connecting two souls. As per BPD catastrophising, if it fails to hold together then Adam will blame himself first and exonerate the other. The other who, in the continuity of the story, represents the memory of Coma.
Tied Up, Dried and Dead to the World transitioning to Tourniquet reveals the tension between the binding memories of others and one’s private thoughts. But what is it Adam thinks about in such privacy? Coma. Adam slips the compulsory bonds of all relationships only to treasure a lost relationship in solitude. The BPD tendencies that cause Adam to offer himself as the exonerating blood-payment for all evil also prioritize service to others in utter privacy, in both the privacy of his dream and in the army of brutal followers therein, whose psycholoical flatlines are as good as total privacy.
So. The white of the black and white emotions could compel Adam to think that he and Coma escaped death and therefore accomplished the impossible together. The black in the black and white emotions demands Adam’s total submission to preserve the second, non-physical existence of Coma. This could satisfy Adam’s fantasy of turning back the clock on her death while appeasing the blood-price for the emergence of Adam’s worst possible version of himself.
Before moving on: I do not necesessarily believe that Marilyn Manson himself has Borderline Personality Disorder. I’m not a psychiatrist. But those who do have BPD will recognize emotional dynamics within the Triptych that look intimately familiar. It is also equally likely that Manson was writing about a character with BPD tendencies- perhaps, like the Hierophant himself, the character Adam is an amalgam of observation and imagination. I mentioned BPD in the first place because the resemblance is strong, regardless of what the case actually may be.
There is another, less melancholy element in Adam’s fever dream. As one of the Major Arcana of the Tarot, the Hierophant may represent a link to genuine truth or holiness. The Hierophant may also embody a negative inversion of this: not truth but orthodoxy, not wisdom but power, not insight but bigotry.
If this is part of the Hierophant of Adam’s dreams, then this upside-down prophet would have acolytes after his own heart. His clergy would be the privileged and the powerful: The Beautiful People.
Most explicitly in Antichrist Superstar and Holy Wood, the Triptych examines the role of tribalism in human nature. For a stark look at this, compare Irresponsible Hate Anthem and Count To Six and Die (The Valley).
I have not spent a lot of time dwelling on the political levels of meaning within the Triptych because, in general, I think they are accessable enough on the surface. The continuity of the symbolism and storytelling requires it at this point, though.
I am convinced that Antichrist Superstar is as deeply political as Holy Wood. The opening lines of Irresponsible Hate Anthem represent a reductio-ad-absurdum of capitalism. Literally anything can be sold if someone wants to buy it and it is the nature of the “All-American” to sell it. Everything is transitional and transactional. Everything has a price, and death is the ultimate transition and the ultimate transaction. The psychological sublty of the movement between Tied Up, Dried and Dead to the World and Tourniquet has a small appearance here as well: the Hierophant demagogue addresses their victim as if their victimhood is their personal identity. Adam later offers his head, which in Tourniquet is elevated by its’ status as a sacrifice beyond the value that Adam places in it himself.
The reductio-ad-absurdum continues in the second song. The Beautiful People measure the value of something based on whether or not it is available for them to posess or consume. The mindlessness of the frenzy creates the emotional privacy that Adam comes to luxuriate in during songs three and four.
Let us not forget that this visionary dreamscape is happening in the wake of Count To Six and Die (The Valley). The song opens with a loud metallic crash, followed by the rotating chambers of a revolver. Later, there are a few dry clicks, telling us that the Roullette wheel landed on an empty chamber. There is another scenario involving guns that may or may not be loaded, though.
In the late nineteenth to early twentieth century, firing squad executions employed a detail of about six men, some with loaded guns and others with blanks. In On Killing: Learning to kill in war and society by Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman, a military psychologist, it says that studies in the early twentieth centuy revealed that most soldiers deliberately missed a lot of the time, or “aimed high.” This was because most people are in fact unwilling to kill. This supports a wider claim made by Grossman that a scientific comparison between destructive potential paired with the number of people who did die in World War I and World War II. Those numbers were vast, but the destructive potential of the weapons of the day would have enabled even more deaths if they were used as deliberately and destructively as possible.
Grossman states that this was the reason why a firing squad had five rifles loaded with blanks and only one with real ammunition: the psychological cost of killing is simply too high for most people to accept. The current story beat in the Triptych describes the followers of the Hierophant amalgam, a class of people interested exclusively in what they can own and exploit. The owned and exploited are a second class. A binary class war is as good a display of human tribalism as it gets, short of what we would recognize as “normal” war.
So what does this bring to a possible interpretation of Count To Six and Die (The Valley)? Establishments are self-perpetuating. Capitalist establishments share the economic philosophy of cancer cells: unregulated growth. If an establishment is “too big to fail,” then it needs a way of using humans to do things that a human may or may not want to. The ruling class that maintains this infallibility, therefore, need to be shielded from moral responsibility as much as soldiers in a warzone or a firing squad.
If this historical nuance is any part of our interpretation of the beat between the last song of Holy Wood and the first song of Antichrist Superstar, this consequence-free exploitation is also a luxury enjoyed by the Beautiful People. We would also be remiss if we didn’t consider the possibility that the fever dream before Innauguration of the Worm is a fantasy that protects Adam from what the worst possible version of himself knows. The lyrics in these songs and throughout refer to suppression frequently: “I better better better not say this / Better better better not tell”…”This is what you should fear / You are what you should fear…”
The linguistic pedant in me even wants to consider the construction of the word ‘innauguration.’ It contains the ‘augur’ phoneme, meaning to predict. A ‘hierophant’ is one who deciphers and interprets ancient mysteries.
I’ve actually bent over backwards a little bit to avoid dwelling too much on classical psychoanalytic reading of the Triptych. Sigmund Freud was a bad scientist by any modern standard. I find classical psychoanalysis hard to take seriously. That being said…Antichrist Superstar starts with a vision and moves onto a jarring, traumatic awakening. The suite that depicts the awaking contains a linguistic hint of auguring, or prophecy. There is no getting around the implication: after the vision, the awakening is itself foretold. This suggests a subconscious influence of the vision stretching into waking life. Perhaps this is the influence that is unmasked in the song Kinderfeld, which could bring us full circle to Jack setting the mental mold for the persona called the Disintigrator.
The movement between the fourth and fifth songs on Holy Wood is an outburst followed by introspection. The four to five movement on Antichrist Superstar is introspection followed by an outburst.
However I think the transition between Disposable Teens and Target Audience (Narcissus Narcosis) is more aptly mirrored in the first two songs of Innauguration of the Worm: Little Horn and Cryptorchid.
Mirrored most aptly- a mirror image is an opposite-inverse. The outburst comes first: Little Horn is relentlessly driving, almost a single verse with one line for a partial chorus. Cyptorchid is similarly unconventional: one verse followed by an abrupt key change with a single line repeated over and over again.
On the subject of Cryptorchid…under what circumstances might a “worm consume the boy”? There’s probably only one interpretation that comes easily to mind: burial, perhaps murder. We’ve encountered burial and penetration like this before: A Place in the Dirt, with angels carrying needles to reveal the “ugly light of the world”. This also feels like an echo of a short story that Marilyn Manson attempted to publish before his music career took off: a mentally ill, housebound man murders his sister and has sex with her dead body. Later, he is buried alive with his eyes sewn shut. This is an idea that had been in Manson’s mind before he even began actively pursuing music.
Yet Adam, himself, is frequently identified as the Worm throughout Antichrist Superstar. This could mean that Adam is drawing nourishment from the death of his innocence. Oh- the worm does not consume the child, the worm consumes “the boy.” In Kinderfeld, the line “There’s no one left to save ourself” is attributed to The Boy in the printed lyrics. The voice of Jack is unintelligible noise somewhere between a whistle and a machine, as if even the memory of Jack is too horrible to listen closely to.
If The Hierophant is a fever dream, then Little Horn and Cryptorchid are perhaps both a panicked spasm upon awakening and the first remembrance of what just happened. This remembrance is the first, fully-concsious stock-taking of the dream. Deformography is a rageful bloodletting that openly flaunts the black and white emotional mania of BPD: “I’ll lift you up like the sweetest angel / I’ll tear you down like a whore” and at the same time the speaker expresses helplessness in their rage: “I’ll make myself sick just to poison you”. Adam may have woken up from his fever dream but still feels the instinctive submission that he experienced in his dream, under the Hierophant created by his mind. Adam feels as if he can’t act on his own so his only path forward is mutually-assured destruction. Perhaps this overture toward waging a war against himself is an outgrowth of Adam consuming his prior state of being in Cryptorchid.
The world that he naively attempts to reason with (Wormboy) simply drags him back (Mister Superstar, Angel with the Scabbed Wings) to the version of himself that was hidden by his dreams of the Hierophant. This leaves us with the moment of anguished helplessness and self-awareness in Kinderfeld, before the appearance of the Disintigrator in the Triptych’s final movement.
This bears out the possibility of a subconscious influence from the fever dream reaching outward into Adam’s awakening. The auguring bound the Worm as firmly as his own soiled twine until he was forced to look the puppet master of his subconscious in the face and attempt to transcend it.
This brings us to the actual song called Antichrist Superstar, which carries a well-worn theme from earlier: things offered in place of something else, copies, clones, “xeroxes.” If the world wants the illusion of the Hierophant, then Adam will give it to them to secure his own freedom: “I shed my skin to feed the fake…cut the head off / Grows back hard / I am the Hydra / Now you’ll see your star”. Adam has blamed himself for everything he possibly can- now that path is dulled beyond feeling. There is nowhere to go but outward. If the world wants to take their Hierophant from him, then Adam will give it with the unbound masochism of one incapable of feeling pain or anything else. From here until the end, Adam tests the reality of the world he lives in to the point of obliteration. In the process, he fulfills the augury exerted by the Hierophant dream: on track 99, feedback envelopes a mechanical voice saying “When you are suffering, know that I…” and snuffs it out before it can finish it’s sentence. In the hallucinatory rally or concert where the dream of the Hierophant first appears, the sentence is completed: “When you are suffering, know that I have betrayed you.”
As an ending, the cyclical relationship between the Hierophant and the Disintegrator works better in a non-literal way: on uniquely lyrical terms. The Triptych is an innovative exploration of what the album is capable of as a medium, but stays within that format. A further step into musical theater or literal storytelling would lift the central burden off of the music and replace it with plot construction. I believe that music bears the standard best. Like the printed word, the special effects are more to my liking. At least if intimacy with the mind of an audience is a strength that the artist wants to make use of. All artistic mediums succeed when they invoke experiences outside of their medium. Great film and visual art create experiences that are not just visual, great literature creates experiences that go beyond language and great music goes further than sound. I have known Coma and Adam for most of my life as figures in a psychedellic, beautiful and transformative musical epic and I believe Marilyn Manson made the right choice.
1. Inauguration of The Mechanical Christ (TLTOE)
2. The Reflecting God (TLTOE)
3. The Great Big White World (TLTOE)
4. The Love Song
5. Little Horn
7. Disposable Teens
8. Target Audience (Narcissus Narcosis)
10. Cruci-Fiction In Space
11. The Beautiful People
End of hypothetical disc 1 and beginning of hypothetical disc 2
1. Born Again
2. I Don’t Like The Drugs (But The Drugs Like Me)
3. Diamonds & Pollen
4. The Last Day On Earth (studio version)
5. In the Shadow of the Valley of Death
6. I Want To Disappear
7. Coma White
8. Valentine’s Day
9. The Fall of Adam
10. King Kill 33
11. Count To Six and Die (The Valley)
1. Mechanical Animals
2. Irresponsible Hate Anthem
4. Burning Flag
5. Rock Is Dead
6. Lamb of God
7. Dried Up, Tied and Dead to the World
8. Fundamentally Loathsome
9. The Reflecting God (studio version)
10. Coma Black
11. Antichrist Superstar
12. Astonishing Panorama Of The End Times
13. Man That You Fear
14. The Last Day On Earth (TLTOE)