The Christian references sound natural for a reason. It’s a strummy, acoustic folk song and when Warren sang those particular lyrics he affected a whoop-like blue-grass vocalization.
American folk music evolved alongside American gospel music. It’s the reason why we expect to hear Christianity more often in country and in the roots of R&B.
I was raised with an ethnic spirituality in a heavily Christian environment. This tradition came down through my mother’s side of the family. My father was raised with a soft Methodist emphasis but has been an agnostic for as long as he’s been making his own decisions.
My parents got divorced just before my eleventh birthday. My mom was approaching her late thirties and my dad was almost forty. He was open about how much the inevitability of death weighed on his thoughts.
This was an intense time for my dad and I but also a precious time. He began working at the printing press at the local newspaper, sorting papers and delivering them at night in his van. Consequently, he slept during the day more often and was forced to economize his energy. Between errands in town, he would often take naps in his van. He kept it well-stocked with junk food.
The van was also where I heard most of his music. Which brings us back to Warren Zevon. Dad had just discovered Life’ll Kill Ya, which was probably Zevon’s most recent album at the time.
My parents had shared custody so I spent time with both of them. Once, when a psychiatrist asked the right question in the right way, I became unusually open. I spoke plainly about gender dysphoria and constant sleep deprivation. Including the more gruesome intrusive thoughts.
Doctor told mom and mom told dad. I had already been aware of how news like this impacted them both and I had developed a sense of responsibility about it. Broaching these topics with them never helped.
Those events happened about a year after dad discovered Life’ll Kill Ya but both dysphoria and insomnia hallucinations were present well before that year. Death was on my dad’s mind for one reason and it was on my mind for another, but it was in both of our thoughts.
And it was in Warren’s thoughts because of cancer.
Warren Zevon being Warren Zevon, he could not separate spirituality from its relevance to death. For a million good reasons, of course- both spirituality and death are encounters with the unknown. Ditto for Christianity.
When I first heard I Was In The House When The House Burned Down, I wondered if my dad was reconnecting with Methodism. If he had been, it would not necessarily have driven any sort of wedge between us. I had Christian peers who were nasty little proselytizers but my dad was a very different person than them. And then I heard the rest of the album.
My dad and I both agree that the last three albums of Zevon’s career are extremely different from the rest of his discography. Warren Zevon was always a talented writer and lyricist but, in the final three albums, lyrics and ideas seized the foreground. Since Life’ll Kill Ya was my introduction to Warren Zevon, his earlier work felt different. Whimsical, witty and interesting, but different. I liked his simple and earnest approach to storytelling, exemplified in songs like Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner, a ballad about a Danish mercenary who met his end in Africa. I was also captivated by Stephen King’s Dark Tower novels by then, so I couldn’t resist a romantic story about a phantom gunslinger named Roland. I was also taken by songs like Carmelita and The French Inhaler, which were emotional portraits conveyed with simple, poetic narratives.
This poetic storytelling is present in his last three albums, just situated in more of a conceptual framework. I was watching the Orville episode called Gently Falling Rain last night with my wife and afterward, while she was busy, I listened to Genius from Warren Zevon’s My Ride’s Here.
The episode had three main characters: a human diplomat, an alien demagogue and their half-breed child. Both the diplomat and the demagogue are exceptional, powerful people in their own right. The exceptional qualities that can amass power can also make one isolated. Power itself can be seen as a kind of isolation. In Stephen King’s final Dark Tower novel, the character Ted Brautigan says that gifted people usually feel like fifth wheels.
My dad told me, shortly after the divorce happened, that dying alone was one of his deepest fears. Judging from the albums Life’ll Kill Ya and My Ride’s Here, Warren was also haunted by the prospect of loneliness before unknown. In the song Genius, the explicit narrative is a love triangle with comparisons made to historical figures. On a less explicit level, the song describes how unique people can hurt each other in ways that others cannot. It insinuates that the experience of profound isolation can teach dreadful lessons of self-preservation that can prepare you to deceive and abandon the ones you love.
On My Ride’s Here, Genius follows another track called Hit Somebody! (The Hockey Song), which follows You’re A Whole Different Person When You’re Scared. Hit Somebody! is also about the pain of alienation. Our main character, Buddy, is a Canadian farm boy who “grew up big” and “grew up tough” but was let down by his coordination:
Hesaw himself scoring for the Wings or Canucks
Buthe wasn’t that good with a puck
Buddy’s real talent was beating people up
Hisheart wasn’t in it but the crowd ate it up
Through pee-wee’s, juniors and midgets and mites
He musthave racked up more than six-hundred fights
Ascout from the flames came down from Saskatoon
Said “We’ve always got room for a goon
Son, we’ve always got room for a goon”
Buddy loved the game and wanted to score goals like any other player. But his only value to the team was his ability to protect the fast players and beat the crap out of the good players on the other team. To a lot of people, this sounds like a quirky, off-beat story. It is quirky and offbeat, in a way. The quirkiness is accentuated by David Letterman yelling “hit somebody!” during the chorus. My dad ordered the CD single before My Ride’s Here was released. I remember the single disc had For My Next Trick I’ll Need a Volunteer after the Hockey Song.
On the album, though, the song is sandwiched between You’re A Whole Different Person When You’re Scared and Genius. Someone like Buddy cannot escape his rural self-awareness. He is valued for something other than the game itself, which can make you feel out of your depth. Anything about you that sets you apart can make you self-conscious if your value in a group is incidental to the group itself. The quirky appearance is then equated with alienation. The chorus says as much: “(b)rains over brawn, that might work for you / but what’s a Canadian farm boy to do”. Buddy is constantly reminded of his difference from the rest of the team and he can only score his goal by exposing himself to a goon on the other team.
This narrative is also present on Life’ll Kill Ya. The third song is Porcelain Monkey, one of Warren’s iconic lyrical sketches of Elvis, opposite Jesus Mentioned. Both of those songs look back on Elvis from a time after his death. Jesus Mentioned is reverent and the earnestness is depicted by the path of reverence taking one beyond the ugliness of death and addiction. In contrast, Porcelain Monkey is like a bitter, spiteful look backward. A journey that starts as “an accident waiting to happen” and ends in a lonely death with a figurine used to smuggle drugs.
If one looks for songs that depict an obvious narrative on Life’ll Kill Ya, you might be tempted to stop at two songs: Porcelain Monkey and Ourselves to Know. Songs that rely strongly on idiomatic constructions tend to be more conversational than narrative, like the title track or For My Next Trick I’ll Need a Volunteer. Life’ll Kill Ya has some fun gray areas, though.
Novel uses of idioms and commonly understood metaphors engage a prior frame of reference. They rely on a base of knowledge that the listener might show up with on their own. They begin in a way that’s engaged with others. Songs like Hostage-O, My Shit’s Fucked Up and Don’t Let Us Get Sick derive strength from the opposite end of the spectrum, of something spoken in solitude.
I remember I was fifteen by the time I started to appreciate Ourselves to Know and it was because I was ripping my dad’s CD on a disc-writing machine my mom installed in her stereo. I had to start and stop each song. It required a little more attention than recording a blank tape. Since I pretty much had to listen to the whole album in order to make the copy, I had to make sure to stop the disc-writer at the same time the song ended. This was easier if I just hung out next to the stereo and listened to each song closely. When I got to Ourselves to Know, the second to last song, it became one of my favorite lyrics. It still is.
Among my favorites on the Life’ll Kill Ya song cycle, Ourselves to Know shares the title of favorite with Don’t Let Us Get Sick. Jill Sobule would perform that song often when she toured with Warren and he would cover her song I Kissed a Girl, lending his own quirkiness to a male gender-flip of a song about romance between females. After Warren’s death, she offered her cover to the tribute album Enjoy Every Sandwich and it’s probably my favorite from that collection. On a mix CD I made as a teenager, I put Jill Sobule’s cover of Don’t Let Us Get Sick after You Got Lucky by Tom Petty and before Exploration B / Haunted, by Poe.
That energy-exchange reminds me of a mix CD I made after finishing the Dark Tower series. After Warren’s song Genius, I placed a live version of Wash My Hands by Meredith Brooks. Before the end of Roland’s pilgrimage, he loses three companions who all gave him a second chance but were simply not meant to follow him to the end. In the past, he made grievous sacrifices for his grail…and he learns that to seek his grail is to acknowledge that it is meant for him alone. To love others is to know that their own paths are as binding as his own.
When I was planning the mix CD, Ourselves to Know felt like the perfect transition to the end, but it’s just so tranquil and reflective. What that story transition felt like, as I read it, was reflective but not tranquil. Musically, Genius to Wash My Hands was a better match. Meredith’s screaming, war-like chorus could have come from Roland himself.
I have vague memories of reading a biography of Warren Zevon that quoted a reaction that Jackson Browne had to Life’ll Kill Ya. He said that it began with the Crucifixion and ends with the Crusades. If Ourselves to Know is the Crusades, I Was In The House When The House Burned Down must be the Crucifixion. Sure enough, it mentions “the man with the thorny crown” and his cross. “I had to stay in the underground” has a number of probable non-religious interpretations, but thanks to Ourselves to Know and Jackson Browne I’m tempted to make a connection to both early and medieval Christianity. Early Christianity because of the persecuted Christians hiding in Mediterranean catacombs, medieval Christianity because of Les Innocents cemetery in Paris. Disputes between Parisian nobility and the Christian Church often centered on how to manage the overflowing volume of corpses in Paris throughout the Middle Ages. Andreas Vesalius made significant anatomical studies on the bodies crowded within Les Innocents. The grisly historical art in the album booklet make similar associations.
Ourselves to Know details the reflections of someone at the end of a “long hard road”. A journey may start with the most sublime visions but never cease to be true to yourself and those you encounter along the way. If nothing else, you will certainly know yourself better.
Well well well. Tim Skold ‘liked’ my insta post when I got his Dead God album in the mail. There’s no way I’m not gonna review it then ^^
(I intended to do this a long time ago when it actually happened but I had a few more entries that I thought I could finish first)
This EP is a very pleasant blindside. Since this was recorded between the 2002 reformation of KMFDM and a separate project MDFMK and widely circulated during the Grotesk Burlesk tour in ’03, I had no idea what to expect.
Most of my memories of KMFDM are from their mid-nineties material which (in my opinion) was heavy, rhythmic and relentless. As relentless and driving as a lot of club-oriented music from Northern Europe in the mid 90’s, like Lords of Acid. Tim Skold’s collaboration with Marilyn Manson on The Golden Age of Grotesque was rhythmic and heavy but a little less married to the common hallmarks of industrial metal with some clear classic rock influence.
The title track has a swing-like rhythm and syncopation which reminded me of Doll-Dagga Buzz-Buzz Ziggedy-Zag. The percussion slaps on every song but the title track is a decent showcase of what’s on offer. In general, though, Dead God is distinct from both KMFDM and Skold’s work with Marilyn Manson. Musically, the whole thing is very tightly written and very glam rock. This adds a little context to the genre-savviness he brought to both The Golden Age of Grotesque and Eat Me, Drink Me. I was also pleasantly surprised to hear Tim Skold singing.
My favorite song on this is If, but the title track and Don’t Pray For Me get stuck in my head a lot. If this material was released as an album in 2002-03, I suspect one of those last two would be obvious choices for singles. My favorites from the second side of the record are Believe, I Hate and Don’t Ask Me, all of which sound like they would be amazing live.
The apparent discipline is even more impressive considering that Dead God was written, recorded and produced only by Skold.
The first time I heard Red Black and Blue I misheard the first lines sung after the spoken-word intro. What I heard was “Set fire to the Tree of Life / love or death / just to watch the suffering”.
For my entire first listen, that question felt like the crux of the album. Do our fundamental passions drive us to destroy ourselves or do they push life forward to its natural and appropriate conclusion?
This remains front and center in the title track. Chaos cannot be cured but the influence it has over existence often feels adversarial. We have all heard some variation of “change or die.” One of my artistic heroes (equal in stature to Marilyn Manson) is William S. Burroughs. This very question was often at the center of Burroughs’ writing, from Junky to The Western Lands. Burroughs wrote that life is defined by process and change and that all pleasure is rooted in relief. Relief is the absence of suffering and suffering is a predictable consequence of process and change. The allure of addiction is relief from life itself.
The Book of Job and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s telling of the Faust story discuss whether suffering is “evil” or if it is endemic to the nature of life. It is common for those fresh off of bad relationships to say “I wasted X years on that POS.” Or “X years of marriage, gone because of (infidelity, substance abuse, etc. by the offending party).” This reveals an unspoken attitude that something has been debited from our lives. The phrasing has a close association with what we mean when we talk about “wasting” one’s life or time.
Claiming that suffering is objectively necessary arouses comparisons with social Darwinism and social accelerationism. Historically and ideologically, those concepts gravitate toward fascism. On the other hand, Marcel Proust held that his most valuable experiences happened while suffering. The question of suffering is shaped profoundly by context. Does a thwarted intention indicate waste? What about the intentions of one who causes waste?
Sooner or later, free will enters the equation. Are we or are we not empowered to choose our own goals and evaluate our own success, failure or contentment? If we are, what about everything beside our priorities? John Lennon said that life is what happens when you are making other plans.
If the camera of your mind is always running whether you are happy, miserable, safe, unsafe, in or out of control…then there will be more footage of things not going according to plan.
“Love or death” might be more vague than “not for death”, but I like my misunderstanding. It suggests that the fire consuming the Tree of Life might be love, death or both.
Not that I’d sell short the spoken word part. I love how quintessentially Mansonian the word play is, like the echoing shapes and voids in various contexts. A needle in a void, followed by a snake on the surface of water. Next is a bee in mid-air. It reminds me of the lyrics to Bowie’s Rock’n Roll Suicide: “Time takes a cigarette / puts it in your mouth / you pull on your finger, than another finger / then you’re a cigarette”.
There is an associative continuity between the beings in the void. This continuity, for me, is almost stronger than the apparent lyrical construction. If I might drift completely into hyperbole for a while, these lyrics are more visual than poetic. It reminds me of David Lynch (in a good way). When the music video for the title track came out, I wondered if the use of digitally manipulated photographs and industrial imagery was expressing a David Lynch influence.
Let us not forget the music, though: Don’t Chase The Dead is a gloriously simple wonder. It feels like musical territory that Marilyn Manson must be familiar with. It reminds me of how The Birthday Massacre channel the legacy of Siouxsie and the Banshees. That influence is closer to Marilyn Manson than them, but this is the only song Manson has written that sounds like it. The understated use of keyboards and rattling percussion bring a lot to the song. It is a subtle but effective way of bridging the goth-alt country energy exchange between Manson and Shooter Jennings.
I mentioned in my first We Are Chaos review that each song beautifully segues into the next. This is especially true with the songs that are the most different from any other Marilyn Manson material: Paint You With My Love and Half-Way & One Step Forward. The lyrical treatment of “the void” comes closer to the foreground in these songs. Subject matter includes the value of memories and the potential for blindness within “calculated” incrementalism.
Closer to the end of the album, the dynamism between Manson and Shooter becomes nearly as pronounced as Paint You With My Love and Half-Way & One Step Forward. That same energy exchange can be heard during Solve Coagula, which has lyrics that echo words I’ve heard in my own head many times: “there’s no one else I want to be like / so I stay the same like nobody else”.
In the lyrics of the final song, the meaning of the word ‘needle’ is a matter of perspective. In an Apple Music interview coinciding with the release of We Are Chaos, Manson suggested that it could be the needle of a record player. This reminds me of Manson’s online journal entry immediately preceding Lest We Forget in which he wrote about “all (his) goddamn Frankensteins coming back for some sick closure.” It creates the impression of Manson’s art having its own autonomous existence. Like all art, it becomes separate from its creator.
There is a more intuitive lyrical connection, though: the needle in the horror that can fix your blindness. The associative transformations (needle, snake, bee) can distract us from the backdrop. What does a needle do? It pierces and connects. Using a needle to “fix your blindness” almost conjures the image of a child poking holes in something to give it eyes.
This could lead to the autonomous creation: the thing that gets scratched and put away, never to be played again. Or, if the needle scratches a surface before breaking, maybe there is nowhere for it to go.
Perfume and Keep My Head Together both reminded me of an essay that Marilyn Manson wrote immediately before the release of The Golden Age of Grotesque called Putting Holes In Happiness.
Around the same time, a forum called The Oracle was created on Manson’s website where fans could post questions and possibly receive a public reply. One poster said that they knew someone experiencing a suicidal crisis. In Manson’s response, he included a link to this essay.
Putting Holes In Happiness describes a pernicious subtext to the 90’s, gen-X-led celebration of individuality. Other alternative musicians from the same era, like Billy Corgan, have talked about the gen-X effort at demystifying psychological catharsis as one of the strengths of that generation. Corgan has claimed that he set a unique example by discussing subjects like personal, childhood trauma with the press. There is something to be said for that: obviously, a social climate where psychological struggle is not stigmatized is one where it is easier to get help. Manson himself has not minced words about his personal history.
An unfortunate consequence, though, is the potential of privileging a personal narrative over the deeper, interpretive possibilities that art needs in order to survive. Resonance is the lifeblood of art and, if everything is a strict, literal, memoir-like personal statement…it discourages the spread of resonance.
It also has more superficially annoying consequences, such as the proliferation of psychoanalytic interpretation. Art is frequently reduced to a veiled autobiographical statement. It creates a culture where college students and high schoolers feel like literature only “comes to life” when they are given a SparkNotes study guide. This would make the life or background of an artist a better key to their work than their own art. This elevates a factual narrative over interpretation.
This correlates with the rise of social media and the influencer / social media personality. Inevitably this impacted the relationship between celebrities and their fans. The exhibition of a public personality is now as much of a point of contact between the public and an artist as the artist’s material.
When personality and autobiography are privileged above everything else, discussion of personal meaning and motivation dominates the conversation. When someone sounds off about politics, philosophy or art, it is now easier to speculate about their unstated mental and emotional motivations than listening to their words. One might say that the line between pathology and empowerment has been blurred.
In The Golden Age of Grotesque, there are three songs that are explicitly about this blurring: (s)AINT, KA-BOOM KA-BOOM and The Bright Young Things. The last two are particularly relevant.
KA-BOM KA-BOOM describes the futility of an existence in which everything is only relatable to the most directly personal values. All interaction with the outside world is barely distinguishable from a consumer choice. If the outside world has any value, it is as an occasion for the inner world.
This, for Marilyn Manson, is a bit of a challenging undertaking: one of the defining statements of his career is the origin of meaning within the self. At the same time, this is precedented. Even on Antichrist Superstar, his signature work in the eyes on many, the crab-bucket homicide of capitalism is discussed in the first two songs.
To clarify, I do not think Manson has ever ceased to believe that the origin of meaning is personal. But songs like (s)AINT, KA-BOOM KA-BOOM and The Bright Young Things reveal his awareness of gray areas.
Social reinforcement has a way of shaping our internal worlds. When consumerism is your only window on existence, autonomy is traded for expression. Without action, little else remains. Social media has made it easier than ever for our pain and angst to be offered to us as a consolation prize for the surrender of our autonomy.
This adds depth to Manson’s reply to the suicidal fan on the Oracle forum: do not accept your own suffering as payment.
This album, for me, is in event. I have known Rachel- the frontwoman of dedbutherflys -for over ten years. We met online, when we were what the world now calls “eggs.” We bonded as we read each other’s online journals and later saw more of each other than anyone else may have, at that point in our lives. She listened to me talk about my stories and she told me how things were going with her current band at the time, 11:34. She taught me everything I know about sludge metal and introduced me to the music of Acid Bath and Cancerslug. We hit agonizing brick walls together and talked each other through. She sent me pictures when 11:34 opened for Otep, in Pennsylvania.
And here we are, then. Rachel’s first album, a solo effort under the name dedbutherflys, recorded in collaboration with Taylor Kouqj Bull of Seventh Wave Studio, in Harrisburg, PA (who is a musician herself- her own material is created under the name Kouqj). On to the music, then!
Catatonic Despair is an instrumental but not quite what I would call a normal intro. The opening notes sound like slow beats with gentle echoes between them. If you don’t pay attention to the track sucesssion, it sounds like an extended beginning to Back On Da Liquor, which is when we hear Rachel’s voice for the first time. Lyrically, Back On Da Liquor describes a world that refuses to listen to you melting into a silent and passive mental landscape, like a “natural habitat” of enforced loneliness. I also gotta mention that, during our long and passionate friendship, I didn’t get Rachel mad at me very often but…well…it’s happened before. She never went as far as yelling at me but I did learn to recognize a subtle build-up in her voice, just before it’s about to become elevated. This is my first time listening to Rachel sing and I never would have guessed how expressive that emotional build-up can be.
Back On Da Liquor is a slow burn of depressed ferocity which explodes to satisfying effect in Magic Murder Bag- if I’m ever able to see dedbutherflys or any of Rachel’s other bands live, this is one that I’ll be hoping for. This is the shit that headbanging was made for- an extended guitar part would make this delicious to be in the presence of. To say nothing of how beautifully the percussion comes out- which would be Rachel herself on drums and Taylor Kouqj Bull on bass.
(For the record, this album was assembled from multiple, separately recorded tracks. Rachel played every instrument except bass, which was played only by Taylor Kouqj Bull)
Also: “I’ll kill you just because I’m hungry / I’ll kill you just because it’s funny” sounds just like her.
Killer Clown keeps up the pace with delightfully manic syncopation between the percussion and guitar. Maybe I shouldn’t be as focused on this as I am but Rachel’s voice does an awesome job of supporting the bond between melody and rhythm in general. Is that to be expected, though? She’s been playing in various sludge metal bands in Pennsylvania for over a decade, largely as a percussive musician. If anyone would know anything about that, a drummer would.
Next is Mr. Bradley – Mr. Martin. If I didn’t already love this woman like my own flesh and blood, that song title would win me over. A fellow Burroughs lover :3 The song itself is a snare drum solo that’s just soft enough create an anxious build-up of tension. This leads us into Blowjobs 4 Satan, which is the first time we hear dedbutherflys reaching for the typical speed of metal drumming along with what I suspect is some layering of vocal tracks? The fast guitar makes this all add up to a “wall of sound” effect. That’s the phrase a lot of people use to describe it. I’ve always thought of it as being more of a watery effect, since it feels immersive when its done right (like it is, here). There’s a sudden sound sample that signals a guitar-driven key change with each electric note getting stretched longer and longer with distortion. After the dynamism of the “band-scale” sound combination, the electrical distortion outro has the right atmosphere to sustain and subtly shift the tone near the end.
The opening riff of The Chase reminds me of something Akira Yamaoka would compose for a Silent Hill game. Around fifty seconds, the rest of the tracks kick in with the drums taking a strong lead. The guitar slowly assumes the foreground as the song gets heavier. As I’m listing right now, The Chase is probably the most dynamic song on the album so far. The combination of Mr. Bradley – Mr. Martin and Blowjobs 4 Satan was rich and satifying and energetic, but this sounds like a journey through a hostile supernatural landscape. This is the second song that’s made me think of an imaginative “place” so I think this is seriously coming together.
Aaaaand what have we here??? Hermaphrodite Love!!! Can it be that my sludge metal musician friend is able to write large hypnotic instrumental segments that actually carry serious weight? I haven’t heard anything like this since I last listened to Hella or El Grupo Nuevo Omar Rodiguez-Lopez! Maybe this is just my erratic failure to follow genres closely, but this is actually pretty different. You normally only find this kind of comfort with experimentation with electric dream-poppy stuff but it combines beautifully with the sonic abrasiveness of metal. Actually…sludge metal is more atmospheric than a lot of metal sub-genres. Could it be that dream pop and sludge metal are fellow travellers? Am I profane idiot? This album might make me commit to that opinion.
Singing comes back with Rum is Gone. In a time where literally every fucking body is caught up in labels and wanting to look good…I am like, jump-up-and-down stoked about an MtF metal singer who ends a verse with “choke on my dick”! She also just now informed me that she got the phrase “same sex dates” from me ❤ Around the 3:30 mark is another key change that at first tempts you to think of it as a bridge. And what the fuck is going on with the guitar’s rhythm near the end? I suspect I’m discoverying a low-budget metal album that baits you with successive instrumental innovation in ways that you normally only get from avant-garde jazz and witch-house. I think this is why I was hesitent to call Catatonic Despair an “intro” track- because it isn’t. In light of the nature of the overall album, Catatonic Despair is actually the first song, if that’s not redundant.
Second to last track is another instrumental- Candyland Vampires! And I totally gave her that name! There, it’s out of my system. I have a running list of word association experiments. Candyland Vampires brings us back to the distortion-heavy ghostliness of The Chase. Somehow this feels warmer, coming off of Rum is Gone. For this she used an Earthquaker Afterneath pedal and it’s both haunting and euphoric at the same time. Perfect preparation for the opening of NB AF. From what I understand of the recording process behind this album, NB AF was intended as a bonus track but I think this should actually be the canonical end of the album. Rachel forcibly drags the foreground back to her voice and doesn’t fucking let go. Back to the syncopation sweet spot from Magic Murder Bag except there’s more of it. Another song I’d be thrilled to hear live!
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 HolyWood 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 HolyWood 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 Anthemresembles 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
Anna-Varney Cantodea crafts albums that are distinct bodies of work. Any given Sopor Aeternus album (excluding compilations…like the one I’m about to list in this entry) has its own internal context. So the whole idea of a Sopor Aeternus playlist is either impossible or, optimistically, experimental.
Consider this my run at the experiement:
Always Within the Hour
At Sunset Through the Fields Aflame (version from TheSpiral Sacrifice)
The Sleeper (version from POETICA: All beauty sleeps)
Do You Know My Name? (version from Ich tote mich…)
Children of the Corn
Baptisma (1989 demo version)
Eldorado (version from POETICA: All beauty sleeps)
Day of the Dead
End of hypothetical “first disc” and the beginning of a “second disc” (Why yes, I am pretentious, I highly recommend it if only for fun 😀 )
To walk behind the Rows
Harvest Moon (Cornflowers part II)
Leeches & Deception
The Conqueror Worm (version from Flowers in Formaldehyde)
Into The Night
Sopor Fratrem Mortis Est
A Strange Thing to Say
Consider This: The True Meaning of Love
Tanz der Grausamkeit (version from Ich tote mich…)
Do You Know My Name? / What Has Happened While We Slept?
Something I’ve always wanted to write about, ever since I experienced the full force of passion that our first love affairs with music inspire in us when we are young, is what distinguishes the album as an artistic medium.
Rather like film and video recording, any collection of recordings or things recorded together is a record. Early experiments in film did not even necessarily regard video recording as even necessarily relatable to narrative storytelling. What we now recognize as modern filmmaking is a hybrid between literature and film, since storytelling is presumed to be the ultimate point. For more on this subject I suggest you google Tania Modleski and cinematic excess. I don’t need to borrow too much from Modleski except that a created structure implicitly reveals its purpose through its design.
Writing and narrative require conceptual coherence since writing is a linguistic medium. Photography and audio recording do not: for something to be photographed or recorded, it need only be visible or audible. A photograph or an audio recording might be artistic or it might serve some other technical or commercial or any other conceivable function. Filmmaking and audio recording are not meant solely for art any more than writing is meant solely for storytelling.
Bringing audio recording to music creates a hybrid in the same way that bringing video recording to literature does. Like any other constructed object, it makes sense to infer intention behind its’ structure. One of my favorite movies is a horror film from 2002 called May. May has long, drawn out non-verbal parts that rely completely on visual storytelling and involve subject matter that is never frankly discussed in the dialogue of the script (this isn’t anything new and I’m sure we can all think of a ton of examples of this; I’m just using May to make a point). For me as a young teenager, the silent, purely visual scenes in May shifted the perspective and character of the film in a way that the script could not: in fact, as an adult it’s obvious that a script is only written to serve a specific function that works equally with the contributions of the actors, director, cinematographer, editor, etc.
The finished product of a photographed script uses the contribution of the writer in concert with every other force at work in front of and behind the camera. The same is true for an album. All art requires a bit of intimacy and exposure on the part of the artist but with films and albums the separation between conception, embodiment and execution is more obvious than something like a novel, which often comes to us resembling nothing more than a naked and singular work in spite of however much editing and re-writing may have happened before publication. Like all rules there are exceptions: my two favorite writers, Victor Hugo and William S. Burroughs, frequently used their writing as a kind of embodiment that would itself “tell” a story rather than use an impersonal and anonymous narrator. This sort of creative device is necessarily more common in modern film and music, however.
I don’t want to make this seem like some kind of big academic look at the album as an art form. I just don’t feel like doing that and it’s more fun to look at specific albums that exemplify the range of what the medium is capable of. I also wanted to nail down some basic ideas that are going to be used later before I get into what I really want to talk about.
Sequential posts to be linked, soon, at the end of this one
The one solo album from Tuomas Holopainen so far. Based on a comic he read as a boy which he described, in a documentary, as his favorite fictional story.
Song one, Glasgow 1877, establishes some key motifs. These include male spoken word narration alternating with female soprano vocals and a reoccurring climbing melody.
Tuomas uses instrumental songs more openly on this album than he has on a lot of prior Nightwish entries. One of my favorites here is Duel & Cloudscapes which introduces an energy-exchange between the drums and the strings that hits the same sweet spot as Ghost River from Imaginaerum. In particular it reminded me of the mixing on Ghost River from Imaginaerum’s instrumental companion. This dynamic between the drums and the strings is also recognizable on Cold Heart Of The Klondike.
My favorite instrumental (with Duel & Cloudscapes being my number two pick) is Goodbye, Papa. To Be Rich has minimal vocals and it’s instrumentation is easily as good as Goodbye, Papa, which it immediately follows.
My two favorite songs on this album overall are The Last Sled and A Lifetime Of Adventure. Both of them give instrumentation and singing equal shares of the foreground and they balance perfectly. A Lifetime Of Adventure pushes the combination further though and is better off for it.
That this album is modeled after a story probably gave Tuomas a specific arc function for each song that imposed more discipline than he normally exercises. This could be another reason why A Lifetime Of Adventure shines so brightly. The expressed sentiment, of a journey being greater than its’ destination, could have come directly from Imaginaerum. But somehow it is more believable than a lot of Imaginaerum’s lyrics. This does not necessarily mean that Music Inspired by The Life And Times of Scrooge is better than Imaginaerum, but Scrooge definitely sounds more carefully composed.
The repetition of the line “(t)o be rich” within A Lifetime Of Adventure also implies a link to that same song, which only has four lines: “Silent night, silent years / The cold heart haunting still / Sleepless watch of the night / And her face on the moon”. This feels almost Gatsby-ish which caught me off guard. In fact, me not knowing anything about the source material and just extrapolating everything from the lyrics was kind of fun. Especially since my wife saw a cartoon adaption of the comic when she was a kid. Her recollection was fun to compare against.
IX, at the very end of Memoria, outside of creation ❤️
2. Best chocobo theme:
3. Moogle theme:
Good King Mog from XIV! (never actually played it but wifers showed me)
4. Best airship theme:
Looking For Friends from VI! That’s the song you hear on board the Falcon.
(The Hilda Garde music from IX also has a tendency to worm its way into my head. Like, all the time, and once it’s in it stays for awhile)
5. Best character theme:
I feel a lil conflicted there. It would either be Coin Song from VI or J-E-N-O-V-A from VII.
6. Best town theme:
Kids Run Through The City- VI
7. Best overworld theme:
Something from VI. Either Terra or Dark World
8. Best dungeon theme:
Another World Of Beasts from VI.
And I’ve always liked Phantom Forest from VI and Lurking In Darkness from VII. Neither one of those appear exclusively in dungeons but both are used in dungeons occasionally.
I kinda have to mention the Collapsed Express Way from the VII Remake. All the music from Shinra HQ in the remake could also merit honorable mentions.
9. Best battle theme:
Don’t Be Afraid- VIII
10. Best boss battle theme:
The Decisive Battle- VI
11. Best victory theme:
Out of the variations of the traditional I’d go with the version from VI. Out of the different ones, it’s XIII.
12. Best end boss theme:
Dancing Mad- VI
13. Best ending theme:
Credits’ roll from VII
14. Best mini-game theme:
Vamo Alla Flamenco- IX
15. Best in-game arrangement:
Opening – Bombing Mission, from VII. I’ve heard different orchestral versions but they always make it sound like it came from a Batman movie. Which I think is all wrong. The version from the VII Remake works for what it is, but it has a different character from the original.
16. Best piano arrangement:
Ahead On Our Way from the VII piano disc ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️
The Main Theme from VII on that album is also exponentially more beautiful than the original
17. Best remastered track:
The Nightmare Begins from the soundtrack remaster for the PC version of FFVII. The most atmospheric version of that song.
18. Best orchestrated track:
Seven Seconds till the End- VIIR
19. Best non-Uematsu track:
Crimson Blitz from Ligthening Returns. That would be Masashi Hamauzu. Born Anew is also really cool (also by Hamauzu, in the first XIII game).
20. Best song from a game you haven’t played:
Final Steps of Faith (Nidhogg’s theme from FFXIV. I still gotta get started on that sooner or later)
21. Best song from a game on first console:
Mmmmm I’ve already covered a lot of VII-
HEY WAIT the title screen music from the PS1 Anthology version of V!!!!
22. Best song from a game you don’t like:
All of the cutscene music from Type-0
23. Song that makes you feel nostalgic:
Voices Drowned By Fireworks- VII
24. Song that makes you feel sad:
Other Side of the Mountain- VII
25. Song that makes you feel pumped:
Fight On!- VII
26. Song that makes you feel relaxed:
Dali Frontier Village- IX
27. Best track from mobile exclusive:
I never played a mobile exclusive unless you count IV: TAY? I played the Ultimate Collection for the PSP but TAY at least started as a mobile exclusive. I enjoyed the music from IV in general but I don’t remember if TAY had any original music? I didn’t finish it either but got to the final dungeon and found out I was pathetically under-leveled and trapped there