Secret Journey To Planet Serpo (book review)

If this were a novel, the subject matter under discussion would be the legacy of World War II. This discussion happens through post-war truth claims.

The narrative begins with ETs living beneath a Tibetan mountain range (The Green Men) making psychic contact with Japanese nationalists.

These Japanese telepaths are the Green Dragon group within the Black Dragon secret society, founded by Ryohei Uchida. Karl Haushofer earns the confidence of the Black Dragons and is allowed to share their privileged access to ET knowledge with Germany. This knowledge allows the Nazis to make contact with ETs based in a cave network on Earth called Patala. These ETs consist of a race of reptilians and the “grays” of modern UFOlogy lore. These ETs (mutual collaborators with the Green Men) supply the Nazis with advanced scientific knowledge. They also swell the numbers of the German infantry with clones.

The Nazis, having been given schematics for flying discs and ET weaponry, begin prototyping. They manage to involve experimental aircrafts in a limited number of dog fights but fail to bring the full force of this new technology to bear in time to prevent their defeat. They do, however, succeed in building an underground laboratory in Antarctica where the research and development of ET technology continues after WWII.

Len Kasten writes that the absence of ET tech during the majority of the war allowed organic human dynamics play out. In his assessment, the Axis method of autocratic control of numbers and firepower was outstripped by the innovation enabled by the diversity and free-thinking of the Allies.

The Allies become aware of the Nazi installation in Antarctica. Britain and America now realize that the Nazis could re-emerge with WMDs that make the nuke look like child’s play. So America jumps at the chance to get their own inside connection with ETs. As far as they know, it may be their only way to fight back in the event of a Nazi resurgence. This is the attitude of the American military and intelligence community when the 1940’s UFO crashes happen.

Before Roswell in 1947, a UFO with a crew of three crashed, leaving two dead and one injured. The survivor is cared for and housed at an isolated, commandeered facility at Los Alamos, New Mexico. The survivor is designated, by his captors, as EBE1 (EBE being an abbreviation for extraterrestrial biological entity). This surviving crew member comes from the Zeta-Reticuli binary star system and is, in all likelihood, the kind of ET that people mean when they use the word “Zeta-Reticuli” as a race name (elsewhere abbreviated to “Zeta”). Betty and Barney Hill described these same beings, to name one example. Len Kasten writes that the military adopted the generalized phrase “Eben / Ebens” which is used throughout the book. Illustrations and implications suggest that Ebens are separate from the grays and reptilians mentioned earlier.

Communication with EBE1 is a long and experimental process, but eventually he explains how to send messages to his home world with the technology aboard his crashed vessel. With an eye toward leveling the playing field with the Axis bolt hole in Antarctica, the CIA uses EBE1 to negotiate a diplomatic relationship. This leads to an exchange program in which twelve American military representatives are sent to the ET’s home world, Serpo, in the Zeta Reticuli star system. One of them dies en route.

An Eben/Zeta representative is sent to Earth to assist the American military with reverse-engineering their technology. On Serpo, the American soldiers conduct the first off-planet cultural exchange in known history. They attempt to teach the Ebens the science of Earth with limited success. The civilization they encounter is one under the control of their military, which itself is governed by a secretive, elite group of Ebens. This elite limits all technology exclusively to a distinct group of scientific, medical and military professionals.

These elites and technocrats possess scientific knowledge far superior to that of Earth. Therefore only the laity of Serpo are interested in the science lessons of the Americans and most of them are confused by human concepts. Only a single student, from a remote cultural group to the north, manages to understand and appreciate these lessons.

The confusion of the average Eben civilian leads to a few speculations by the Americans: the Ebens in general are technologically superior to humans. Yet most of them either do not understand rudimentary science or are even interested in it. This discrepancy is an early hint of the rigid control of knowledge and culture maintained by the Eben elites.

The Ebens appear to be so extroverted and hardworking that they barely have room for personal pursuits of any kind. This extends to religion (of which there is only one) and career paths (which are assigned by the powers that be). The lone, earnest student is the closest thing the American team encounters to a free-thinker.

Eventually, the Americans ask the Ebens for the body of their crew mate that died on the way to Serpo. They are told that it is gone. After an intense confrontation, the Eben host and an Eben scientist do their best to show the Americans the remains that are left.

The two Ebens lead the American visitors to a genetic laboratory. In one section, there are preserved bodies of beings that the Ebens designate as “animals”- meaning they are alive but lack sentience or a soul. Ebens designate life forms that do possess a soul or sentience as “beings”, and they are experimented on in another section of the laboratory. The only remains of the deceased human have been used to create a cloned Eben-like being, which at the time exists in a somnolent, gestational state.

In the same area, the team is shown another genetic experiment, which is humanoid in appearance with a canine head. In other parts of the book, it is made clear that the four other races that the American secret service had interacted with were all created by the Ebens (not including the grays or reptilians). At other times, it is said that the Ebens “civilized” them. The historical military enemies of the Ebens are also classified as “animals”, without souls or sentience.

In a traditional novel, this would be a significant thematic beat.

Like humans, the Ebens also experienced a Great War that cast a long shadow over their history. This Great War could have created a bottle-neck of survival and conformity that lasted through the generations. Perhaps this has to do with the vast influence of the Eben military. Maybe their military enemies truly are not sentient. Maybe these opponents are self-replicating AI that isn’t sophisticated enough for sentience. With their mastery over genetic engineering, maybe the Ebens artificially resurrected societies that were wiped out.

Or maybe the Ebens are susceptible to all of the same evils that humanity is. Maybe the police state they live under has no better justification than a human police state. Like us, they do not believe that their enemies or chattel have “souls” because it makes them easier to kill and exploit. One of the four other races known to the American secret services, Archquloids, are described as “primitive” and “a form of slave.” Since the Archquloids are one of the races either “created” or “civilized” by the Ebens, those remarks take on a darker tone.

If this book was a novel, the motivations of America would be called into question. America sought a cultural and scientific exchange with ETs to level the playing field with the Nazis in Antarctica. Yet this first exchange with the Ebens (in addition to the actions of the reptilians and grays) raises the possibility that fascism is a universal status quo.

For the sake of clarity: I do not think that Len Kasten is a Nazi sympathizer or a crypto-fascist. His bias runs in the opposite direction. Early in the book, he compares the American exchange team to Christopher Columbus. If one were disposed to interpret this comparison charitably, we could dismiss it as hyperbole. Yet the comparison leaves out other historical realities, like Spanish trade routes.

This meditation on democracy versus fascism has interesting corollaries elsewhere in UFOlogy. Barney Hill used words like “red-headed Irishman” and “German Nazi” to describe the aliens he saw. At the time I heard about this, I assumed Barney Hill had not been literal. When asked about the meaning of “red-headed Irishman” he said that most Irish people he meets do not like black people (Barney was black and this was the early sixties in America). However, when he met a “nice Irishman”, Barney said he would think to himself “I will be nice.”

This at least sounds like Barney Hill was talking about how the beings made him feel rather than what they actually were.

Another corollary is an urban legend about President Eisenhower. It is alleged that he met with a group of individuals who urged him to dismantle the United States nuclear arsenal. In some versions, this was an altruistic attempt by planetary outsiders to council us against ruining our planet with nuclear weapons.

In other retellings, one of these human-like aliens bore an uncanny resemblance to Adolf Hitler and referred to himself, simply, as a “man from nowhere.” In these versions, the strangers were hoping to subvert American military might by pressuring Eisenhower to dismantle America’s nukes.

This dialectic is even echoed in the Native American attitudes toward ancient alien theory. In the last few years ancient alien theory has been criticized, by South American political outlets, as racist. This is because advanced engineering in the ancient world is often interpreted as evidence of non-human involvement, which unfortunately dovetails with the colonial presumption of indigenous racial inferiority.

Just as many Native voices espouse the opposite, though. In the theological treatise God Is Red: A Native View of Religion, Vine Deloria Jr. insinuates that Abrahamic religion shares none of the hallmarks of animistic shamanism that were nearly universal before the rise of monotheism. Deloria opines that this could be evidence that monotheism is the legacy of non-human manipulation in the ancient history of humanity.

Other Native American voices, like Robert Morning Sky and the nu metal band Corporate Avenger, have treated the possibility of ancient aliens in America as a distinction rather than a weakness.

In Germany, the Nazi interest in the paranormal has made discussion of UFOs taboo by association.

The temptation to characterize aliens as supreme oppressors or supreme liberators reveals more about ourselves than anything else. The first impulse suggests a fear of cosmic indifference; that if the world is bigger than Earth then who knows what waits in the cosmic wilderness. The work of H.P. Lovecraft channeled this fear. The other impulse runs in the opposite direction; that all human ignorance will disappear under the guidance of benevolent non-human teachers.

The role of religious inheritance is also difficult to overlook. Monotheism has engendered a nearly global attachment to an androcentric worldview. If the monotheistic god is seen as a divine parent to humanity, the loss of the divine parent can be terrifying. Just like the oppressor/liberator dynamic, conjecture about alien life can assuage this fear just as easily as it can confirm it. Whatever else may be true about about ancient alien theory, it also accommodates the hope that scientific progress could bring back and redignify the ancient cosmologies it once refuted.

Before ending this entry I feel like I should clarify a few things. Like many abduction testimonials, the Betty and Barney Hill story relies on recovered memories. Considering the medical consensus that trauma suppression just doesn’t work like that, the Hill story has a credibility problem.

Deloria’s conclusion was reached using the ancient alien theories of Immanuel Velikovsky as a jumping off point. After subsequent criticism, Deloria explained why he applied ancient alien theory to the origins of monotheism. He had intended it as a satirical reflection of how non-Native academics are often trusted more on Native American history than indigenous people themselves.

I do not think you would be able to ascertain this from the tone of that portion of God Is Red. Deloria openly pokes fun a number of times in that book, but the chapter containing his speculations on ancient aliens is played very straight. And there is no subtext or perspective that would lead you to think that the even tone itself might be satirical. If it was meant as satire, I would not have known if I hadn’t learned about his later explanation.

At least in my reading of God Is Red, I don’t see any necessary conflict with anything else in that book (and I want to emphasize it is a very good book for its analysis of the religious climate of America). I do not think he would have compromised anything if he had claimed the title of an ancient alien theorist.

If there was no conceptual reason for him to distance himself from those words, there could have been another. Maybe he understood that the label of a believer in the existence of aliens is a hard one to break. Maybe he thought it would be used to undermine his reputation as a serious scholar. In any event, he did not seem particularly invested in ancient alien theory.

I have skirted a substantive analysis of the facts because my focus here was the psychological mechanism of belief. World War II casts a shadow over the narrative of Len Kasten. Whether this is a fabrication or something Kasten actually has knowledge of, many dynamics portrayed in Secret Journey To Planet Serpo can be traced to World War II. No matter how one reads this book, I think it’s reasonable to wonder about its discussions of fascism and liberty.

But I do not necessarily think the assenting opinions I gave as examples are credible ones. I chose them simply because of how they channeled what I think are interesting, repeating psychological themes.

Dead God by Skold- review

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.

Bloodborne PSX (light spoilers)

Bloodborne on the PS1 feels uncannily natural.

In particular, I was constantly reminded of the first two Tomb Raiders and the first Silent Hill. The use of shadows is reminiscent of how the fog in the first Silent Hill disguised the procedural rendering while building atmosphere.

A neat bridge between those early PlayStation franchises and the original PS4 Bloodborne was created with the design of indoor spaces…of which there are a lot.

If you have heard of Bloodborne PSX then you probably know that the biggest location that carries over from the original is Central Yharnam. Lilith Walther thoughtfully managed to spin a complete game in this specific location, though.

Just like last time, your player character is investigating Paleblood and is pointed, by Gilbert, in the direction of the Cathedral Ward.

The lore-fiend in me has long wondered if Gilbert was meant to be a canonical “mainline story” character, unlike some of the others that you could go the whole game without running into. I don’t think any other hint about reaching the Cathedral Ward through the sewers is offered.

Considering how I triggered the ending I got, I strongly suspect Lilith Walther has wondered that to.

Also like the base game, you will probably hear about the Great Bridge and think that it sounds more efficient than a giant wade through sewers. (I think he also mentioned aqueduct in the PS4 game? Or maybe he just said aqueduct and the fans all decided to call it a sewer?)

This, of course, does not work out and we gotta pursue Gilbert’s lead anyway. Which puts us directly in the path of a few of the new locations, both indoors and underground.

Within the first few minutes of gameplay, we find that Bloodborne PSX does not have the same continuous map as the original. Which is to be expected: this is a PS1 demake of a PS4 game. Many of those limitations are incorporated into the new design, though. The loading screens between different locations allow the different segments of the map to be more self-contained. Consequently, all of Central Yharnam is turned into an interconnected, “cumulative” dungeon, like the town of Silent Hill.

So far, I have found two buildings with unexpected depths and an awesome expansion to the aqueduct/sewer area. One reason why these discoveries are so satisfying is because- in the original -there are a ton of locked doors that are never meant to be opened. It’s also an intuitive direction for the design to go if you are effectively “trapped” in Central Yharnam. Another reason is that there are indoor areas that bear a superficial resemblance to other indoor areas in the base game, like the Upper Cathedral Ward and the Cainhurst library. To say nothing of the more creative things those spaces are used for.

Is it just me, or is this vaguely reminiscent of Mergo’s Loft? Doesn’t Mergo’s Loft also have dog-headed carrion crows, like this place does?

In Bloodborne PSX, the scrawled note about Paleblood is found in Iosefka’s clinic. Where an infiltrator of the Choir ends up in the base game after killing Iosefka. Lilith Walther used a few indoor areas to explore this influence of both the Choir and the School of Mensis.

This part made me hesitate. I expected it to end here but wanted to be proven wrong. Yarntown ended around this point. Even if it is just a slightly bigger and different PS1 rendering of Central Yharnam, it’s a beautiful lil thing. Well worth playing and vaguely reminiscent of the video game demo compilations some magazines used to carry.

If you’re leveled into the thirties…then Father Gascoigne can be beat. So long as you’re bold and quick enough to pull off some viscerals, which feel a lil different in Bloodborne PSX but still work like they do in the base game. The main difference here is that a beast will not necessarily pause after getting riposte’d (along with a big floating ‘L1’ signaling that a visceral attack is possible). Or you could just grind like a nut and brute-force your way.

If this turned out to be the end, it would be a perfectly admissible mini-game. After Yarntown, though, it would feel wanting.

A new time of the night sets in once we hit the same dead end we all remember from the Great Bridge. Just like in the base game, it is not clear how much actual time passes or what has happened in the interim. This looks like the beginning of a second half. Maybe I wasn’t even that far.

Other than getting darker, some previously opened pathways are no longer accessible. And we get our first glimpse of an old friend from the base game.

Who you will probably encounter in the sewers, since the bridge to the Tomb of Odeon is blocked. And while I’ve been putting most of my blood echoes into Skill and Endurance…I’ve also been making an effort to build up Arcane since nabbing the tonitrus off of the mad Hunter in the library. I think Arcane weapons like the tonitrus and A Call Beyond are pretty effective against Winter Lanterns? I also know that Frenzy hits harder as Arcane increases sooo crafting a magic user turns you into a glass cannon in some ways.

I have only played through Bloodborne PSX once- so there is probably a lot I still haven’t seen -but so far I have not encountered more than one Winter Lantern in one place. And maybe I just haven’t put enough echoes into Arcane but the tonitrus seems less useful against them here than in the original. My other weapons were hardly any better.

They weren’t that common in the base game either- only in the Nightmare and the Fishing Hamlet

The scarcity of the Winter Lanterns and their toughness make them feel like Walter Sullivan in Silent Hill 4 or Pyramid Head in Silent Hill 2. Meaning: run your ass off and don’t look back. Maybe it is possible to kill them, but I haven’t figured out how yet. A crazy powerful monster showing up after you find out that both entrances to the Cathedral Ward (The Great Bridge and the Tomb of Odeon) are blocked is just perfect.

I like this because of how it builds on the resemblance between the Winter Lanterns and the doll/Maria. The doll is a very unique character with few corollaries. There is a lifeless physical version of the doll in the Abandoned Hunter’s Workshop in the base game. The revelation of the doll’s human identity as Lady Maria is then played for maximum dramatic tension in the Old Hunter’s DLC. These three different characterizations underline the importance and uniqueness of Maria.

The Winter Lanterns, meanwhile, are all dressed like the doll under their tentacles. If Maria/the doll is unique, then making the monster that wears the doll clothing unique feels natural.

Come to think of it…creating a direct link between the key to the leveling mechanic and an unkillable monster that hunts you feels pretty spot-on for a horror action RPG. (That link also exists in the original, even if it’s less direct than the PSX Winter Lanterns)

I’m uncertain how much more of the game I should discuss after this point. I finished my first play-through on accident in a location that I also found on accident. Something about this makes me suspect that there is more than one way to “finish” game. This demake recreates the vibe of the original so perfectly that multiple endings seem possible. Maybe they’re not. Maybe you know differently. But the subtle implication of new story threads from Lilith Walther make me hesitant to “spoil” anything.

Fun with glitches

Download here from Lilith Walther’s itch.io

Ukraine & corollaries

I wonder if these people would still be salivating at the thought of war if they were the ones to be deployed

Tell your friends and family that you love them. Take nothing for granted. Love unreservedly and live life uncompromisingly. Chase your passions and your dreams.

While the climate change clock ticks, Vladimir Putin has decided to take military action according to a historical, ethnic grievance. In his estimation, Ukraine is ethnically Russian and therefore Russia is entitled to seize the country. For this reason, he has targeted nuclear power plants and insinuated the possible use of nuclear weapons.

Because of a sense of ethnic possession, a whirlpool of death has quickened and may attract the currents of other ventings of insanity.

Obviously there are other factors, but in my opinion those other factors are of questionable value. Before now, the overtures the west has made toward Ukraine regarding possible inclusion of NATO was obviously a contributing factor. And I am aware that, if the west had not pursued this, than the current invasion may not have happened.

In fact, the Ukrainian President has recently stated that he agrees not to bring his country into any such group.

As of 3/17/22, the Russian advances on Kiev have tentatively halted. Yet this hasn’t stopped pontificating, warhawk voyeurs from badgering White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki about adding our fighting forces to the mix- as if global, nuclear annihilation was not possible.

Yet this perspective itself is not without it’s substance: they are asking whether the fear of a nuclear strike should allow the conflict play out as it will which evidently includes bombing nuclear power plants.

What appalls me about the recent White House press briefings, though, is the consensus among pampered, American stenographers that nuclear holocaust should be treated as a non-issue. As though the human cost was admissible.

While this happens, Saudi Arabia availed themselves to the lack of coverage of other things, having executed 81 individuals en masse on March 12- a record of recent history.

In the event of global escalation, it is difficult to overlook Iran’s remarks from January about the murder of General Soleimani. They have vowed revenge if they cannot prosecute Donald Trump. America has never turned over an ex-President for something like that and Russia has carried out joint military operations with Iran in the last few years. Do the math.

Israel has behaved similarly, with new Knesset legislation that strips citizenship from Palestinian spouses of Israelis. If that’s not the act of a apartheid ethnostate, I don’t know what is.

Be good to each other and take nothing for granted. That is all.

https://theintercept.com/2022/03/15/ukraine-russia-war-sovereignty-negotiations/

https://www.politico.com/news/2022/03/16/zelenskyy-recalls-pearl-harbor-9-11-in-plea-for-u-s-aid-00017698

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/zelensky-ukraine-conflict-nato-russia-b2037181.html%3famp

https://www.dailyherald.com/article/20220312/news/303129969

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/15/saudi-arabia-mass-execution-81-men#

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.latimes.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/story/2022-03-16/debating-israels-law-banning-palestinian-spouses%3f_amp=true

https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/iran-vows-revenge-soleimani-killing-if-trump-not-put-trial-2022-01-03/

Final Fantasy XV: Dawn of the Future (spoilers)

While this does not involve my dewy-eyed Noctis and Prompo ship, this book is definitely worth reading for a fan of Final Fantasy XV.

Like any entry in a multimedia story, there are two questions: does it stand on it’s own and what is it’s relationship with the rest of the material.

Simple answer to the first one is: mostly yes. Someone with no prior context would have questions, but the story that opens at the beginning is effectively closed at the end. It even keeps it concise: four stories, all about characters with close relationships (either personal or associative) with one another.

Each of the four stories has a neat simplicity of scope: each narrative rarely goes further than the perspective of a single character. Two protagonists, Ardyn and Noctis, have experiences that afford panoramic views of their home world Eos. While this works like broad-spectrum explication, it is still rooted in a specific character’s perspective. To the credit of author Jun Eishima, this complication is accommodated by the novel’s internal context.

Speaking of context- the answer to our second question is lopsided. The novel The Dawn of the Future contextualizes the rest of Final Fantasy XV better than the game contextualizes the book. The weakness on one side and the strength on the other both relate to the narrative use of alternate timelines.

Players of FFXV may remember that alternate timelines were suggested in Episode Ignis, at the end of the first DLC season. This suggestion was followed up at the end of Episode Ardyn, which was projected to be the beginning of a second DLC season.

Final Fantasy XV: The Dawn of the Future chronicles the story that the second season would have told. When read as a single frame story, divorced from the rest of FFXV, multiple timelines are a more central part of the story than in the base game. In retrospect, the rest of the expanded universe needs this book more than the book needs the expanded universe.

Obviously, this is a consequence of Square Enix canceling the second season of DLC. In the normal course of things, the “hint” from Episode Ignis would rise closer to the surface in Episode Ardyn. This would enable the multiple timelines to be revealed through a “slow burn” of DLC chapters spaced months apart.

Instead, whatever happened at Square Enix happened, and we now have a novel. Instead of the episodic format, the whole thing is wrapped up in a single book. There were small insinuations indicating time travel, like revisiting memories in a visionary state in the “post game” material. But the importance of manipulating timelines and the forces of destiny just isn’t talked about very much in the base game. For a reader concerned with continuity with the rest of FFXV, this can feel like a sudden change (even if Episode Ardyn and Ignis could potentially soften the blow).

As it’s own book, it works wonderfully. Then again this might be something of a haunting difficulty with the FFXV dev team. The film, Final Fantasy XV: Kingsglaive also had world-building that wasn’t present in the base game. Also like Dawn of the Future, the film Kingsglaive created a deeper world than the base game.

As I type this, it occurs to me that Kingsglaive may be a more intuitive next step for someone who appreciates this book rather than the game Final Fantasy XV. To be fair, though, a fan of Dawn of the Future would still find the game worth playing. Much of the book (particularly the stories of Lunafreya and Aranea) are set against backdrops of travel across great distances. Distances in both time and space are detailed in the stories of Noctis and Ardyn. Eishima writes vividly of the shifting landscapes and how relationships may grow and change on the road. The travel-centered gameplay of Final Fantasy XV and the chemistry of Noctis and his retainers would feel natural after Dawn of the Future.

Appropriately enough, the novel starts with an intense confrontation between Noctis and Ardyn. Our setting, Zegnautus Keep above the city of Gralea, has been reduced to an undead playground by Ardyn, whose demonic nature was not fully appreciated by his enablers until it was too late. Placing Ardyn and Noctis on opposite sides establishes the importance of their rivalry in the uniting frame story. The familial relationship and physical resemblance between Ardyn’s brother and Noctis makes this opening “flash forward” an appropriate set-up for the story of Ardyn’s human lifetime.

This early framing also sets up one of the distinguishing story developments of Dawn of the Future. This is a huge spoiler for the original game so consider yourself warned. And it’s something we’ve seen before in Final Fantasy. Once in IV and indirectly by association in X.

Those two games tell stories that experiment with redemption. A while ago, a friend and I were discussing what we saw as the lack of a coherent direction in the new Star Wars films. The prequels cover the fall of Anakin and the original series cover the rise of Luke. I said that the sequels don’t seem interested in continuing this theme.

This doesn’t have to be a deal breaker if it’s completely original material that can stand on its own and needs no contextual validation. It is a high qualitative bar to meet, but it is not impossible. Both of us agreed that the sequel movies did not meet it. But if one half is a “rise” story and the other half is a “fall” story, what would a thematically consistent third story consist of?

My friend said it should be a redemption story, containing both. This would introduce the pressure of balance. A “fallen” state at the beginning would have to be believable and substantial enough for this character to look like a tragic hero or a villain protagonist. At the same time, the “rising” process would also have to be believable.

The easy way to meet the first requirement would be to go hard on the evil. Something like Anakin butchering children in Revenge of The Sith. But that kind of obvious solution could paint you into a corner when you attempt the “credible redemption” later.

For the sake of covering our bases, let’s also own that you absolutely can go hard on both. The original Star Wars trilogy did, but mitigated the risk of audience expectation by only allowing Darth Vader to survive a few moments in his redeemed state. I have a lot of respect for George R.R. Martin for ignoring this fine line, just so current pop culture has at least one visible example of it. In Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, Sandor Clegane, aka The Hound, chopped off a child’s head in the first book simply because he was ordered to. But after a few books, he is clearly portrayed with sympathy.

I’ve wondered if this was something that made the creators of the TV show anxious. Perhaps this was the reason they decided to portray Jamie and Cersei Lannister with more darkness, so a casual viewer wouldn’t feel too deprived of morally laundered sadism.

Final Fantasy IV and X explored different expressions of these extremes. With X this is a little less obvious but an experiment is still at work: Jecht’s human failings as a father and a bully are always in the foreground. Jecht’s role as the human vessel for the being Sin is revealed afterward. In one of our first glimpses of Tidus, venting his fury to his mother, he is told that if he never sees his father again he will never have the chance to tell him how much he hates him. Before the final battle, Tidus does tell him. In the mind of Tidus, the human failings of Jecht haunt him more than Jecht turning into a supernatural, apocalyptic monster. If Jecht is damned, it is because of what he did before he transformed.

Final Fantasy IV does not defy the expectation of reconciliation, but exceeds expectations with reconciliation. Golbez, it is revealed, was fathered by the same alien that fathered Cecil. Before that moment, Golbez committed a series of atrocities that would have been at home in one of the first two world wars. The depth of suffering Golbez has engineered cannot be avoided, since Cecil has to go through a painful expiation process because of something he did under Golbez’ authority. At the end of the game, we learn that Golbez was effectively “possessed” when he did those things.

This is weird because the expiation of Cecil has already shown us that “the devil made me do it” is no excuse. Cecil had to personally face the survivors of his victims, endure their hatred and nearly pay with his life. Cecil had doubts about Golbez when he delivered the “ring” to Mysidia and he wasn’t even aware that the “ring” carried a nuke-level destructive spell. Cecil is morally evaluated strictly according to the outward consequences of his actions, with no attention paid to his thoughts and intentions.

It is possible that this expiation may have been intended to soften the player toward Golbez. But a casual player could not be faulted for wondering if Golbez’ last minute redemption is a bit of a double-standard.

Final Fantasy XV: Dawn of the Future explores similar moral extremes. Is there anything like Final Fantasy IV’s inconsistency that might get in the way? No, but the simplicity of the experiment itself creates its own questions.

This novel plays it straight. You know how I used the words “undead playground” earlier? This ain’t news to anyone who played the game but Ardyn basically had ten years to kill the majority of people on Eos and turn them into daemons. Another one of the viewpoint characters, Lunafreya, was herself killed by Ardyn before she is resurrected at the beginning of Dawn of the Future.

Lunafreya is also the first major character in the book to solicit Ardyn’s assistance. The apparent forgiveness of a viewpoint character who once died by his hand helps establish Ardyn’s positive arc before the last story, The Final Glaive.

Some of the best moments in the whole book are in this story. The first paragraph on the page above engages the philosophical dimensions of this story directly. The two female perspective stories are about road trips and the two male perspective stories feature long, visionary or altered state segments.

With this kind of thematic division, there is one half with people literally doing things. The other half needs to be written in a way that holds its own by contrast or comparison. Ardyn’s story features an eventful flashback and a brief period of action and travel to an ethereal plane.

The beginning of The Final Glaive starts the contrast in the right way. There is an exchange between the physical travel of the female protagonists and the astral travel of the male protagonists. Both place experience front and center, which is all that lasts between transient states. This lends gravity to the early meditations of Noctis during his ten year slumber within the Crystal.

Noctis does not immediately let go of the hatred that Ardyn provoked. At the same time, the simple existence of innumerable lifetimes conveying innumerable experiences is marked by Noctis within the Crystal. If each subjectivity is at least a little bit “objectively real”, than thoughts and emotions are empowered. If subjectivity is accepted as “real” then an internal process- like the changing of Ardyn’s heart -is empowered.

This is a careful attempt to substantiate Ardyn’s positive character arc. In the context of the novel, it works. But since I’ve played FFXV, it is hard for me to reconcile this with what I felt was a relative disinterest in narrative continuity in the base game.

Absent narrative continuity has haunted the FFXV project for years. It’s the reason why I never bought the thematic comparison between Ardyn and Kefka that appear throughout FFXV. It’s why I found the visionary afterlife in FFXV with the reunion of Luna and Noctis so unbelievable. We see Noctis go from a boy to a man and learn the wisdom of acceptance in the face of disaster, only to find his ultimate refuge in a fantasy of a woman he met briefly in childhood with whom he corresponded from a distance.

I’ve belabored the pointlessness of the Ardyn-Kefka analogies enough already, but do we need to drag Dancing Mad into it to, now?

I emphasize that the narrative treatment of Lunafreya within The Dawn of the Future is satisfying. In fact, she and Aranea probably have a few of the more entertaining moments in the book even if The Final Glaive is my favorite. Giving Luna both depth and a spine was sorely needed. The appearance of a new character, Sol, in three of the stories also builds up the continuity of the book. But it would have been nice to have something like this in the base game.

And here we are, back with the problem of a part of a story building the world better than the whole, like the Kingsglaive film. As a stand-alone “frame story”, this book carries its own weight just fine. But in the bigger FFXV multimedia project, it’s hard not to think something like “Why can’t all the good ideas make it into one specific story?”

Afghan withdrawal

For the first time since I’ve been of voting age, I finally managed to support an anti-war president; and to think I almost didn’t.

Not that I don’t continue to have reservations about Biden’s political record; I absolutely do. In the sixties he called mixed-race schools “racial jungles” and he worked on legislation empowering private prisons and the drug war. Considering how the enforcement of drug laws has typically been carried out, it paints a scary picture in conjunction with the “racial jungle” comment. He even co-authored a bill with Strom Thurmond that expanded civil asset forfeiture to those convicted of drug crimes. He then laundered his image by running alongside Barack Obama in 2008.

(To clarify: civil asset forfeiture is when the police are empowered to preemptively seize property or money if they think you are going to use them to commit a crime. Essentially, it’s when law enforcement takes your stuff because they think you might do something illegal)

Joe Biden’s record could reflect corruption at worst or political opportunism at best. But the withdrawal from Afghanistan has, in my opinion, proven that Joe Biden is already twice the President that either Trump or Obama was. What he has done was both necessary and profoundly brave.

Some obvious objections are the American collaborators we left behind and the return of Islamic theocracy with the Taliban. Regarding our collaborators, it is possible that there was some sort of miscommunication: before the withdrawal, Biden said that military intelligence projected months before any possibility of a Taliban incursion. Right now, though, military intelligence liaisons are telling the media that they always knew the Taliban would instantly take control.

As of this writing, it doesn’t look like the precise mechanics of what wires were crossed with what is in any way clear. But there is room for legitimate criticism there.

The resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, though, has a simpler context which I believe is causing subconscious angst in the media coverage of the withdrawal.

Put simply: it was preventable. Easily preventable. And easily preventable by the Afghans.

America spent roughly eighty-nine billion dollars training the Afghan army. An army that numbered some 300,000, armed with modern American weaponry. The Taliban had 75,000 combatants on their side, with artillery from the eighties and nineties. The Taliban was vastly outnumbered and outgunned.

Yet the stronger Afghan army instantly cleared the way for them and the Afghan head of state disappeared. The only way that could have happened is if they wanted it to.

America gave Afghanistan every means of support we could possibly offer. But all the money and weapons in the world can’t make a nation do what she does not want to.

The shallow and obtuse pearl-clutching in the mainstream media strikes me as more psychological than moral. If a western-style democracy is not the prerogative of the Afghan people, it makes it impossible to avoid the conclusion that our stated motive of benevolent statecraft was never truly about the Afghan people.

Let us be clear: our recently stated motive of benevolent statecraft.

After the death of Bin Laden, it became impossible to pretend that our military presence in the Muslim world had anything to do with 9/11. So the justification then had to be an altruistic effort on behalf of the people of Afghanistan and Iraq.

This reframing took place during the administration of Barack Obama. After quarantine and the end of the Trump presidency, nostalgia is now more sacrosanct than ever. Everyone wants to get back to normal and Barack Obama is one of the symbols of life before 2016-2020.

To admit that an altruistic effort to establish western-style democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq was never the desire of those nations touches a nerve. Both Trump and Obama won droves of voters with the promise to end American intervention in the Middle East. Many (perhaps most) Americans probably voted for one President or the other. And both of them welched on their anti-war platforms. To cling to the fantasy that either Trump or Obama represent some lost state of greatness is to buy into the belief that A. we were right to support their anti-war platforms and B. they were right to welch on them.

These two articles of faith are reconciled in a narrative of maturation: we were once youthful idealists but we learned hard lessons. In this narrative, it follows that the fine points of responsibility require us to eradicate tyranny in the Muslim world and leave them with representative governments. This leads to a perpetually receding goal post and permission to chase it forever.

To let go of what Obama and Trump represented is to admit just how deeply we were lied to. And the last thing anyone wants to do as they pine for the good old days is to lose more of their illusions.

The falsehood of our altruistic claims is particularly glaring in light of the parties who have benefited from our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jon Schwarz, writing for The Intercept, reports that a 10,000$ investment in defense stocks at the beginning of the Afghan war would now be worth 100,000$. A recent tweet from Public Citizen listed the returns on defense stocks during the Afghan war:

Now that we realize that our stated aspirations could not have been realized, we are forced to ask who benefited from it all. The answer to that is a tough pill to swallow for a lot of us. We pursued a political program for those who did not want it for no better reason than the enrichment of defense contractors. We are now forced to grapple with this, and hopefully we will be more clear-eyed in our voting and political scrutiny.

Less money squandered on foreign occupations can also allow us to re-allocate resources to fight climate change. Billions to trillions of dollars every year, now freed up. You know, so there can be some humans walking around after we’re dead carrying our genetic code.

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/07/08/remarks-by-president-biden-on-the-drawdown-of-u-s-forces-in-afghanistan/

https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-surge-exposes-failure-us-efforts-build-afghan-army-2021-08-15/

https://theintercept.com/2021/08/16/afghanistan-war-defense-stocks/

Devil Box by dedbutherflys

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!

https://m.facebook.com/dedbutherflys

https://www.instagram.com/dedbutherflys/

https://dedbutherflys.wordpress.com

https://linktr.ee/SeventhWave

https://kouqj.bandcamp.com

America’s forever war: bombshells from Trump and Hillary Clinton

Alex Kane, in a May 25th article on jewishcurrents.com, wrote that the Biden State Department committed over five million dollars of aid to Gaza humanitarian efforts. Simultaneously, the State Department also accepted a 735, 000, 000$ offer from Israel in exchange for military support.

Kane writes that the State Department dispensed an export license to Boeing to carry out the American end of the purchase. This included Joint Direct Attack Munitions and Small Diameter Bombs: two varieties of laser-guided explosives used by Israel in an eleven day attack on the Gaza Strip which ended on Friday, the 21st of May.

Reporting earlier that month suggests an interesting dialectical process leading up to this point. On May 3rd, Axios reporter Rebecca Falconer published an article detailing remarks made by Hilary Clinton on a potential withdrawal of American military forces from Afghanistan. Clinton warned that such an event could cause a surge of Afghan refugees and give Jihadi militias a chance to regain lost ground. Two weeks later, the UK branch of The Independent reported that Trump sent a private memo to his Pentagon appointees, stating a wish to immediately withdraw from Afghanistan following his loss of the 2020 Presidential election.

The irony is hard to miss: Trump gets all furious and apoplectic after losing so he decides to punish his own base. So Mister “I love selling weapons to the Saudis” wants to take his ball and go home. Since the 2020 Presidential election and immediately afterward, all criticism of Trump is welcome on the left- even if it’s for things the left should be doing. This leaves the door open for Hilary to look after her own bottom line and look good doing it.

So on the 25th of May, we learn Biden sold laser-guided weapons to Israel for 735 million dollars while kicking five mil to Palestine for humanitarian aid. The dude is hedging his bets but it’s clear which one he expects the bigger return from.

You know how green infrastructure reform, universal healthcare and universal basic income are constantly shot down by people asking how we’re gonna pay for it? Do the outraged deficit hawks have nothing to say about the laundering of perpetual war? Is this what the big liberal rollback of the Trump administration looks like?

Important update: https://ailixchaerea.blog/2021/08/21/afghan-withdrawal/

Days Before Approving Humanitarian Aid to Gaza, State Department Agreed to Contentious Bomb Sale to Israel

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/trump-election-memo-military-troops-b1848997.html

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.axios.com/hillary-clinton-pulling-us-troops-afghanistan-consequences-0f57af75-56b3-465b-ab94-9b27a3afec02.html

The album as an art form: Marilyn Manson’s Triptych

8-bit Adam ❤

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.

Content warning

1.

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.

2.

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.

3.

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-MechanicalAntichrist 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.

From Gio Blush Design

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.

4.

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.

From Provider Module

5.

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.

6.

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”).

Seen here: my techie wife helping my color blind ass read the filtered lines

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.

From Provider Module

7.

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.

8.

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.

From ProviderModule, of course

9.

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).

More From Gio Blush Design

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.

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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.

From my collection

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.

10.

From Gio Blush Design

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.

Triptych playlist:

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

6. Cryptorchid

7. Disposable Teens

8. Target Audience (Narcissus Narcosis)

9. Wormboy

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. Posthuman

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)

Disc 3

1. Mechanical Animals

2. Irresponsible Hate Anthem

3. Kinderfeld

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. 1996

13. Astonishing Panorama Of The End Times

14. Man That You Fear

15. The Last Day On Earth (TLTOE)

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Online sources:

https://www.mansonwiki.com/wiki/Interview:1999/07/29_Fan_Conference

https://www.mansonwiki.com/wiki/Interview:Feb_2005_Marilyn_Manson_and_David_Duchovny_Playstation_Magazine

https://www.mansonwiki.com/wiki/Interview:2000/08/05_Kerrang!

https://www.mansonwiki.com/wiki/Interview:2000/09_I_Don%27t_Hate_Jounalists,_I_Just_Feel_Better_When_They%27re_Not_Around

https://www.mansonwiki.com/wiki/Holy_Wood_(novel)

http://tarot.org.il/Library/Waite/The%20Pictorial%20Key%20to%20the%20Tarot.pdf

A Sopor Aeternus playlist experiment!

Image culled from the Sopor Aeternus Instagram account

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:

Soror

Always Within the Hour

Spellbound

At Sunset Through the Fields Aflame (version from The Spiral Sacrifice)

Anima I

Hades’ “Pluton”

The Sleeper (version from POETICA: All beauty sleeps)

Do You Know My Name? (version from Ich tote mich…)

Children of the Corn

Beautiful Thorn

Baptisma (1989 demo version)

Beautiful

Eldorado (version from POETICA: All beauty sleeps)

Day of the Dead

Abschied

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)

Anima II

Coffin Break

Leeches & Deception

Poison

The Conqueror Worm (version from Flowers in Formaldehyde)

Into The Night

Sopor Fratrem Mortis Est

A Strange Thing to Say

Bitter Sweet

Consider This: The True Meaning of Love

Nightbreed

Tanz der Grausamkeit (version from Ich tote mich…)

Dead Souls

Helvetia Sexualis

Do You Know My Name? / What Has Happened While We Slept?