The philosophical agenda behind Antichrist Superstar is simple: highlight the horror of the demonic, that is, conservative America. An under appreciated masterpiece, released in 1996, the album shows Marilyn Manson transforming into the accuser, the antagonist to Christian ideologies and leader of the rebellion, who uses satanic virtues to demonstrate non-conformity and transgression. Anton LaVey’s 1969 publication The Satanic Bible was a philosophical manifesto, driven by nine satanic statements, written to disrupt the religious discourse and political systems of the time, promoting a view of life as the ultimate indulgence. LaVey’s role as the Black Pope positioned him in society as the ultimate sinner. Marilyn Manson took on the role of the Black Pope in the mainstream pop culture of the 90s. With wormwood running through his bloodstream and inspiration from Dr. Seuss and Nietzsche, the ideological structure of Manson’s artistry adopts the relatively mundane subcultural capital set out by the LaVeyan Satanic theology. Why does Manson identify with the Church of Satan and Satanism as philosophical discourse, in preference to the demonological iconography embedded in the black metal culture? Manson does not thematize satanic worship or hell. Compared to underground death and black metal, Manson appears tame, notwithstanding his portrayal in mainstream media.
Comparing Manson’s satanic philosophy to the antics of the Norwegian black metal band Mayhem is like comparing Ozzy Ozborne to Taylor Swift. Mayhem’s image leans toward Satanism by Christian standards, and this cannot be disregarded from their meta-narrative. We cannot dismiss the controversy that has dogged them from their formation. From the horrific suicide of lead singer Per Yngve Ohlin (known as “Dead”) to the murder of guitarist Euronymous and the macabre themes of satanic rituals referenced in their music and lyrics, Mayhem seems to have lost the process of self-identification in their shock antics. Dead’s suicide, as tragic as it was, reminds practicing Satanists of the “Xloptuny curse.” This was placed on John C. Davis, a member of the Church of Satan by John Alee, founder of the Allee Shadow Tradition. Davis, also known as “Xloptuny,” put a bullet to his right temple. A member of LaVey’s Church, known for his Neo-Nazi beliefs and foul tongue, Davis was said to be a practicing Satanist, so he must have skipped page 94 of The Satanic Bible, which indicates that “self-sacrifice is not encouraged by the Satanic religion.” Dead, who was suffering from mental health issues, believed he was, well, dead. His suicide note addresses his familiarity with the unfamiliar: “To give some semblance of an explanation I am not a human, this is just a dream, and soon I will awake.” For an artist who referenced satanic discourse in his work, is a “Yukio-Mishimi”-inspired act of heroism relevant or was he a victim of Cotard’s syndrome?
Manson’s meta-morphism into the Antichrist—the leader of the rebellion who fights against the backdrop of the ideological constructs of Christianity—not only becomes polemic in its nature, but the visual imagery of his music videos combines the grotesque with morbid preoccupations with the apocalypse, which serve as a reminder that the Antichrist exists in the realm of society. Inspired by the fear bestowed upon him at Christian school, the album, which was released in 1996, took the pop-cultural landscape of the 90s and disrupted it with a violent subversion, portraying Satan as a transgressive symbol. In these videos, not only does Manson play the role of the Antichrist, “the man you should fear,” but through the practice of psychodrama therapy, Manson’s personification as the High Priest creates a Black Pope for mainstream America, consolidated by his disturbing antics. His friendship with Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan, could have been the inspiration for the diabolical authority found in the image of the Antichrist in the album. LaVey and Manson met in 1994, and their friendship developed around a quasi-scripture, a perfect mix of philosophy and epicureanism. Manson was even inducted into the Church, although he remains silent on whether he is a practicing Satanist. The artwork for the album reflects a combination of LaVeyan and Nietzschean philosophy, with a hint of fascist right aesthetic, giving conservative America a giant middle-finger.
Manson’s violent strobes of insanity plague our memories, just as a bad dose of acid can send us flying around in an abyss of satanic dogmas. False moralism is an element of the charismatic and eccentric personalities of Manson. The albums’ social critique answers the chants of the far-right Christian fanatics, who spread rumors of barbaric rituals at his live performances, such as the raping of a nine-year-old, or animal and human sacrifices. The depiction of animals is used in Satanism to an extent, although animal and child abuse are forbidden, including ritual sacrifice. The philosophy of contemporary Satanism, not to be mistaken for devil worship, which is part of the Christian heresy, is a religion, which includes elements of elitism and social Darwinism. It is not a barbaric matter of “let’s sacrifice this baby to the Gods.”
Antichrist Superstar conceptualizes a stratified antagonist who follows a eugenic practice, a self-destructive path, defined by Christian ideology. Manson’s Antichrist inhabits an idealized rockstar, whose behavior goes against the satanic sin of counterproductive pride. He is a mirror to the hypocrisy of this world and an ally to Nietzsche’s Antichrist. By becoming Satan in the eyes of the public, Manson follows in the footsteps of LaVey to become “one hates what one fears.” By articulating Satanism so effectively in this album, and its accompanying visuals, Manson signs a Faustian contract.
It is clear that many of the visuals used in the videos for tracks such as Antichrist Superstar and The Beautiful People have been inspired by Triumph of the Will (1935), Wings of Desire (1987), and, of course, E. Elias Merhige’s 1990 film, The Begotten (1990). The latter, an art/horror film depicting God’s suicide and based on the book of Genesis, inspired Manson, and he hired Mirhage to direct Cryptorchid and Antichrist Superstar.
The Beautiful People (1996) dir. Floria Sigismondi
One is reminded of the elements of a dystopian apocalypse when watching the music video of “The Beautiful People.” The visual impression of sinister intent is underscored by tones of distorted electric chainsaws and demonic marching. The visual aesthetic has certain parallels with Nexion: A Sinister Strategy, by the Order of Nine Angles, which explores esoteric ideologies that are secretly circulated among the members of the Satanic Order of Nine Angles. The idea that everyone should experience at least one war in their lifetime and that kids should leave home at the age of 16 is seen in the rallies and marches of Manson’s army in the video. The images and lyrics juxtapose Christian totalitarianism, with images of an army, preparing to march for Manson’s Antichrist. The Christian oppressors preach “that which is not Christian, is ugly.” The video pays homage to the achievements of a promethean imperium as preached by the Order of Nine Angles, a step forward in achieving the ultimate satanic goal.
Antichrist Superstar (1996- Officially Unreleased) dir. E. Elias Merhige
Acting as visual propaganda with satanic overtones, this video has been produced to cure authoritarian oppression and hypocrisy, psychologically harassing far-right conservatives. Manson’s Nosferatu-like appearance is juxtaposed with images of Hitler…a symbolic nod to Satan as Hitler, and vice-versa. Merhige uses military stock footage, combining it with Manson’s performance shots, in which he goes from a rebellious leader to a power-hungry dictator. The heightened emotion and nihilistic imagery demonstrate the darker side of the religion through blurring symbolic boundaries. It is a disturbing and nightmare-inducing edit, in which the central vices of Satanism become the central virtues of liberation and “the good life.” Greed, sex, parties, and violence are themes and elements in which the visual aesthetic pays homage to both The Satanic Bible and Hitler.
Tourniquet (1997) dir. Floria Sigismondi
This unsettling music video, a product of the director’s sleep-deprived conjecture of terror, madness, and domination, is mixed with the aesthetics of beauty, eroticism, and death. The track itself, which exudes Alt-rock vibes, exhibits a grimy exterior that portrays Manson as a scapegoat for Christianity’s hegemony. Terrifyingly beautiful, with S&M-inspired outfits, smeared lipstick, shaved eyebrows, and the suggestion of body fluids, the transformation that takes place in this music video is an interpretation of Manson’s moral persona and the Church that recognizes this “dirty” image. He is a representation of sin and temptation, who sacrifices himself for satanic rebirth, transforming from Antichrist to rockstar.
It is difficult to erase from our memories these distorted images, with elements of Satanism, Nazism, and horror, which play out in the aesthetic of Manson’s music videos. Antichrist Superstar, a prophetic album embedded with satanic philosophy, not only challenged the discourses of the 1990s but also predicted the formidable end of all ends: the extinction of virtues and moral salvation. Was he predicting the situation in America in 2020?