Antichrist Superstar debuted at No.3 in the United States fifteen years ago, but would go on to sell more than seven million copies worldwide. The Friedrich Nietzsche-inspired concept album was heavy on distorted guitar riffs as well as the rocker's contrarian ideals. More substantive than Alice Cooper, though influenced by the former, Manson's presentation was more than just a painted face and powerful screams into the microphone.
With a harsh critique of fascistic tendencies within Christianity in the country, the album came before many books written by journalists on the subject, including Chris Hedges' American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, that would arrive on bookshelves in the years after the 2000 election (?) of George W. Bush to the Presidency – a high-water mark for for the political power of religious conservatives. “I am totalitarian /I've got abortions in my eyes,” Manson screeds on Antichrist Superstar's opening salvo “Irresponsible Hate Anthem.” In another example, the music video for 'culture of beauty' critiquing song “The Beautiful People” has cinematic allusions to Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will.
“Man That You Fear” brought the hell, fire, and brimstone of all the previous tracks to a vulnerable halt. Seeing a bit of himself within Shirley Jackson's harrowing short story “The Lottery,” Manson's song lent even more intellectual and artistic credence to the album. But it was “Antichrist Superstar,” the title track itself, that brought the effort to its apocalyptic heights as a performance piece. The famed podium with banners in the background akin to those at Nuremberg rallies of old allowed Manson to deliver his lyrics with exaggerated gyrations mocking dictators and authoritarian televangelists alike.
The thought provoking rocker would eventually follow up two years later with the compelling concept album Mechanical Animals that certainly could have eclipsed the success of Antichrist Superstar had it not been for the Columbine school shootings and the resulting, misplaced blame for them that was thrust upon Manson. In many respects, he would never reach such artistic heights again, serving as a continual agitator testing the boundaries of free expression. The High End of Low, the last album Manson released on Interscope Records in 2009 before the two parted ways, did offer glimpses of a resurrection, though, with its stand out tracks and exploration of interesting concepts all while reuniting with co-conspirator Twiggy Ramirez. When he came to the Grove of Anaheim that year, there were protestors, just as in the old days, but they were only a handful to denounce from stage.
Looking back, it was a shame. The iconography of the High End of Low replaced the lighting bolts of Antichrist Superstar with dollar signs. In another part of the live shows supporting the album, lights would beam a rotating image of two dollar signs fashioned as a swastika. The artistic attempts, seemingly aimed at the anonymity of the corporate state or what political philosopher and Democracy Incorporated author Sheldon Wolin deemed 'inverted totalitarianism' mostly went under the radar and Manson has since gone indie with Cooking Vinyl Records and the artist's own Hell, etc. label set to release his next album Born Villain.
In a commercial rock world that has smaller spaces for big ideas these days, what the forthcoming 2012 release holds in store and what effect it will have remains to be seen. Fans did receive a little glimpse into the eighth full-length studio album when a teaser video titled “I Am Among No One” was made public. The palpable anger and insistence on an uncompromising individualism are present in the lyrics and music.
Time will tell, however, if the 'Born Villain' himself will be re-born fifteen years after Antichrist Superstar.