An audience with the Antichrist Superstar himself...

The room is so dark I can barely see. Only the bronze glow of a half-dozen flickering candles illuminate the shape of a solitary figure sitting by the wall in the corner. As I step cautiously through the shadows, the figure stands up to greet me, and when I am close, he extends his right arm in the direction of mine. It’s a firm grip he has, blackened nails crowning his large, unyielding hands, and as they pull me towards him, closer to the light, I find myself finally, dauntingly, face-to-ghoulishly-white-face with the self-proclaimed God of Fuck.

Since unleashing his nightmarish persona upon an unsuspecting mainstream in the early-’90s, Marilyn Manson has been the constant scourge of Middle America, terrorising their God-fearing lives with a provocative, hell-bent appetite for disorder, and subverting their children with gothic howls that called to the alienated and depraved alike.

In 1995, a year after the Trent Reznor-produced debut album ‘Portrait Of An American Family’ introduced the horrifying rock group to the charts, Manson - alongside bassist Twiggy Ramirez and keyboardist Madonna Wayne Gacy - appeared on The Phil Donahue Show to defend moshing, and the supposed dangerous effect their music was having on young people. Manson handled himself admirably, offering astute and considered answers to the onslaught of haranguers in the audience. “I think parents should raise their kids better,” he advises at one point, “or someone like Marilyn Manson is going to.” He had a valid point, but the victimisation was only beginning; in 1999, his albums were removed from Wal-Mart amid accusations that his music had influenced the shooters at the Columbine High School massacre. That ban remains, despite the fact the association was proved untrue.

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I was never satisfied with anything...

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Still, this is the man who’s a certified minister in the Church of Satan, who’s admitted smoking human bones after a bout of grave-digging in New Orleans, whose stage antics include slicing his chest open with a broken bottle, kicking his guitarist in the face, and setting his drummer on fire (albeit accidentally). His experiences with journalists have been tempestuous to say the least - his threats to the editor of Spin magazine led to an assault and battery charge - and reports from the previous day’s interviews (including one reporter receiving a whack to the crown jewels) have left me more than a little nervous.

So here we are, left alone in a dark basement lounge in Berlin, and as I sit angled enough to tactically prevent any unwanted groin injuries, I’m only too aware of my opponent’s formidable reputation. Before talk turns to his forthcoming new album, ‘Heaven Upside Down’, I want to find out about the path that led Ohio-born Brian Warner to become Public Enemy Number One, and the force that continues to propel him.

“I was never satisfied with anything,” he begins, with regards his earliest motivations. “Even when I had a job at a record store, I’d instantly become the manager - and I shoplifted all the records, of course. Then, when I was a writer [Manson was once a music journalist for South Florida lifestyle magazine, 25th Parallel], I had to become the editor, and then I wasn’t satisfied with that, so then I had to become the singer to go with the name of the band, because I created a band name but I had no songs! The first article written about Marilyn Manson was written by Brian Warner, saying how great the music was, but there was no music yet. People seemed interested, and I had to finish the problem that I started,” he laughs.

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The drive has endured, he affirms, though his intentions are a little more refined these days, with a determination to achieve maximum results. “I found that somehow in my life now less is more, when you make it very powerful,” he says. “You don’t have to saturate with many things because the world is so over-saturated with the idea of things being shocking or even culturally interesting in any ways. It’s bordering on impossible, but then it’s starting to become even better, I think, because so many people think that they can say and do and be whatever they want to be. It gives you a chance for the better to rise to the top, so I wanted to make something that’s not here to change the world or to make rock ‘n’ roll better; if anything, just to embarrass the people that can’t make the record. Or to fuck shit up.”

“Those are my two purposes in life,” he grins, leaning back in his tall armchair. “Chaos would be the main one.”

When asked if he harbours any specific ambitions yet to be fulfilled, Manson’s thoughts turn immediately to acting - a recurring role in Salem and a recent guest appearance on Sons Of Anarchy add to his growing filmography - where a superhero villain would be the dream (“I’m very good at being a bad person,” he admits, “just ask any of my friends”), and he hopes to express more through his painting, but fitting all his private passions into his schedule is proving a challenge, though it’s a fight he’s willing to take on. “With all of the things that happened since the last record - my mother and my father both dying - it hasn’t made me have a different sense of mortality, it’s made me have a different sense of how important time is.”

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I found that somehow in my life now less is more, when you make it very powerful...

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His mother succumbed to Alzheimer’s in May 2014, during the making of the progressive return-to-form, ‘The Pale Emperor’, while his father passed just a couple of weeks before our meeting. I ask whether those losses and his subsequent appreciation for time had endowed him perhaps with a sense of freedom to be more adventurous with his music. “What I like about [‘Heaven Upside Down’],” he responds, “is that it really doesn’t hold back. But it’s not mature, it’s not eloquent, but it is very poetic in a sense. I managed to say some really harsh things that could be interpreted romantically, politically, sexually, religiously, so I have to say that I am a bit proud of myself on that part.”

Written in collaboration again with film and TV composer Tyler Bates, whose glam-yet-gritty rock influence shaped the relatively stripped-down sound of ‘The Pale Emperor’, this new record is tougher, less compromising, and boundless in its outlook. “It paints more of a landscape,” Manson confirms. “Tyler being someone who scores films, I would let him read my lyrics more in approaching this one, and he would make the tone or the feeling or the emotion of the sound and enhance it or help push it in a certain direction.” Together, the pair conspired to revisit the “brash and unruly” influences that were the foundations of their earliest listening habits - Killing Joke, Joy Division, Ministry, Iggy Pop - fusing it with Manson’s beloved Bowie to create something altogether more jarring; “like [Bowie’s] ‘Scary Monsters’ meets [Bauhaus’] ‘In The Flat Field’ or something,” he suggests.

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It’s not mature, it’s not eloquent, but it is very poetic in a sense...

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The fiery and foreboding ‘Revelation #12’ sets an aggressive tone, denouncing those who are “Too stupid to call themselves evil / So they call themselves heroes,” threatening to “paint the town red / With the blood of the tourists”. ‘SAY10’ seethes with contempt for “the empty shell on the stage” and the blind devotion of those who follow this false icon. The metallic new wave pulse of ‘Saturnalia’ is chilling, almost otherworldly; through portentous and apocalyptic imagery (“By the roadside / All the bones picked clean / No gas in our machine”) shines glimpses of darkly romantic intentions: “I will still be here to hold you / No matter how cold you are.”

The clipped beats and industrial jolts of ‘JE$U$ CRI$I$’ are as antagonistic as its inspired chorus: “I write songs to fight and to fuck to / If you want to fight then I’ll fight you / If you want to fuck, I will fuck you / Make up your mind or I’ll make it up for you.” Closer ‘Threats Of Romance’, meanwhile, brings to mind T-Rex’s ‘Children Of The Revolution’ in its cosmic strut, though one doubts Marc Bolan’s relationship regrets were quite so macabre: “My seed would have made a good fruit / And you could have been a tree,” he growls, “I could have cut you down / Or just let you be.”

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Manson has teased the album’s release with the track ‘WE KNOW WHERE YOU FUCKING LIVE’, which “sounds like what you probably would imagine,” he laughs, and he’s not wrong. “But everybody who hears it hears it differently,” he continues. “I don’t think any of them are going to be the interpretation of actually why I wrote it. Everybody hears something different on it. Someone hears it as this type of story, someone hears it as that type of story - the best part I like is that nobody has the same ending to it. That’s sort of like life: you gotta make your own.”

Despite the volume and intensity of the song’s chorus - the title, defiantly blasted repeatedly - Manson isn’t one to hammer something home. His messages run deep, and he relishes the attempts to decipher them. “I don’t think that you can misinterpret it; you can only interpret it differently,” he says of his work. “There’s no wrong way or right way; there’s just different ways. You know, in the past being blamed for things like Columbine, which really had nothing to do with my music, I can see this record being blamed for a lot of things - and I hope it is blamed for things; that means it did something important. I’m not looking for harm necessarily as much as I’m looking for chaos. I’m just trying to be a tornado - just going through a town wrecking things. You can either get caught up in it or you can hide in the basement.”

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I’m not looking for harm necessarily as much as I’m looking for chaos.

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An uncontrollable storm he may be, but even Manson is susceptible to his own destruction. The self-assured sound of ‘The Pale Emperor’ followed a string of less-than-amazing albums that faced a collective critical shrug when compared to the consummate career highs of ‘Antichrist Superstar’ (1995) and ‘Mechanical Animals’ (1998) - Rolling Stone said that parts of 2007’s ‘Eat Me, Drink Me’ were “ho-hum and bone-dry”; NME said that 2009’s ‘The High End Of Low’ was “full of self-pitying dirges; “it’s striking how static Manson’s career has been,” said the Independent in their 2012 review for ‘Born Villain’ - so, what happened?

“Sometimes I can get lost,” he confesses. “I lost [having fun] in the middle of the road somewhere… I tried to express my rawness of showing my emotions more, I guess, when I did something like ‘Eat Me, Drink Me’, and I think that my headset was not as certain and clear and confident in myself. That’s the most important thing: I forgot to listen to my own goddamn message from the beginning, ‘Believe in yourself.’ That’s what I’ve always said from the beginning. That’s all you can do, and I think that maybe I lost belief in myself just there for a little while and I got it back on ‘Pale Emperor’.”

Was there a specific wake-up call that made him rediscover himself, I ask?

“I think I just had to smack myself in the face and pull up my bootstraps and realise that, you know, no one is going to fix this for you, and if you blame everyone else for your problems then you’re not in control of your life. I went through the whole gamut of different things that could happen: divorce, loss, rehab - which was boring!” he cackles.

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I think I was just being a little bit too careless with my life.

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“I just needed a reset button,” he reasons. “Sometimes you have to just reset. It all comes together - people want to blame everything on one thing: alcohol is the same as drugs and that causes depression. And that does, but the reason sometimes you go there is not just out of excess, it’s out of desperation, so I think I was just being a little bit too careless with my life. Not in a good rock star way - in a bad rock star way, because I wasn’t doing anything at all to represent the artistic side of it. I was just wallowing and I guess I was lost. I needed to just find myself, and see how miserable those other people were to realise how happy I should be about my life,” he laughs again.

‘Heaven Upside Down’ certainly sounds like he’s having fun again. In Tyler Bates, Marilyn Manson has found a creative foil whose compositions are as textured, intricate and interesting as his lyrical counterparts, and together they enhance the focused resolution of ‘The Pale Emperor’ to create an album that’s fearlessly hostile yet wickedly welcoming. It’s an indomitable continuation of a new and fiendishly inspired era for Marilyn Manson, wherein he’s rightfully celebrated as a cultural icon by everyone from Justin Bieber (though perhaps don’t mention his name to Manson) to Lil Uzi Vert, who’s rumoured to be collaborating with the roguish rocker.

But then, I would say such nice things about the record - I’m rather afraid not to.

“My favourite thing often is to call up the front desk of a newspaper,” he informs me at the end of our interview, as I promise not to twist his words in my feature, reminding me “‘WE KNOW WHERE YOU FUCKING LIVE’” with a towering Manson glare. “If I wake up the next day and I’m still in the same city and there’s some review of the show where the writer clearly wasn’t at the show, because they mention the wrong songs, and they start out with, ‘Manson’s trying to be shocking again…’ I will call up the front desk at the newspaper where this person works, and I will call up every office and I will pretend to be a concerned father - and I really turn my acting skills on then - and say that this writer did something really inappropriate to my daughter at this concert last night, and I don’t want to start a lawsuit. And then I’ll cry and I’ll go into all these different details. Every single desk at the newspaper. So, when that guy goes to work the next day, he’s gonna have a real fucking good time.”

Well, that’s karma for you, I say, edging gingerly towards the door. “Nah,” he growls, with another savage cackle, “that’s called me being the wrong person to fuck with.”

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'Heaven Upside Down' is out now.

Words: Simon Harper
Photo Credit: Perou

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