Iconic rock frontman Marilyn Manson became a mainstream antihero in the 1990s -- much to the chagrin of conservative politicians, religious leaders, and concerned parents -- ruffling feathers and shocking the masses with his dark brand of glam-influenced industrial metal, outspoken social commentary, and incendiary live shows. The self-proclaimed "Antichrist Superstar," he peddled a disquieting yet artful vision of society that focused on sex, drugs, violence, politics, and organized religion, which pushed many of his singles -- including "The Dope Show," "The Beautiful People," and a cover of Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" -- into the upper reaches of the modern rock charts during the late '90s and early 2000s. During his band's commercial peak, the conceptual triptych of Antichrist Superstar, Mechanical Animals, and Holy Wood won him a legion of die-hard fans while also attracting media attention and cultural notoriety. Following the release of 2003's The Golden Age of Grotesque, Manson entered his next era with a trio of releases that marked a downturn in mainstream popularity and sales. However, at the turn of the following decade, he staged a surprising late-era comeback with a string of critically acclaimed albums -- The Pale Emperor (2015), Heaven Upside Down (2017), and We Are Chaos (2020) -- which eased him into a goth elder statesman role.
Born Brian Warner, Manson was raised in Canton, Ohio. At the age of 18, he relocated to Tampa Bay, Florida, where he worked as a music journalist. In 1989, he became friends with guitarist and fellow outsider Scott Mitchell; the two soon decided to form a band, with Mitchell rechristening himself Daisy Berkowitz and Warner adopting the name Marilyn Manson. With the addition of bassist Gidget Gein and keyboardist Madonna Wayne Gacy, the group -- originally dubbed Marilyn Manson & the Spooky Kids -- began self-releasing cassettes and playing gigs, their gothic stage shows notable for Manson's elaborate makeup and homemade special effects. Jettisoning their drum machine in favor of Sara Lee Lucas, the band's sound began taking on a harder edge, and by 1992 they were among the most popular and notorious acts in the South Florida underground.
In 1993, Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor came calling, offering both a contract with his Nothing Records label as well as the chance to open for NIN the following spring; Manson accepted both offers, and the group's debut LP, Portrait of an American Family, appeared during the summer of 1994. With new bassist Twiggy Ramirez replacing Gein, the group's notoriety soared. Most infamously, during an appearance in Salt Lake City, Manson ripped apart a copy of the Book of Mormon while on-stage. The Church of Satan's founder, Anton LaVey, also bestowed upon him the title of "Reverend," further stoking conservatives' fears. Manson's cult following continued to swell, and the band broke into the mainstream with the release of 1995's Smells Like Children EP, propelled by their enduring hit cover of Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)." Berkowitz quit a short time later and was replaced by guitarist Zim Zum, and the revised group saw their next LP, 1996's conceptual opus Antichrist Superstar, debut at the number three spot on the pop album charts and sell nearly two million copies in the U.S. alone. Produced by Trent Reznor, the multi-platinum Antichrist Superstar became the band's most influential and defining statement. As Manson's popularity grew, so did the furor surrounding him. His concerts were regularly picketed by civic groups, and his music was the subject of widespread attacks from right-wing and religious fronts.
Manson continued to court controversy in 1998 with the glam-inspired Mechanical Animals, which included cover art depicting the singer as a naked androgynous alien. The album became the band's first to top the charts and spawned the singles "The Dope Show" and "I Don't Like the Drugs (But the Drugs Like Me)." While the resulting tour yielded a live album, Last Tour on Earth, the trek was cut short in early 1999 after the band was erroneously blamed for influencing the perpetrators of the Columbine High School massacre. Out of respect for the public, the band retreated from the spotlight and returned to the studio.
The third and final part of a thematic album triptych, Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death) arrived at the end of 2000, just barely missing the Top Ten. One of Manson's most sprawling conceptual pieces, the politically charged Holy Wood included the singles "Disposable Teens" and "The Fight Song." The band returned to the road and toured to support the album during much of 2001. That December, Manson's version of "Tainted Love" appeared on the Not Another Teen Movie soundtrack, becoming an unexpected European chart hit.
Freed from the mythology of his prior trio of albums, Manson found inspiration for his fifth effort in the sounds of burlesque, cabaret, and the excess of Weimar-era Germany. Longtime bassist Twiggy Ramirez amicably left the group before recording and his spot was filled by Tim Skold (ex-KMFDM). The result was 2003's The Golden Age of Grotesque, which spent a week atop the album charts and ended up on several critics' year-end Top Ten lists. The singles "This Is the New Shit" and "Mobscene" also became live staples for years to come, debuted on the accompanying Grotesk Burlesk tour. As the Grotesque period drew to a close, so too did the stints of longtime members Madonna Wayne Gacy and John 5, who left the group between album releases. The following year, another symbolic end to the era arrived in the form of a greatest-hits affair titled Lest We Forget. The collection covered the band's career highlights -- from Portrait's first single "Get Your Gunn" to a 2004 cover version of Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" -- and earned gold status in multiple countries. At this point, Manson began to branch out from music, displaying his watercolor paintings at art exhibitions, dabbling in filmmaking, and producing his own absinthe.
With the curtains closed on his peak mainstream period, Manson's output also took an introspective turn, thematically shifting from the grandiose concepts of his peak mainstream period to more reflective statements. This next stage began with 2007's Eat Me, Drink Me, his most personal affair to date. Debuting a more vulnerable perspective and an increase in singing, the record was written, performed, and produced entirely by Manson and Skold. Landing in the Billboard 200's Top Ten, the set included the singles "Heart-Shaped Glasses" and "Putting Holes in Happiness." Skold parted with Manson shortly thereafter and was replaced by returning member and right-hand man Twiggy Ramirez. Manson and Ramirez then began writing material for the band's seventh studio album, The High End of Low, which arrived in spring 2009 and reached number four on the charts. In 2011, during preparation for the release of the band's eighth studio album, longtime drummer Ginger Fish announced he had left the group. On his own, Manson forged ahead, premiering Born Villain, a short film directed by Shia La Beouf that served as support for his forthcoming album of the same name. One of his lowest-performing albums to date, Born Villain featured the track "No Reflection," which managed to become his highest-charting single in almost a decade.
Despite the creative musical slump, Manson remained busy with other exploits, furthering his acting career with film and television roles, including a fortuitous appearance on the show Californication, where he met score composer Tyler Bates (Guardians of the Galaxy, John Wick, 300). The pair hit it off and began recording what would become Manson's big comeback. His ninth album overall, The Pale Emperor was released in January 2015 on Loma Vista in the U.S. and Cooking Vinyl internationally. Favored by critics as one of the band's best late-era efforts, the blues rock-inspired album peaked in the Top Ten of the Billboard 200 and topped the Hard Rock chart. Capitalizing on the creative momentum, Manson and Bates extended their partnership in 2017 with another collaboration. Originally titled Say10, Heaven Upside Down -- Manson's tenth album -- featured the singles "We Know Where You Fucking Live" and "Kill4Me." The set placed Manson back on the pop Top Ten and was supported by extensive touring, including a summer jaunt that reunited Manson with fellow shock-rock veteran Rob Zombie. At the start of their joint tour, Manson issued a cover of the song "Cry Little Sister" and a duet with Zombie covering the Beatles' "Helter Skelter." More cover singles arrived in 2019, namely "God's Gonna Cut You Down" and "The End" by the Doors.
The 2020s were ushered in by Manson's 11th album We Are Chaos. This time around, he teamed with outlaw country musician Shooter Jennings, extending his late-era creative renaissance with new flourishes like the fiddle and pedal steel guitar.
© Neil Z. Yeung /TiVo