Every month, I will write about a film, album, book or event that I consider horror, and that had a warping effect on my young mind. You will discover my definition of what constitutes horror is both eclectic and elastic. Don’t write in. Also, of necessity, much of this will be bullshit – as in, my best recollection of things that happened anywhere from 15 – 30 years ago. Sometimes I will revisit the source material contemporaneously, further compounding the potential bullshit factor. Finally, intimate familiarity with the text is assumed – to put it bluntly, here be gigantic and comprehensive spoilers. Though in the vast majority of cases, I’d recommend doing yourself a favour and checking out the original material first anyway.
This is not history. This is not journalism. This is not a review.
This is my life in horror.
I Wasn’t Born With Enough Middle Fingers
We’re back in the dark days of the mid to late nineties. The Bad Years. The No Future Years. In keeping with all teenagers ever, I do not know who I am or what I want.
I do know what I don’t want, though. The list is pretty exhaustive, but can be summed up neatly with the phrase ‘my life’. As noted in my Endless, Nameless piece, I was on a slow but inexorable slide into deserved obscurity and misery, and I could see no way to reverse the trend. I was chronically unable to get out of bed to any kind of reliable schedule, I hated anything resembling a classroom, and I certainly felt to be close to the dictionary definition of unemployable.
There were a few rays of light - chinks in the grey that just about kept the darkest thoughts at bay. Roleplaying was one pastime that gave me a creative outlet. I sunk countless hours into XCOM:Enemy Unknown, about the only game that would run on the even-then-ancient 384 that had fallen out of the back of some educational establishment - too old for field work, too young for a museum piece.
And of course, there was music.
This one is odd, though. I mean, I hated it at first. Really, properly hated it. The single was so ubiquitous that even with no ready access to new music, I’d heard it. And I just thought it was dumb. I hated the overfuzzed, downtuned guitars and the three note riff, the spoken/shouted vocal, all of it. Something about that production, too - I liked Pantera, Sepultura, but this… this was something different. Uglier, somehow. Musically dumber and less skilled. Worse, produced to sound bad, somehow. It was deliberate. My music nazi friend bought the album and tried to play it to me, and I tried not to sneer.
It’s so hard, listening to it now, to find that initial response again. The album’s burned on my mind at this point, not with perhaps the same affection as Levelling The Land or as bone-deep as Appetite… but pretty clear, all the same, with an all-of-the-riffs-and-almost-all-the-words intensity.
I think some of it is probably the industrial thing. My dad had gotten me The Downward Spiral on a trip to the US, the week it came out there, and I just didn’t connect with it at all until most of a decade later. I tried, but it was alienating to me - deliberately abrasive, full of samples and electronic sounds in place of my beloved drums/bass/guitar/guitar/vox setup, world without end, amen.
And, knowing nothing, this seemed like more of the same to me. Didn’t like the single, didn’t like the album, didn’t listen to it again for months.
Lucky for me, my music nazi friend loved it. And when we eventually, inevitably, moved into the same shared house in town, he brought it with him, and played it to death and back. And slowly but surely, Antichrist Superstar worked it’s dark magic upon me.
I’d love to be able to describe for you that process - the way I came to adore that which I had despised. I feel like it should be described in the tone and style of a Lovecraft short, the unwholesome sounds exerting an ever stronger fascination upon my soul, pulling me, against my will, towards the darkness… but that’s not how I remember it. In point of fact, I don’t remember it at all. It just…. Happened.
I think it’s likely it was some of the heavier tracks that ultimately brought me in - listening to the amazing stomping riff and drum beat at the end of the first chorus of Little Horn I’m reminded just how gobsmackingly brilliant this music can be, how grit-your-teeth vital - and the lyrics of The Reflecting God remain personal favorites. I suspect, too, the growing realisation that it was a concept album in all but name will have helped turn the key in my mind - some of my earliest memories revolve around listening to Pink Floyd’s The Wall, the huge gatefold vinyl open in front of me, child brain soaking up the cartoon imagery inside.
Hmm. One for another day, I think.
Anyway. At some point, it took root, in the fertile darkness and alienation of my mind. And I became a fan. Almost a convert. There was something liberating in the way the album embraced taboo, nihilism, rage. It was clearly music written by someone smart, and angry. I loved it for it’s heartsick rejection of the status quo, it’s calculated, almost surgical approach to offending to a mortal horror the worst hypocrisies and excesses of ‘Middle America’ (a creature I was just beginning to intuit existed, see the shape of - in fact, looking back, Antichrist Superstar probably represents the moment of that awakening - by being everything that wasn’t, the album illuminated what that was, like a perfect negative image). I still had my full complement of teenage bile and disgust for ‘normality’, a concept that seemed to me to represent nothing more than the warping, perversion, and ultimately destruction of our natural urges to create and love, to place us instead in service of an engine, a machine, that chewed up people and spat out toxicity. A system that might as well have been designed to foster short termism and quick fix solutions, bandaids on gaping wounds that would bleed us dry - worse, that would pursue short term orgies of greed at the expense of future generations. I could see it playing out, all around me, and I wanted no part of it, of any of it.
Of course, the hell of it was, I didn’t know what I did want, in it’s place (newsflash: I still don’t). Doesn’t matter, this album says. None of it matters. What matters is the rage. What matters is the knowing. In here, in this space, you can be yourself. Here, your rage is understood - not as an abnormality to be managed and controlled, but as a rational response to a cruel and senseless world.
It’s not a pretty album. It has little to say on the subjects of love, or hope. It’s absolutely a horror story - one called America, 1997 - and it really doesn’t give a fuck if you like it or not. That said, if it does resonate, if you find it speaking to something deep inside you, then, ah, then it opens up, a dark bloom with a heady, intoxicating scent. Manson plays all the parts, the oppressor and the oppressed, the bully and the victim, and the lyrics are brutally on-point. The production is absolutely astonishing, too, Trent Reznor bringing all of his considerable talents to bare, weaving a soundscape that goes far beyond raw instrumentation. As the story unfolds, you’re drawn along in the dark undercurrents, out into an inky, cold, unforgiving sea.
And then the storm hits.
It’s a druggy anti-drugs album, a violent anti-violence album, a deeply spiritual anti-religion album. Manson hates the world into which he has been shat, it’s true, but nowhere is that loathing stronger or more virulent than when turned upon himself.
And as a stereotypical angry young man, with enough smarts to realise the pathetic cliche I was becoming, but somehow still lacking the tools necessary to dig myself out, I could fucking relate.
Hell, in some ways, I still can.
Antichrist Superstar is an ugly, vicious album. It is also brilliant. But more fundamental than all of that, the reason I can put it on even today and feel that old ball of rage in my stomach, that endorphin surge of fury that tingles my scalp, is that behind and under all that theatricality, production, bluster, and cynical marketing (‘I am the AntiChrist! Give me all your money’) there is that most precious commodity of art: Truth.
And the truth in this record is simple - you are not to blame for the state of the world, and you are right to be furious at it.
You are not alone.
It resonated then, powerfully. And it resonates still.