Iconic rock frontman Marilyn Manson became a mainstream antihero in the '90s — much to the chagrin of conservative politicians and concerned parents — before settling into a goth elder statesman role in the 2000s with a matured blues-rock reinvention. The self-proclaimed "Antichrist Superstar," his vision of dark, arty, industrial metal 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 trilogy of Antichrist Superstar, Mechanical Animals, and Holy Wood won him a legion of die-hard fans while also attracting media attention and 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. In 2015, he staged a surprising comeback with the critically acclaimed The Pale Emperor, a dark, bluesy affair crafted with Tyler Bates.
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 show 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 ruffle feathers 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, 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 mythic concepts of his prior trio of albums, Manson found inspiration for his fifth effort in the sounds of burlesque, cabaret, and Weimar-era Germany. 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 following year, Manson released a greatest-hits affair titled Lest We Forget. A symbolic close to the era, the collection covered the highlights of Manson's career and included a new cover version of Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus," whose success helped push the album to gold status in multiple countries. At this point, Manson turned his focus to his watercolor painting and art exhibitions, with subsequent albums taking a more introspective approach.
Late in 2005, the band announced that a new album was nearly finished; however, it wasn't until 2007 that Eat Me, Drink Me was released. Focused on heartbreak and relationship conflict, the record was largely written, performed, and produced by Manson and guitarist/bassist Tim Skold (ex-KMFDM), who left Marilyn Manson's lineup shortly thereafter and was replaced by returning member 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. Later that same year, Manson premiered a short film in support of the album titled Born Villain. The film, directed by actor Shia La Beouf, was not a music video for a specific track, but a stand-alone short. The album Born Villain, featuring the single "No Reflection," was released in 2012 and debuted inside the Top Ten. One year later, Manson teamed up with score composer Tyler Bates (Guardians of the Galaxy, John Wick, 300) and began recording what would become The Pale Emperor, which saw release early in 2015 on Loma Vista for the U.S. and Cooking Vinyl internationally. Favored by critics as one of the band's best late-era efforts, the album peaked in the Top Ten of the Billboard 200 and topped the Hard Rock chart. Manson followed The Pale Emperor with another Bates collaboration in 2017. 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 10 once again and, during a subsequent tour that reunited Manson with fellow shock-rock veteran Rob Zombie, he issued the cover single "Cry Little Sister" and a cover duet with Zombie, "Helter Skelter." More cover singles arrived in 2019, namely "God's Gonna Cut You Down" and "The End" by the Doors. ~ Neil Z. Yeung & Jason Ankeny