Marilyn Manson Pushes You to Lean Into Your Fears Like No One Else
He's observed the horror around and within him, and stepped right inside it on album 'Heaven Upside Down'.
Hi. This is a monthly column where I'll be writing about something I've been unhealthily obsessed with. It is basically a written accompaniment to this meme. But with more music. Thanks.
I was about 18 when I had my first proper panic attack. I was visiting a friend in Helsinki, where she'd recently moved, and had been sitting in her studio flat all day waiting for her to come home from the pharmaceutical factory she worked at. It was the middle of January, so the sun had gone down at 3PM and the blizzard outside had left a thick layer of snow on the ground stacked higher than knee-level, meaning I couldn't really leave the flat even if I wanted to. I had been staring at the same four walls for hours. Something uneasy within me began to stir.
I remember it creeping up on me the way a sickness bug does; a lingering, background queasiness that very quickly escalated into full-blown dread. Within a short space of time, for no reason at all other than that I could hear movement outside, I became convinced that there were people beyond the flat's walls conspiring against me. Writing it down now makes it seem so irrational it sounds almost comical – but in that moment, it felt as if my paranoia was justified, that I was acting on a kind of psychic intuition. I stayed very still and completely silent, my heart hammering in my chest, my body dripping in sweat, and remained like that for around two hours until my breathing returned to normal and I realised that the chat outside was probably just neighbours talking about cat food, rather than the intricate mechanics of a kidnapping plot with me at the centre.
In the years to follow, I would experience different incarnations of that episode in various formations. Sometimes, the feeling would be very fleeting; an unexpected lurch in my stomach while I was on the bus, a bristling paranoia while I was making dinner that quickly passed. Other times, it would approach in more brutal, overwhelming ways that momentarily shifted the way I lived my life. In each instant, though, I realised that resisting the panic made it grow stronger. In saying "you have to feel better, you have to feel better now", I would inevitably feel worse. And so, as I became older, I gradually learned how to lean into it. Because for me – and I must stress this probably doesn't work for everyone and definitely not in all situations, also I'm not a doctor – embracing the sensation of my entire interior world collapsing became the most effective way of keeping it together.
Last month, Marilyn Manson released his tenth studio album Heaven Upside Down and it is a masterclass in apocalyptic visions; both real and imagined. Began before Manson found out his father was dying, and then finished around the time of his subsequent death, the album is full of the sort of nightmarish images that we have come to associate with Manson over the years: the violence of capitalism, the ever-present spectre of our own death and the death of others, drugs, religion, paranoia, obsession, kink. Of course, it's not a totally serious album. It's Manson, so there's a huge amount of gothic melodrama and character aesthetics at play which mean these themes are volumised and glammed up – but that doesn't make them any less meaningful.
The idea of leaning into your fears permeates every corner of this record. Whether Manson is bringing his hellish internal visions to life on "Heaven Upside Down" ("I can hear the scream of trumpets / Smell the ash and sulfur") or posing questions most of us wouldn't bring up in healthy conversation on "Kill4Me" ("Would you kill, kill, kill for me? I love you enough to ask you again") or spitting out embittered references to his own self-loathing and fragility on "Threats of Romance" ("Things that are pretty are always kept behind glass / someone like me, someone like me can't make it last") he spends the whole album illuminating his ghosts for everyone to see. In this way, all the dark shit he sings about no longer feel like 'the unknown'; it's just out there, like a sonic exorcism. It's like that scene in Stranger Things when Luke turns to the ginormous tentacled monster and screams "go away!" before walking straight into pure, abject horror.
Obviously, when talking about an artist like Manson – who has spent his entire career toying with perception, like a hall of mirrors for pop culture – nothing should be taken at face value. But this idea of facing your internal darkness, or leaning into fears, is a subject Manson has touched on recently. "When I was depressed, people told me, 'Hey, you're great, don't worry about it,' and that makes it a thousand fucking times worse," Manson said in a recent interview with Dazed. "That's the whole point of depression. You know you're better than you're doing right now and you can't do anything about it, so when someone tells you that you're better, it just drives you deeper and deeper down the hole until you just make a decision – you're gonna face your fears or dry your tears, you're gonna fight it or not. I just felt some unknown responsibility to fight it. It's never easy."
I don't have panic attacks very often these days, which is fun. But when I do, or when I have done in the past, they often feel vague and intangible, like "something bad is going to happen". The fear is usually way worse than the reality – that's the fucked up thing about them, they're a trick. And so, by not trying to chase the panic away and instead allowing myself to be enveloped in it, I can somehow become an active participant in the experience and therefore be – if not in control – at least involved in the narrative. I have absolutely no idea if this works for anyone else because everyone has their own individual coping mechanisms, but it works for me.
And to me, that's what Heaven Upside Down sounds like. It sounds like Manson has observed the horror around him, observed the horror within him, and stepped right inside it. It's like closing your eyes and falling asleep in a graveyard alone at night, and then waking up to realise you didn't get swallowed by the ghosts and ghouls, you just slept among them. "I felt [the album] had to be done," Manson said in that same aforementioned interview. "I'm a tornado and you can sit back and watch it."