The 20 Greatest Marilyn Manson Songs – Ranked
For over three decades now, Brian Hugh Warner – renamed Marilyn Manson after a self-destructive superstar and a cult leader – has been the singer, songwriter, visual artist, actor, producer and erstwhile music journalist at the forefront of contemporary shock-rock. Incepted as frightening pop culture curio following in the wake of Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, surrounded by outlandish rumours (Removed ribs! Amputated nipples! Child acting roles in The Wonder Years!), Manson evolved through a period of arena-rock ubiquity to his current position as gothic elder statesman. Rarely has a provocateur delivered his blend of controversy, household-name recognisability and sheer endurance.
With ten albums comprehensively bridging half the history of truly heavy metal, a retrospective like this feels as much like a review of the shifting sensibilities and fads of our scene as that of any one artist. Each album and individual Manson release is a telling milestone in its own right, whether featured here or not. Indeed, his infamous cover versions – from Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams and Soft Cell’s Tainted Love to Gary Numan’s Down In The Park and The Beatles’ Helter Skelter – ineligible on this list, merit a Top 20 of their own.
For now, though, we await your enthusiastic feedback on our ranking of Manson’s finest original work.
20. Get Your Gunn (Portrait Of An American Family, 1994)
Although Manson’s debut LP Portrait Of An American Family felt like a shock-rock landmark – NIN’s honestly impassioned maestro Trent Reznor producing the sort of hyper-provocative schlock so many handwringing busybodies had incorrectly accused him of writing – there’s an unrefined crudeness that feels outdated in light of subsequent work. Riffing on the horrific irony and rank hypocrisy of the murder of abortion doctor David Gunn by pro-life activists, however, Get Your Gunn remains a standout for its uncompromising stance and dark righteousness. Its lyrics – ‘Pseudo-morals work real well on talk shows for the weak / Selective judgement, good guy badges don’t mean a fuck to me…’ – were an indication of a cutting intelligence and wicked counter-culturalism that would soon be perfected.
19. Overneath The Path Of Misery (Born Villain, 2012)
When eighth LP (and significant return to form) Born Villain was announced with an elaborate trailer on September 1, 2011 (over six months before the record would drop) it was Overneath The Path Of Misery playing over the typically strange and unsettling imagery. Beginning with a distorted recital of the “Out, out, brief candle” monologue from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the song sprawls out over a high concept, even higher drama soundscape built from pouting vocals and sparse riffage, as Manson asks audaciously ‘Is there any way to unswallow my pride?’ A steadfast affirmation that old Shit Eyes is at his best when unbound and operating on his own most ridiculous/sublime terms.
18. The Reflecting God (Antichrist Superstar, 1996)
‘Your world is an ashtray,’ Manson sings on one of Antichrist Superstar’s less renowned, but instantly recognisable regardless, later tracks. ‘We burn and coil like cigarettes / The more you cry, your ashes turn to mud!’ Swerving from insidious whisper to furious swing over a backdrop of nervous beats and stainless steel six-string sounds, the message is key. It is Manson at his most darkly messianic, ruminating on mankind’s creation of a God to help alleviate the pain and short-changed sensation of our own fleeting existence. It’s closing movement – ‘Shoot, shoot, shoot motherfucker! No salvation, no forgiveness!’ – is a moment of breathtaking nihilism.
17. The Mephistopheles Of Los Angeles (The Pale Emperor, 2015)
Album number nine saw Manson metamorphose into a new character befitting his real-life latter day persona as a demon in the City Of Angels – one of the real Hollywood vampires nurturing upcoming outsider talent while continuing to run rule over a grand artistic empire. Named after the Germanic mythological demon who collects the souls of the damned (as popularised by Faust) The Mephistopheles Of Los Angeles marries elements of glam rock, post-punk and a bluesy jauntiness befitting its well-travelled protagonist. ‘I feel sole and alone like a heretic,’ he sings, reckoning on his eternal outsider status and boundless talent for reinvention/resurrection. ‘I’m ready to meet my maker / Lazarus has got no dirt on me.’
16. This Is The New Shit (The Golden Age Of Grotesque, 2003)
A swaggering, poppy reaffirmation of the direction indicated by mOBSCENE, the second single from The Golden Age Of Grotesque confirmed Manson wasn’t shy about a little self-referential subversion. A decade in, he had brought multi-instrumental specialist Tim Sköld (of Shotgun Messiah, KMFDM, MDFMK) aboard and plunged into a world of swinging hooks and unfamiliar industrial beats. The ‘new shit’ concept preemptively heralds an inevitably small-minded reaction from so many ‘hardcore’ fans, while Manson playfully takes potshots at a pop cultural formula he had so gleefully spiked: ‘Babble, babble, bitch, bitch, rebel, rebel, party, party, sex, sex, sex, and don’t forget the violence…’
15. Putting Holes In Happiness (Eat Me, Drink Me, 2007)
Album number six continues to be met with understandably mixed emotions by Manson devotees. Following the departure of longstanding guitarist John 5, Eat Me, Drink Me is full of a middle-aged melancholia, while the singer’s then Lolita-alike relationship with teenage actress Evan Rachel Wood added, for some, a new dimension to his taboo-busting persona. Many of the jagged edges were filed down in pursuit of a grander arena rock sound, too, as Sköld took over six-strings and pushed in a far more epic, luxuriant direction. On Putting Holes In Happiness – reportedly written on Manson’s birthday and his own (overruled) choice for lead single – the pieces fall into place spectacularly, with an enormous riff providing the basis for distinctive vocals (apparently recorded lying on the ground) that deal with cannibalism, misogyny and gothic romance. Its video, directed by renowned French filmmaker Philippe Grandrieux, is a memorably artful, understated cut.
14. Angel With Scabbed Wings (Antichrist Superstar, 1996)
If Antichrist Superstar is a broad parody of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s seminal Broadway musical Jesus Christ Superstar, Angel With Scabbed Wings might just be its most audacious individual moment. One of the most brilliantly abrasive, stomping iterations of the Antichrist sound, segments of AWSW actually draw twisted comparisons to Webber’s main theme, while the lyrical onslaught is the absolute antithesis of the impresario’s campy wholesomeness: ‘He is the angel with the scabbed wings, hard-drug face / Want to powder his nose? He will deflower the freshest crop, dry up all the wombs with his rock and roll sores.’ Nice.
13. Deep Six (The Pale Emperor, 2015)
Allowing his Pale Emperor/Mephistopheles Of Los Angeles persona properly off the leash, the second cut from Manson’s ninth album was a straight-out goth rock banger fixated on sin and sex, unfolding with equal parts throbbing desire and grinning malevolence. Named after the nautical slang for permanent disposal of unwanted items – and toying with the alternate interpretation of bodies lying six feet deep – lyrics like ‘It’s like a stranger had a key, came inside of my mind and moved all my things around / He didn’t know snakes can hear the prey, can’t try to break the psyche down’ burn with a sense of liberated catharsis.
12. Evidence (Eat Me, Drink Me, 2007)
The second stand-out track from Eat Me, Drink Me, Evidence pulls pretty much the same trick as Putting Holes In Happiness, with darker hues and even more insidiousness. With muffled percussion, haunting chimes and a wiry guitar sound perfectly befitting its vampiric tone, Evidence is the closest to arena rock perfection Manson ever got. Not that he tones it down much at all, mind, with lyrics that feel all the more malevolent for their (relative) understatement. ‘You’re so sudden and sweet on your legs, knockin’ knees,’ he seductively half-sneers. ‘Head’s blown clean off, your mouth paid off / Fuck me till we know it’s unsafe and we’ll paint over the evidence.’ Sköld’s treacly guitar solo is the icing on an impossibly sleazy cake.
11. No Reflection (Born Villain, 2012)
Building more pointedly on the imagery established by Overneath The Path Of Misery, the landmark tune from Born Villain is a dissection of Manson’s own coping mechanisms. Having struggled through a self-confessed career nadir, he is taking back control by understanding the nothingness – that cold, white numbness that runs thematically throughout the catalogue – with which he’d forcibly surrounded himself to weather a career in the unforgiving spotlight. ‘Crushing, cheating, changing,’ ponders a thought process that appears to have nudged him back on tracks. ‘Am I deaf or dead?’ Neither, judging by the throbbing sounds at play.
10. The Dope Show (Mechanical Animals, 1998)
A song from the beginning of that same journey of disassociation, The Dope Show is one of several landmark tracks on Mechanical Animals that sees Manson coming to terms with infamy. Rather than continuing as the one-note bogeyman who’d sent Christian fundamentalists up in arms, he wanted to evolve an image in line with rock’s less outrageous – but no less flamboyant – icons like David Bowie. While changing his image to that of an empty, androgynous, corporate machine (much of the aesthetic referencing Bowie’s 1976 cinematic outing The Man Who Fell To Earth) the lyrical content of The Dope Show stressed that the man within was hollowing himself out just as badly with the unending supply of drugs at his disposal.
9. mOBSCENE (The Golden Age Of Grotesque, 2003)
Reportedly inspired by the musical cinema of Golden Age director Busby Berkeley, the “Be Yourself” writings of legendary Irish writer Oscar Wilde, the image of an elephant stampede and the weirdest recesses of his own imagination, Manson’s lead single from The Golden Age Of Grotesque electrified the dying sound of nu-metal with lip-smacking sexiness, carnivalesque glee and a female chorus-line blatantly indebted to Faith No More’s Be Aggressive. An army of edgelords may have balked at what they saw as selling out with a more commercial direction, but the rest of us were just desperate to jump into the wildest party in rock.
8. Saturnalia (Heaven Upside Down, 2017)
Continuing a creative resurgence that spanned the best part of the 2010s, tenth album Heaven Upside Down was loaded with consistent quality, but offered little that longtime fans hadn’t enjoyed before. The eight pitch-black minutes of Saturnalia, though, proved the untold depths to Manson’s captivating bag of tricks. Finished two days before the passing of his father, named after an Ancient Roman festival and unfolding like an updated reimagining of 1979 Bauhaus classic Bela Lugosi’s Dead, it is a song overloaded with significance and feeling – equal parts hopelessness and reassurance. ‘When all your demons die, even if just one survives, I will still be here to hold you,’ he begins, before admitting, at the end, ‘We’re blinded by blackness, just empty shells in the deafening void of our last sunset.’ Oooft.
7. Disposable Teens (Holy Wood, 2000)
The first track Manson released after the turn of the millennium still feels like an essential distillation of the discontentment, apathy and unrest in the pre-9/11 generation. Powered by John 5’s awesomely straightforward riff and featuring some of the singer’s greatest lyrics (‘I got a face that’s made for violence upon, and I’m a teen distortion, survived abortion, a rebel from the waist down!’) its reckoning on teenage rebellion and society’s disinterested commodification thereof still surges in the pulse for many thirty-somethings today. The Samuel Bayer-directed music still haunts our nightmares, too, with Manson in his most terrifying, chrome-fanged form.
6. Astonishing Panorama Of End Times (Celebrity Deathmatch, 1999)
Sounding a hell of a lot like Ministry would over the decade that followed, Astonishing Panorama Of The End Times saw Manson cement his place in the late-nineties’ cultural zeitgeist with a pessimistically pre-millennial, full steam smasher specifically written for classic MTV claymation series Celebrity Deathmatch. Perhaps his most head-rushing, pedal-to-the-metal tune, it feels staggering that this never made it on to a studio album – though heavy hints of the serrated texture of the following year’s Holy Wood are clear to see. Even here, he could hardly resist a little subversion, daring listeners (and viewers alike) to ‘Kill your god and kill your TV.’
5. Tourniquet (Antichrist Superstar, 1996)
Manson’s second major label single release spun listeners into a soundscape of sorrow and self pity that was deeper and less lurid than they were previously used to. Metaphorically comparing his grip to that of the titular noose – constrictive, and as capable of taking a life as saving one – its wilfully abstract lyrics conjure images of drug use, suicide and sadomasochism. ‘This is my most vulnerable moment,’ pleads a backmasked message at the start. It didn’t stop the master provocateur leaning hard into his own nightmare imagery with squalling, mid-paced guitars and mercilessly tortured vocals intermingling in an atmospheric masterclass.
4. The Fight Song (Holy Wood, 2000)
Perhaps Manson’s purest anthem, there’s an unequivocal bombast to The Fight Song – named after the rallying cries of many college American football teams – that stands out even in his explosive back catalogue. Referencing Soviet dictator Josef Stalin (‘The death of one is a tragedy / The death of millions is just a statistic’) while rallying a legion of disaffected youths (‘I’m not a slave to a god that doesn’t exist / And I’m not a slave to a world that doesn’t give a shit’), he’s rarely had sharper focus on his own iconoclastic image. More powerful, though, is the composition’s full-force attack and understanding of the primal catharsis in uprising and violence for violence’s sake. FIGHT!
3. The Nobodies (Holy Wood, 2000)
In the wake of the Columbine school-shooting on April 20, 1999, a frenzied media looking to make sense of the tragedy almost inevitably turned on Manson, erroneously alleging that the perpetrators had been obsessive fans, and pushing the singer/scapegoat’s appetite for outrage to its very limit. After declining to discuss the incident publicly – as a protest against media sensationalism – he addressed the situation with slithering, spine-tingling potency on the third single from Holy Wood. Characterising the shooters as the titular ‘nobodies’ who gained notoriety and name recognition on the international stage thanks to the media circus, his barbed lyrics (‘You should have seen the ratings that day’) don’t hold back in turning some of that blame on the institutions who stoked it in the first place.
2. The Beautiful People (Antichrist Superstar, 1996)
For all the singer’s shapeshifting evolution over the years, the sound of The Beautiful People remains utterly synonymous with the band Marilyn Manson. From that distended backward-guitar sound and Ginger Fish’s pounding drums through the crunching main riff to the creepy crawly vocal delivery (‘And I don’t want you and I don’t need you / Don’t bother to resist, or I’ll beat you / It’s not your fault that you’re always wrong / The weak ones are there to justify the strong.’) it’s a song that burrows into your brain and never leaves. Named after Marilyn Bender’s 1967 jet-set expose and toying with the concept of the Nietzschean Übermensch, rarely has there been so much subtext in a track that so potently makes the listener to flip furniture across the room.
1. Coma White (Mechanical Animals, 1998)
The final track from Mechanical Animals remains an unsurpassed anthem for hardcore fans. Inspired by Manson’s skyrocketing celebrity and romance with Rose McGowan, its thematic focus burns on the blank numbness created by drug use and the constant public glare. Following a young woman with an unhappy life who dabbles in substances to ease the pain, it stresses the need to understand the difference between perception and reality: ‘A pill to make you numb, a pill to make you dumb, a pill to make you anybody else – but all the drugs in this world won’t save her from herself.’ Whether experiencing the album recording or the skeletal acoustic version that later appeared, Coma White’s music tugs at the soul with far more force than any number of shock tactics. That said, the controversial Samuel Bayer music video – starring McGowan – is an absolute masterpiece, stressing Manson’s indictment of celebrity culture, and drawing vicious parallels between the JFK assassination and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as instances of heroic public figures sacrificed to the violent appetites of their masses.
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