Twenty-Five Years Ago Marilyn Manson Released “Portrait of an American Family”

…And popular music was never the same again. That’s how this story began for anyone following the career of Marilyn Manson, though few can claim to have seen it coming except for the star himself. Surely if you asked him, he visualized, created, dreamed and willed his ugly, beautiful, heavy baby into existence with Portrait of an American Family (Nothing/Interscope). His real-life nightmare/snuff film/acid trip/Satanist/Nietzche manifesto on the psyche of the modern world gave birth to a legion of fans and imitators the same way his heroes Bowie, KISS, Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Arthur Brown, The Doors, Iggy and the Stooges, and more did.

Revisiting the album for such an album full of delicious chaos in it, there is a lot of order and cadence in the writing central artists still trying to find themselves. Having a few years to develop their sound and style where the songs could properly channel Manson’s vitriolic screed again authority, religion, mommy and daddy and everyone else on his shit list. At the time you could hear some of the lo-fi rock influence from the proto-metal 1970s that definitely affected the band, not unlike early pre-metal White Zombie, or a non-Doomy sounding Type O Negative. You can see what original producer Roli Masimann (Swans) was originally tapped for this album. But the band hated the results and they were scrapped. I’d kind of like to hear these tracks someday, but it’s doubtful we will get to do so.

The final results of Manson Svengali and spirit guide Trent Reznor and his minions at the time Sean Beavan and Alan Moulder was a spectacle. More rock and roll than the industrial metal they wanted to sound like, but what they got back was powerful. Tight rock songs that had a Punk Rock soul of reckless abandon, and a Post-Punk bounce sexiness which fit to a tee. The band was also ragtag with Daisy Berkowitz fired (and brought back to be fired again) and not brought to LA to work with Reznor. Although the singles ‘Dope Hat’, ‘Get Your Gunn’, and ‘Lunch Box’ was a great introduction to the band, the deep cuts made this album and this band a keeper. ‘Cake and Sodomy’, ‘Cyclops’, ‘Dogma’, and ‘My Monkey’ are as powerful as any tracks here. While Manson’s always contorts his voice around lyrics and melodies to fit what is needed, his clever sense of tunefulness and ability to finish a phrase with fire was apparent even back then.

While the band would evolve much more on further albums, the seeds were sown here. Not just the music or the personas, but “Marilyn Manson” the concept in so much as the band is named for a goddess and a cult leader, the band that sampled Roald Dahl and calypso albums, the band that scares preachers, and the government, that recorded at the Sharon Tate House, and sampled better horror and art house films than either Indie or Death Metal bands, future chart-topping, MTV video disturbing maniac geniuses. That band was conceived and birthed into the unsuspecting world on this raw, still entertaining album that holds up well after twenty-five years. And popular music was never the same again.

KEITH CHACHKES