The Triptych comprises three records Marilyn Manson released between 1996 and 2000: 1996's Antichrist Superstar, 1998's Mechanical Animals and 2000's Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death). Each album represents some semi-autobiographical aspect of Manson himself, and although made up of three records, it is considered one body of work by Manson and the fanbase.
While the plot of the Triptych is often dissected and discussed by fans, it should be noted that little has been explained by the band and even that must be taken with a grain of salt. For example, Manson had initially conceived Mechanical Animals as a sequel to Antichrist Superstar, following The Worm after its fall from power. However, when Holy Wood was released the story was now to be read in an inversed order and suddenly Mechanical Animals was a prequel to Antichrist Superstar rather than its sequel. This shows that the actual story was not conceived linearly and ideas that initially represented or referred to one thing, may now have a meaning entirely different from that which was originally intended.
The only official text on the matter, the Holy Wood Novel, remains unreleased and all other writings are pure fan speculation and conjecture. Some theorize that the three albums present a linear storyline with one character growing and transforming throughout. Others take the "triptych" term literally and interpret the albums as three separate stories that happen simultaneously to three separate characters, possibly in three separate worlds. More ambitious theories feel that Manson writes one continuous storyline throughout all his works and attempt to integrate ideas from other albums and EPs such as The Golden Age of Grotesque and Smells Like Children for example.
The theories are many, and can range from broad to detailed and from outlandish to logical. The only element they all have in common is that none are official. The official story has yet to be explained outright by Marilyn Manson (the man or the band). Even if it were to be explained now, Manson's personal perception of the story may have changed (just as it changed when he decided that the albums were no longer a linear duology but an inversed triptych) and an explanation entirely different from the original intent may be given.
In summary: when reading theories on the plot of the "triptych" keep in mind that it is all fan speculation and nothing more.
|"[On 'Antichrist Superstar',] I was being grandiose, saying that I would be this icon that would have a lot of power in my hands and be able to decide many people's future. That ended up being true. Life imitated art and the story started writing itself.'Mechanical Animals' represented the middle of the story and 'Holy Wood...' ties all the pieces together at the start. It's a parable."|
|—Marilyn Manson on the Tryptich.|
The Triptych's most commonly accepted timeline begins with Holy Wood, Mechanical Animals, and finally Antichrist Superstar, reversed from the actual release order of each album. However, each album's interpretation is debatable, and far more so when interpreted as a whole story.
How these three plots link together, should it be linearly or separated is unknown and for the listener to decide. Manson himself, however, has offered up this possible explanation, "[Holy Wood is about] wanting to fit into a world that didn't want me, and fighting really hard to get there. [The album's deepest elements] are idealism and the desire to start a revolution. If you begin with Holy Wood, the Mechanical Animals really talks about how that revolution gets taken away from you and turned into a product, and then Antichrist Superstar is where you're given a choice to decide if you're going to be controlled by the power that you created or if you want to destroy yourself and then start over. It just becomes a cycle."
The plot of Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death) is a "parable" that takes place in a thinly-veiled satire of modern America called "Holy Wood", which Manson has described as "very much like Disney World ... I thought of how interesting it would be if we created an entire city that was an amusement park, and the thing we were being amused by was violence and sex and everything that people really want to see." Its literary foil is "Death Valley", which is used as "a metaphor for the outcast and the imperfect of the world."
The central character is its ill-fated protagonist "Adam Kadmon", a figure borrowed from the Kabbalah, in which he is described as the "Primal Man". In the similar Sufic and Alevi philosophies, he is described as the "Perfect or Complete Man"—the very archetype for humanity. He undertakes a journey, similar to the protagonist in German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Biblical parables, out of Death Valley and into Holy Wood. Idealistic naïveté entreats him to attempt a subversive revolution through music.
While disenchanted when his revolution is consumed by Holy Wood's ideology of "Guns, God and Government", he is co-opted into their culture of death and fame, where celebrity-worship, violence, and scapegoatism are held as the moral values of a religion rooted in martyrdom. In this religion dead celebrities are venerated into saints and President John F. "Jack" Kennedy is idolized as the transfigured Lamb of God and modern-day Christ.
This religion, called "Celebritarianism", is a deliberate parallel of Christianity. The intention is to critique the "Dead Rock Star" phenomenon in American celebrity culture and the role that the Crucifixion of Jesus plays as its blueprint. This concept was extended to the worldwide Guns, God and Government Tour that supported the album; the tour's logo was a rifle and handguns arranged to resemble the Christian cross.
Manson told Rolling Stone that the storyline is semi-autobiographical, and that it "can be interpreted on a number of levels, but one of the simplest ways, is about a boy who wants to become part of the world that he doesn't feel adequate for, and the bitterness and rage becomes a revolution inside him, and what happens is that the revolution becomes just another product. When he realizes it's too late, his only choice is to destroy the thing he has created, which is himself."
Much like in Mechanical Animals, another lesser character is found in "Coma Black". Similar to the character of "Coma White" from the previous album, Coma Black is an obscure figure which, simultaneously, may or may not be an unattainable ideal, an androgynous facet of Adam or an actual person.
Mechanical Animals then follows the sojourn of two characters, the protagonist now with a new name but within the triptych the same character as Adam: Omēga (pronounced oh-mee-gah) a Ziggy Stardust-like rock star and alien who falls down to earth, is captured and then, with a band called The Mechanical Animals, turned into a rock star product whose rock anthems are simply hollow. He has become numb to the world, becoming consumed by his addiction to drugs that has left him emotionally dissociated and broken. Acting as foil to Omēga is Alpha, a character based on Marilyn Manson and his experiences around the conclusion of the Antichrist Superstar tour/era. Alpha is only just beginning to feel emotion for the first time and trying to learn how to use them properly. He begins to despair about how little emotion most humans feel, observing them to be "mechanical animals". Both are looking to come back into the world - looking among the mechanical animals for the thing they need to make themselves whole. They call it Coma White, unsure if she is real or simply a drug-induced hallucination. At the climax of the album in Untitled, Omēga comes to terms with his life and seems ready to make a choice but whether that choice is to change his life or end it is unclear.
Finally, Antichrist Superstar follows the abused and trampled being "The Worm" who, like Adam Kadmon, attempts to lead a massive revolution against the world of the oppressed and its kratocratic masters "The Beautiful People". In this respect, the revolution plot line may also be seen as a retrospective of his journey up to that point. In his book The Long Hard Road Out of Hell, Manson likens the Worm to "an insignificant shadow looking for his place in an infinite world of light". In his quest to self-empowerment, he fashions himself into a charismatic and influential anti-hero and hierophant, the "Little Horn", proselytizing self-realization which is met with adoration and blandishment by the people. Though he is successful overthrowing The Beautiful People, the Little Horn soon sinks into an apathy then hatred for those very adoring and sycophantic disciples along with the world when he comes to the realization that they aren't interested in being saved and quite content to remain weak, imitative and oppressed "victims" (Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's 'slaves' in his Master-Slave theory). His message then is frustrated and futile. This failure leaves him cold and bitter, determining to use his power and influence instead to become a repressive and fascist tyrant, the eponymous "Antichrist Superstar" (or alternatively, "The Disintegrator"), as he now concludes that what the people truly desire is a master-slave dynamic. He also begins to adopt as his personal insignia the oppressive epithet of his precursors "When you are suffering, know that I have betrayed you" as he lets his vitriol spiral into nihilism and self-destruction. Now as the disconsolate "Man That You Fear", he embarks on a scorched earth policy of apocalypse, tearing down everything his revolution fought for, oppressing the very people he aimed to lift up and destroying everyone and everything around him declaring "pray your life was just a dream, the cut that never heals. The world in my hands, there's no one left to hear you scream. There's no one left for you". As he reduces the world he created to dust, he begins to understand that "when all of your wishes are granted, many of your dreams will be destroyed".
The linear chronology of the triptych is the reversed order of Manson's albums, Holy Wood, Mechanical Animals, and Antichrist Superstar and is known to be cyclical, meaning that the storyline comes full circle with the completion of each album in the storyline.
(In The Shadow Of The Valley of Death)
A: In the Shadow
D: The Androgyne
- "Target Audience (Narcissus Narcosis)"
- ""President Dead""
- "In the Shadow of the Valley of Death"
- "Cruci-Fiction in Space"
- "A Place in the Dirt"
A: Of Red Earth
M: The Fallen
- "Coma Black"
- "Valentine's Day"
- "The Fall of Adam"
- "King Kill 33°"
- "Count to Six and Die (The Vacuum of Infinite Space Encompassing)"
- MECHAN1CAL ANIMAL5
- "Great Big White World"
- "Mechanical Animals"
- "The Speed of Pain"
- "The Last Day on Earth"
- "Coma White"
- "The Dope Show"
- "Rock Is Dead"
- "I Want to Disappear"
- "I Don't Like the Drugs (But the Drugs Like Me)"
- "New Model No. 15"
- "User Friendly"
- "Fundamentally Loathsome"
Cycle I: The Heirophant
- "Irresponsible Hate Anthem"
- "The Beautiful People"
- "Dried Up, Tied and Dead to the World"
Cycle II: Inauguration of the Worm
- There are 51 total tracks in the Triptych. Just as the Triptych unfolds in reverse, 51 reversed is 15, which is a recurring number in the band's work.
- The three albums involved with the Triptych are considered by many to be Manson's "Magnum Opus" (Latin:"Great Work")
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