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Marilyn Manson circa 1994.

Marilyn Manson circa 1994.

By Brandon Judeh (Music Editor)

During the summer of 1994, music was in a curious place.

Grunge was on life support, Hip-Hop and R&B were starting to take over the radio waves and Industrial music was just beginning to take the world by storm.

While Nine Inch Nails and Ministry were leading the way, unbeknownst to most, there was a little known band from Florida well on their way to turning the world upside down.

Ironically it was Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor who would turn this musician loose on the unsuspecting public.

The band, Marilyn Manson, the album: Portrait of an American Family.

Twenty years ago this month (July 19) the album hit store shelves all while the band was opening for NIN, Hole and the Jim Rose Circus.

Manson and his band of freaks, Daisy Berkowitz (Guitar), Madonna Wayne “Pogo” Gacy (Keyboards), Twiggy Ramirez (bass) and Sara Lee Lucas (drums), soon became notorious for their live act full of violence and unpredictability.

Whether it was Mr. Manson cutting himself on stage or Pogo’s odd stage behavior the band was considered controversial right out of the gate, as was their names (First name, after an iconic female sex symbol and last name after an iconic serial killer) and first album.

Portrait of an American Family, produced by Trent Reznor at various locations including the infamous Tate house in California, kicked off with a twisted rendition of a classic Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory line.

POAAF

“Prelude (The Family Trip)” features Manson rambling the famous boat ride lines from Willy Wonka overtop of samples and distortion, but it was the next song that truly introduced us to Marilyn Manson.

The opening lines to “Cake and Sodomy,” much like the rest of the song, were a big fuck you to pretty much everything.

“I am the God of fuck,” Manson, calmly proclaims.

The chorus, “White trash get down on your knees, time for cake and sodomy” though catchy, was an obvious stab at redneck America. Specifically those in the Midwest that Mr. Manson grew up around in Canton, Ohio.

“Lunchbox” was next up, a tale about a child being bullied, then the child turning to violence as a weapon of retaliation.

It was also an acknowledgment to all of the Manson fans, A.K.A. the “Spooky Kids” who would carry lunchboxes to his shows when the band was relatively unknown and still playing in Florida.

The next two tracks, “Organ Grinder” and “Cyclops” are gritty, hard hitting and disturbing.

Upon first listen, “Organ Grinder” is shocking with its lyrical content, dealing with everything from penis envy to self-loathing.

“Cyclops” is a straightforward rocker that is the perfect prelude to perhaps the albums catchiest song, “Dope Hat.”

The songs guitar riff, bass line and drums, along with Manson’s hypnotic vocals, are enough to send you into a trance, as the beat is sure to be stuck in your head for hours.

The music video, the third single off of the album, fits the song perfectly as you follow Manson and his band mates through a twisted, perverted boat ride straight out of Willy Wonka.

Track number seven is a brutal number that features a surreal/nightmarish video.

“Get Your Gunn,” which was the albums first single, takes a stab at pro-lifers and right-wing religious fanatics alike.

Ironic lyrics such as, “The housewife I will beat/the pro-life I will kill, what you won’t do I will” help spearhead Manson’s message of hypocritical, white trash American’s.

During the breakdown of the song, voices are heard in the background and a gunshot is fired, adding more to the shock value is the fact it was real, as it was an excerpt from Budd Dwyer’s ill-fated press conference in 1987. (Don’t know who Budd Dwyer is? Google the video.)

The song “Wrapped in Plastic” (a personal favorite) followed. Manson got the name of the song from the popular TV series “Twin Peaks.”

One of the first scenes from the pilot episode shows a character that finds the shows (dead) star, to which he proclaims, “She’s dead, wrapped in plastic.”

The series was a personal favorite of Manson’s and he uses several samples from the show in this song about how, from the outside, many family’s appear to have the All-American, white picket fence lifestyle, but it’s what happens inside of the home that tells the real story.

“Dogma” and “Sweet Tooth” follow before the three-headed monster of “Snake Eyes and Sissies”, “My Monkey” and “Misery Machine” hits.

“Snake Eyes and Sissies” was originally intended to be the first single, but it was never released.

One can see why it was a strong contender with its undeniably catchy bass line and Berkowitz grungy guitar riff.

One of the oddest tracks is “My Monkey” but it surprisingly works well.

The verse features Manson’s voice being transformed into a child like enigma, before blasting off into his gritty, sarcastic vocals during the chorus.

Lastly the masterpiece ends with “Misery Machine” a song the band regularly closed with during concerts.

The track is pure mayhem as every instrument seems to be in overdrive and ready to explode at any given moment until the song suddenly slows down into a slow, heavy groove toward the end.

That’s when Manson’s voice joins the instruments in becoming slow, but heavy at the same time, before blasting through the intense ending that eventually leads into a sample of a phone call received from an angry parent of a Manson fan.

Though this album was only a prelude to the controversy that was to come with subsequent albums, this may be Mr. Manson’s finest effort, especially lyrically.

Many of the albums references are still relevant today as we live in a world full of hypocrites and self-righteous people.

Little did the world know, in 1994, that this was just the start and that two years later Marilyn Manson would become the most hated person and band in the entire world…

Soundgarden circa 1994. Left to right: Matt Cameron, Chris Cornell, Kim Thyall and Ben Shepard. Photo courtesy of rollingstone.com.

Soundgarden circa 1994. Left to right: Matt Cameron, Chris Cornell, Kim Thyall and Ben Shepard. Photo courtesy of rollingstone.com.

By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

What happens when you take the dark sludgy riff of Black Sabbath, combine them with the mystique and high-pitched shrills of Led Zeppelin, add in a pinch of psychedelia before slamming it through a filter of punk? Soundgarden is what happens.

Formed in Seattle in 1984, Soundgarden were among the first of the “grunge” acts. Combining the sounds of early 70’s British heavy metal and early 80’s American punk and alternative, Soundgarden had carved a unique niche in the local underground, quickly attracting the attention of emerging Seattle record label, Sub Pop.

By the late 80’s, Soundgarden were the first of their peers to land a major record label deal, signing with A&M. Their second LP Louder Than Love sold over 250,000 copies and their follow up, 1992’s Badmotorfinger, would go gold.

By the time of Badmotorfinger‘s release, the grunge movement had already begun to sweep American like a plague. The Glam/pop metal of the 80’s had all but disappeared by the early 90’s, as a more cynical, intellectual and anti-establishment musical movement took hold. And ttrailing in the footsteps of breakthrough Seattle acts Nirvana and Pearl Jam, Soundgarden were poised to soon take the reigns.

By 1994, grunge was at the height of its popularity. So much so, that many of the genre’s pioneers had declared the scene “dead.” However, that wasn’t the case, especially for who was arguably the genre/scene’s founding entity.

Soundgarden took the alternative scene by storm in 1994, releasing their iconic masterpiece, Superunknown. The album was their most concise work to date, with songs that showcased both maturity and a fierceness of a band at the peak of their prime. The sound and production, thanks largely to producer Terry Date, was thick and full, yet the raw primal energy is still very obvious. It’s well-produced without being over-produced. Overall, Superunknown stands as a clear indicator that Soundgarden had grown comfortably into their own skin.

The album kicks off with the droning sludging riff of “Let Me Drown,” a common sentiment of the grunge mentality. However, the second track almost trades the trademark angst for a Zeppelin-esque crooner with a funky, yes funky, bass line on “My Wave.” The single “Fell on Black Days,” follows, with implementations of odd time signatures and Eastern rhythms, the song may be the most diverse grunge radio hit of all time, as it still can be heard all over active rock radio. From there, the heavy and undeniably catchy riffs of “Mailman” and “Superunknown” before leading into the mystically manic depressive “Head Down.”

The next track would prove to be their biggest, perhaps definitive song. “Black Hole Sun,” with its use of the common loud-quiet-loud grunge formula with a psychedelic twist, has become a staple for rock radio and the band’s live set list. The accompanying music video, complete with face-distorting and the death of the planet, became an instant hit, and is widely considered one of the most artistic videos ever produced. Following it is the almost equally-iconic “Spoonman.” Written about a local performer named Artis the Spoonman, he is featured on both the track and music video.

Two of Superunknown‘s darkest tracks, “Limo Wreck” and the single “The Day I Tried to Live,” begin side two with a slower and darker lyrical take. The punkish “Kickstand” breaks the tension before “Fresh Tendrils” and the doom-y “4th of July” encompass the listener. Another Eastrn-style track “Half” leads the album into it’s bleak closer, “Like Suicide.”

Superunknown has been regarding a critical and commercial success, being widely well-received upon its release, selling over nine million albums worldwide. Lyrically, Soundgarden has always flirted with the dark side, and this record is no exception to that. However, despite it’s use of odd time signatures, dark lyrical themes and tendency for not-so-easy listening, the album skyrocketed into the mainstream. By the late 90’s/early 00’s, rock radio was full of acts highly influenced by Soundgarden and Superunknown in particular. From Days of the New’s use of alternate tuning to acts like Staind, Seether, Puddle of Mudd and so on and so forth, the influence of Soundgarden is too obvious at times.

Soundgarden released the slightly less-successful Down On the Upside in 1996 before calling it a day in 1997. Drummer Matt Cameron went on to play with Pearl Jam, where he is a current full-time member, and Chris Cornell went on to release three solo albums and front the supergroup Audioslave from 2002-2007 with ex-members of Rage Against the Machine. High demand for a reunion was asserted by fans and promoters alike and by 2010, Soundgarden announced a reunion tour and performance at the year’s Lollapalooza Festival. They stated that rather than reuniting for money, they waited until the time was right. In 2012 they released King Animal, to positive reviews and reception.

This year, Soundgarden will embark on a 24-date U.S. tour to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Superunknown alongside Nine Inch Nails (also celebrating a milestone album) and Death Grips.

All in all, the influence of Superunknown is one of the most long-standing of it’s generation. Contemporary post-grunge and metal acts site the album as a key influence, and it’s singles are still heard all over mainstream radio to this day. As a rejuvenated Soundgarden soldiers on into a new decade and new era, Superunknown remains an archetype for what the band can achieve in the future.