The Golden Age of Grotesque

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The Golden Age of Grotesque
Marilyn Manson - The Golden Age of Grotesque.jpg
Studio album by Marilyn Manson
Released May 13, 2003
Recorded 2002–2003
Doppelherz Studio
(Hollywood, California)
The Mix Room
(Burbank, California)
Length 57:32
Marilyn Manson chronology
Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death)
The Golden Age of Grotesque
Lest We Forget: The Best Of
Singles from The Golden Age of Grotesque
  1. "mOBSCENE"
    Released: April 22, 2003
  2. "This Is the New Shit"
    Released: September 1, 2003

The Golden Age of Grotesque is the fifth studio album by American rock band Marilyn Manson, released in May 2003 by Nothing and Interscope Records. It was the band's last album recorded as a five-piece before John 5 left the group in 2004. The album is marked by a thematic preoccupation with Degenerate art (Entartete Kunst). Limited edition units included a DVD titled Doppelherz (Double-heart), a surrealist short film directed by Manson.

It was revealed in a 2007 edition of the British rock magazine Kerrang! that The Golden Age of Grotesque was intended to be Marilyn Manson's departure from music. The album has received mixed to positive reviews from mainstream music critics; positive reviews praised the album's production, while critics focused on its lack of originality.

The album was certified gold in Australia, Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland and the UK. It spawned two singles ("This Is the New Shit" and "mOBSCENE"). The band supported the album with the Grotesk Burlesk Tour, and the album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

Production and development[edit]

A photograph, from a set of four, created in 2003 by Gottfried Helnwein.
Album logo.

In a November 2001 post on's message board, Manson stated that the band's fifth studio album would be "very much guitar driven," in spite of previous claims that it would be beat-oriented. He also revealed that he had been working on a remix of "The Fight Song" with Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison, and that he was collaborating with Tim Sköld on an original score for the forthcoming Resident Evil movie. On May 29, 2002, Sköld became an official band member when Twiggy Ramirez amicably left the group, citing creative differences.[4]

Most of the songwriting effort on The Golden Age of Grotesque was shared between Tim Sköld, John 5 and Marilyn Manson. Instrumentally, the album is more beat-driven and electronic than previous releases, with several reviewers commenting that its sound is at times reminiscent of KMFDM — which is likely attributable to Sköld, as he was a member of KMFDM immediately prior to his arrival in Marilyn Manson. In a January 2008 interview with The Heirophant, Manson revealed that the majority of the albums' keyboard and synthesizer work was performed by him, and not the band's then-keyboardist, Madonna Wayne Gacy. Gacy, according to Manson, had displayed little to no interest in contributing creatively during early stages of the album's development, eventually detaching himself from the band to such a degree that he refused to attend studio sessions when informed by management of the band's intentions to begin recording in June 2002.[5] As a result, Manson received musical composition credits for eleven of the fifteen tracks found on the record, in addition to his usual lyrical credits.

In May 2002, Manson began his long-term collaboration with the Austrian-Irish artist Gottfried Helnwein by working on the album artwork and various other projects, including several exhibitions, as well as the artwork which accompanied Manson's essay for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.[6] Helnwein later expressed disappointment that this image was not selected as the album cover.[7]

Three months prior to album release, The Mechanism of Desire, a two-minute videoclip, was uploaded to on February 14, 2003, as an official introduction to The Golden Age of Grotesque era.[8] It depicted the band in their new attire, consisting of suits resembling those of Nazi military bandsmen during the Second World War, accompanied by clips of Manson's then-girlfriend Dita Von Teese and close-ups of Manson's face. The video was accompanied by a soundtrack in which a speech by Alfred Hitchcock can be heard, followed by the audio of "Baboon Rape Party". The video is no longer available on Manson's official website.

Limited edition units of the album included a DVD titled Doppelherz (Double-heart), a 25-minute surrealist short film directed by Manson which features art direction by Helnwein, further extending on themes found on The Mechanism of Desire.[9] The video was accompanied with a stream of consciousness spoken word recording of Manson from a year prior, in 2002, juxtaposed against an audio loop of "Thaeter". This pressing of the album is now out of print, and the film has yet to see standalone release.

Concept and themes[edit]

"Imagination is a necessity, and I don't think it's sort of bad. I can dream up some image like I did with Helnwein, and they're "bad," they're forbidden, but I can take an image that's far worse, that's on CNN and it's reality. So we can't get censored. It's the real world. But that's a bad message to send to kids growing up, I think."

—Marilyn Manson[10]

Incorporating themes from the 1930s, specifically the Weimar Republic era of pre-Nazi Germany,[11] the album's musical and visual themes were primarily drawn from Mel Gordon's 2000 book Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin. Concerned that Gordon might take issue with use of the book's material, Manson called Gordon, who said he couldn't imagine a greater compliment than a popular music album based on an academic book.[12] The album artwork is also influenced by the illustrations found in Voluptuous Panic.

The Golden Age of Grotesque follows the evolution of Manson himself ("Thaeter") through to "Obsequey (The Death of Art)", or "art into a product." The album takes on dual-layer storylines, first as a punk rock balladeer spouting the notion of living life to the fullest with the presumption that there is no future.[13] The second storyline takes a parody to the idea that living life to the fullest has led us into a nihilistic stupidity, hence the "rebel to sell" references within "The Bright Young Things" and the transformation into a commercially acceptable "happy" icon, Mickey Mouse (Manson posed as Mickey Mouse throughout the album's publicity.) Lyrically, this album is full of historical and pop references, much like Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death). References include Peter Pan, Adolf Hitler, and Oscar Wilde. As in many of his other works, he frequently makes use of word play, puns and double entendres, coining words like "gloominati", "scabaret sacrilegends", "vivi-sex symbol", "cocaingels", "mOBSCENE", "vodevil" and "para-noir".


On May 12, 2003, a unique launch party took place at The Key Club in Los Angeles, to celebrate the album's release. On May 16, 2003, Marilyn Manson appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, performing "mOBSCENE" and "This Is the New Shit" to an audience of eager fans. A film called "A Grotesque Evening with Marilyn Manson" was released in Spain to promote the album.

Two singles were released from the album, "mOBSCENE" and "This Is the New Shit", the former topping the charts in Belgium and peaking within the top 10 in a dozen other countries. A controversial music video was independently produced for the song "(s)AINT". Directed by Asia Argento and containing scenes of violence, nudity, masturbation, drug-use and self-mutilation, Interscope Records refused to be associated with the work and blocked any possibility of a conventional release, cancelling plans to release "(s)AINT" as the album's third single. A limited run of DVD's were briefly available to purchase on the band's official website, and it was later included on international editions of the Lest We Forget: The Best Of bonus DVD.

Grotesk Burlesk Tour[edit]

Main article: Grotesk Burlesk Tour
Performing live in 2003.

Grotesk Burlesk was the ninth tour Marilyn Manson embarked on under management of major record label Interscope Records. Beginning on April 11, 2003, and lasting until January 3, 2004, the tour included eight legs, spanning Eurasia, Japan and North America, with a total of 105 completed shows out of the 109 planned.[14]

Much of the elaborate attire and clothing worn by Manson on the tour was tailored by French fashion designer and grand couturier Jean-Paul Gaultier.[15][16]

The stage was designed to resemble that of the classic vaudeville and burlesque stage shows of the 1930s, a prevalent motif found in the album itself. Encompassing this theme most notably were two live dancers dressed in vintage burlesque costume who would be present on stage for most of the show, they danced for "mOBSCENE" and "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)", and performed piano for "The Golden Age of Grotesque" and floor toms for "Doll-Dagga Buzz-Buzz Ziggety-Zag". They also appeared during performances of "Para-noir". Dressed as if they were conjoined, they accompanied Manson as he was elevated some 12 metre (39 ft) above the stage, much like during performances of "Cruci-Fiction in Space" on the Guns, God and Government tour. The stage also utilized a series of platforms. Manson would sing at a podium for performances of "The Fight Song", donning blackface while wearing an Allgemeine SS-style peaked police cap or, alternatively, Mickey Mouse ears. During performances of "The Dope Show", Manson would wear elongated arms designed by Rudy Coby, which he would swing in a marching manner as he walked along the stage. At the end of each performance of "The Golden Age of Grotesque", Manson played saxophone—a rare instance of the vocalist playing a live instrument in concert.


Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Source Rating
Metacritic (60/100)[17]
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 4/5 stars[18]
Alternative Press 8/10 stars[19]
BBC Music (favorable)[20]
Drowned in Sound 7/10 stars[21]
Entertainment Weekly (B-)[22]
The Guardian 3/5 stars[3]
Mojo 3/5 stars[23]
Popmatters (3/10)[24]
Q 3/5 stars[25]
Rolling Stone 3/5 stars[26]

Critical response to The Golden Age of Grotesque was mixed. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album has received an average score of 60, indicating mixed or average reviews, based on 12 publications.[17] Although ending up in many critics' 'best of' lists for 2003, other critics consider this Manson's weakest album, arguing that it lacks originality and thoughtful lyrics compared to its predecessors.

Many of the positive reviews focused heavily on the album's production,[17] with Q magazine stating that "Grotesque rocks like a bastard,"[25] along with Alternative Press who commented that "the army of noise behind his bitterness is at once massive and impressive," awarding the album an 8/10 score.[19] Stephen Thomas Erlewine, in an overwhelmingly positive review for AllMusic, praised the album's "thudding metallic grind," describing it as "light and nimble, even though it's drenched in distortion and screams." Erlewine also opined that "[...] in an era when heavy rockers have no idea what happened in the '80s, much less the '30s, it's hard not to warm to this, even if his music isn't your own personal bag," before summarizing that "unlike in the past, Manson isn't taking himself so seriously. It all adds up to a very good album—maybe not his best, and certainly not one that will attract the most attention, but it's a hell of a lot grander than what his peers are producing, and holds its own with his previous records. It's also a bit more fun, too, and that counts for a lot."[18] Barry Walters of Rolling Stone commented that "Marilyn Manson really should be sucking by now. What's surprising is that there's still so much life in what Manson is rehashing. [...] The album loses momentum as the songs slow and dull down, but the first half of Grotesque shines brighter than it should."[26]

Commercial performance[edit]

In the United States, The Golden Age of Grotesque was met with modest commercial success. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart, with 118,000 copies sold its first week — just 1,000 more than the opening week sales tally of previous album Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death), which debuted at No. 13 — and was the lowest selling No. 1 debut of the year.[27] As of November 2008, the album had sold 526,000 copies in the U.S.,[28] but has yet to be accredited with a certification from the RIAA. On its second week of release, the album reached No. 1 on the Canadian Albums Chart.[29]

In contrast, the album was, by far, Manson's most successful release in Europe, peaking within the top five in most of the major European markets. The set reached No. 1 in five territories — Austria, Belgium (Wallonia), Germany, Italy and Switzerland — while also reaching the top five in Belgium (Flanders), France, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and the United Kingdom.[30][31] In France, where the set peaked at No. 2, the album was awarded a gold certification from the Syndicat National de l'Édition Phonographique for shipments of over 100,000 units.[32] The album has sold over 120,000 copies in the region.[33] The album received a gold certification from Germany's BVMI under previous criteria which awarded gold certifications to albums that shipped in excess of 250,000 units, as opposed to the current level of 100,000 units.[34] The set also attained gold status in Austria,[35] Switzerland[36] and the UK,[37] indicating shipments of 15,000, 20,000 & 100,000 units respectively.

In Australia and New Zealand, The Golden Age of Grotesque debuted at No. 5 and No. 16 on the official charts, respectively.[30][38] The album was certified gold in Australia by the ARIA, indicating shipments of 35,000 units.[39]

Track listing[edit]

All lyrics written by Manson.

No. Title Music Length
1. "Thaeter"   Gacy, Manson, Sköld 1:14
2. "This Is the New Shit"   John 5, Manson, Sköld 4:20
3. "mOBSCENE"   John 5, Manson 3:25
4. "Doll-Dagga Buzz-Buzz Ziggety-Zag"   John 5, Manson, Sköld 4:11
5. "Use Your Fist and Not Your Mouth"   John 5, Manson 3:34
6. "The Golden Age of Grotesque"   John 5, Manson 4:05
7. "(s)AINT"   John 5, Manson, Sköld 3:42
8. "Ka-Boom Ka-Boom"   John 5, Sköld 4:02
9. "Slutgarden"   John 5, Manson 4:06
10. "♠" (Spade) John 5 4:34
11. "Para-noir"   John 5, Gacy, Manson, Sköld 6:01
12. "The Bright Young Things"   John 5 4:19
13. "Better of Two Evils"   John 5, Gacy, Manson, Sköld 3:48
14. "Vodevil"   John 5, Sköld 4:39
15. "Obsequey (The Death of Art)"   Manson, Sköld 1:34

Charts and certifications[edit]

Chart procession and succession[edit]

Preceded by
Dalla pace del mare lontano by Sergio Cammariere
Italian Albums Chart number-one album
May 16, 2003–May 30, 2003
Succeeded by
Sono io, l'uomo della storia accanto by Claudio Baglioni
Preceded by
American Life by Madonna
Swiss Albums Chart number-one album
May 25, 2003–June 1, 2003
Succeeded by
The Matrix Reloaded (OST) by Various Artists
Preceded by
Aufwind by Seer
Austrian Albums Chart number-one album
May 28, 2003–June 4, 2003
Succeeded by
Nena feat. Nena - Live by Nena
Preceded by
Body Kiss by The Isley Brothers feat. Ronald Isley
Billboard 200 number-one album
May 31, 2003–June 7, 2003
Succeeded by
14 Shades of Grey by Staind
Preceded by
Come Away With Me by Norah Jones
Canadian Albums Chart number-one album
May 31, 2003–June 7, 2003
Succeeded by
Deftones by Deftones


Release history[edit]

Region Date Label Format Catalog
Mexico May 5, 2003 Interscope Records Compact disc 9800078
Germany May 12, 2003 Interscope Records Compact disc
North America May 13, 2003 Interscope Records Compact disc 37002
United Kingdom May 13, 2003 Interscope Records Compact disc 9800065
Australia May 19, 2003 Interscope Records Compact disc 9800065
Japan June 17, 2003 Interscope Records Compact disc UICS 1050

Credits and personnel[edit]

Marilyn Manson[55]
  • Chuck Bailey – assistant engineer
  • Tom Baker – mastering
  • Jon Blaine – hair stylist
  • Blumpy – digital editing
  • Jeff Burns – assistant
  • Ross Garfield – drum technician
  • Lily & Pat – vocals (mOBSCENE & Para-noir)
  • Ben Grosse – producer, engineer, digital editing, mixing
  • Mark Williams – A&R
  • Gottfried Helnwein – art direction


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