As the theatrical blasphemies of Marilyn Manson and the thrash-metal hell pits of Slayer hit Southern California this weekend amid a 41-date co-headlined world tour, their music overshadows controversy for a change. It’s not like there’ll be no sparks, though.
“You’re guaranteed to find the devil at our show,” a throat-shredded Manson said from the Denver tour stop. “There were people with giant wooden crosses marching around outside yesterday [in Omaha] -- we’re a place for them to go.”
In general, however, religious protesters flock in fewer numbers now than when the singer was hyping his 1996 “Antichrist Superstar” album or being scapegoated for inspiring the 1999 Columbine school killings.
“It’s not as threatening,” suggested Manson, “because I think people that would protest have lost some of their foothold on their beliefs.”
The relative peace might have proved a publicity deficit if Manson and Slayer weren’t launching some of their deadliest volleys now, when their anti-authoritarian, antiwar messages are resonating.
The veteran Slayer is no stranger to inverted pentagrams and perverted lyrics, but its song “Eyes of the Insane,” about soldiers’ vulnerability to mental illness and suicide, won a Grammy this year in a metal category that included other politically themed entries by Ministry and Lamb of God.
The recognition “is awesome for a metal band such as us,” said Slayer bassist-vocalist Tom Araya from Omaha. Araya wrote the song’s lyrics -- “Tortured spirits will not let me rest” -- en route to a demo session, after reading an article about Iraq war veterans.
“I woke up in the middle of the night,” said Araya, “finished writing the song, and the next day I even sang ideas that I had come up with that night.”
Slayer’s 2006 album “Christ Illusion,” from which “Eyes of the Insane” was plucked, is the group’s most musically complex and texturally shaded statement, a culmination of 26 years of teamwork. It was rereleased last month with bonus video and audio content, plus bloody new cover art, to mark executive producer Rick Rubin’s defection from the Warner family to Columbia Records.
Manson is riding his own creative spike with the widely praised “Eat Me, Drink Me,” several songs from which he’s showcasing on this tour. The album, heavy with tortured balladry, was assembled when the rock shocksman was most broken, in the midst of a divorce.
“It became my only way of finding the end of the tunnel,” said Manson, crediting his songwriting partnership with multi-instrumentalist bandmate Tim Skold. “I was having issues of trust, self-identity, confusion, and I needed to hear that exact music to inspire me. It’s the first true collaboration I think I’ve had.”
And of the band that’s behind him each night, Manson said, “This is the strongest musical lineup that we’ve had, that fearlessly can do any song, and it sounds great.
“Performing [the new material] live, I now feel like I’m in the best space, mentally and physically, that I have been anytime I can remember. This tour’s more enjoyable than any tour I can recall.”
While most of the songs on Slayer’s latest were inked by guitarist Kerry King, Araya maintains his own well-evolved writing link with the band’s other axman, Jeff Hanneman.
One day, Hanneman played something Araya especially dug. “I asked him, ‘What do you want to call it?’ And he said, ‘ “Jihad.” I’m going to write it from the perspective of the terrorist.’ I’m like, ‘Aah. Awesome!’ And that was it; we started working. That’s the kind of song that nobody else would even touch.”
Some observers doubted that the Manson-Slayer combination would make as good a cocktail as it does a bon mot, but according to Manson, he and King have become absinthe-drinking buddies on tour. (Manson is launching his own brand, Mansinthe.)
“We’ll listen to some AC/DC or something together. There’s a good camaraderie between the two bands, and the fans don’t seem to be clashing whatsoever,” Manson said. “It’s always good to see girls with heart-shaped glasses” -- the title of his latest single -- “in the mosh pit.”
Interband connections, after all, do exist. Slayer was formed in L.A. Babylon; Manson lives here. Though neither Manson nor Araya, obviously, is much of a churchgoer, the former attended a strict Christian school, while the latter was raised Catholic. (Araya’s father was a deacon.)
What does Araya think about having to vocalize King’s lyric (from “Cult”) about Jesus: “I would’ve led the sacrifice and nailed him to the crucifix”? Wouldn’t the Nazarene himself scourge modern religious extremists?
“You know he would,” Araya said. “He would be the first one to step up and say, ‘What are you guys doing?’ . . . I think Christ was one of the few real teachers. There aren’t too many. And I don’t know if Jesus was really the Son of God, but he definitely was a man who had come with a message.”
When: 8 to 9 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-PG-L (may be unsuitable for young children, with an advisory for coarse language)