It probably would have been more beneficial to the adolescent fans of the 1990s had Marilyn Manson released a CD on a PlayStation disc back then. The band’s controversy in the pre-millennium decade, particularly among the more conservative parts of America, likely meant that hiding Manson CDs from parents in hidden pockets of messy bedrooms was a regular hobby. The theory, then, is that it may have been a lot easier to pass off the satanic CD as a videogame were it found by angry, groping hands. Of course, you’d still have to cover up the band’s recognizable logos, but some stickers and a felt pen can get you a long way.
With that said, the reason for Marilyn Manson’s ninth studio album The Pale Emperor arriving on a polycarbonate disc in January this year had nothing to do with utility: it was all about style. What’s special about the discs manufactured for the original PlayStation is that they are pure black. There were two reasons for this black ink finish as revealed by this mini-documentary on the production process of the CDs: it gave the discs the “distinctive, cool PlayStation-only look,” and also helped to “protect the CD from illegal copying.”
Hassan Rahim and Willo Perron, the art directors of The Pale Emperor‘s disc and case, wanted to take the PlayStation disc’s Stygian canvas and spin it to their own ideas. So they had Brian Schuman of Concord Music (their production manager) source the CDs from Sony directly. This means that the discs Rahim and Perron worked with, and that the album was distributed on, came from the exact same plant as the PlayStation’s discs did.
You can see how the thick black of the PlayStation disc fits in with the rest of The Pale Emperor‘s motifs. One promotional photo sees Manson’s lead vocalist, and only remaining original member—Marilyn Manson himself—engulfed in umbra as he sits from top to toe in an all-black outfit; gloves, boots, and buttoned-up jacket, shadows hanging over his eyes, his mouth wearing the darkest shade of lipstick.
Yet, there’s more to the album and, indeed, its specially ordered CDs than this classic goth-style imagery. The main artwork for the album as seen on its cover has Manson in a white garment, a ghostly double emerging from his face. There’s a contrast here, between the darker tones of Manson’s flesh and undergarments, and the whiter outlines they lie behind. The Deluxe Edition of The Pale Emperor album is made to relay this theme more fully.
“When you open the CD it’s pitch black, but we also added a thermal texture on top—after it gets hot during playback, the disc comes out all white,” Rahim revealed. As the disc cools down the black returns, appearing to consume the hot white layer and turning it into a wisp that fades over time. The PlayStation disc was chosen with this effect in mind as its pitch black sheen enhances the difference between dark and light, hot and cold. Further, the Deluxe Edition came with an 8-panel digipak that has a sandpaper-like grit texture on the outside and high gloss on the inside. “The contrasting textures definitely speak for themselves when you hold the piece,” Rahim said.
(Photo courtesy of Hassan Rahim)
This interplay between two opposites is what the now 46-year-old Marilyn Manson has always claimed to embody. The band’s title itself is formed of this idea, matching the two biggest media icons of the 1960s: actress Marilyn Monroe and cult leader Charles Manson. But, more relevant to 2015, and specifically The Pale Emperor, Marilyn Manson’s latest narrative is one of claiming to be a man of two sides, caught in the middle. Speaking to Huffington Post Canada, Manson described the changes he has gone through following his mother’s death last year; jogging for exercise, giving up absinthe, and recording songs during daylight hours instead of at 3am as he previously did.
Manson also spoke of how he “sold [his] soul to be a rock star.” Now, he claims to have “got the mortgage back on [his] soul.” It’s fitting then, that the PlayStation disc originates from the ’90s, which was when Manson presumably made this Faustian deal as that’s when the band took off. The disc’s pure black represents that former darkness. But in the album’s artwork and upon playing the CD, the reclaimed soul of the new Manson overtakes it, colored its opposite in an engulfing white. It’s a contrast that carries through the man, his music, and also the media it’s distributed on.