Situated high up in the Hollywood Hills, at the end of a cul-de-sac and reachable only by a flight of winding stone steps, you do no stumble upon the home of Marilyn Manson by accident. From the outside, you'd never think that here lives the self-styled God Of Fuck, if only because it looks so subtle, so understated. But once you step over its threshold, you are not disappointed. It looks pretty much as you would expect of a man who dresses as if every day were Halloween. The first thing that hits you is the dark, a near impenetrable gloom that the two flickering candles in the hallway struggle to alleviate. It is difficult to pick out much detail once inside, but your eyes quickly fall upon the artificial limbs hanging from the wall, the mounted baboon heads, and the little Hitler doll that nestles on the mantelpiece alongside the one of Mickey Mouse.
I arrive at this archly gothic mansion, as instructed, late one April night (Manson doesn't do days) and am encouraged by a management person to take a seat in the cluttered living room. I perch on a cracked leather sofa upon which lies a fur stole so fresh-looking I half expect it to start stroking me. A scrawny white cat emerges from the shadows and appraises me with wan yellow eyes. Only when it is comfortable that the hairs on my neck are standing to attention does it slink away silently again. Eventually Manson himself arrives. Without make-up, he looks unrecognisable, his face long and plain, his eyes small and blank dots on either side of a prominent nose. His lank hair is hidden beneath a military-style black cap, and he fills out his black T-shirt a little more than he once did. He is already an unnecessarily tall man, rendering the gigantic platform boots he is wearing superfluous. His voice, when it crawls out of his throat, is a deep as a well.
"Sorry to have kept you waiting," says the man born Brian Hugh Warner cordially.
"Would you like a tour of the place?"
He leads me through the darkened corridor and up the darkened staircase. We reach a door, which he throws open to reveal the master bedroom. It looks like a recent casualty of a hurricane: the bed sheets a maelstrom of knots, CDs, books and clothes littering every inch of the floor. On the walls are hundreds of words scrawled, by him, in thick black marker, among them FUCK and FEAR and SEX.
"Before you ask, I didn't decorate the place to look like a serial killer's den," he deadpans.
"I just wanted to make it feel like home."
We repair back to the murky living room where one of his minions has poured us a glass each of absinthe (it's his own line, called, cutely, Mansinthe). It is bright pink in colour, 66.6 per cent alcohol and whiffs of aniseed.
"It's good stuff," he promises.
It tastes like battery acid.
A dozen years ago, Marilyn Manson was America's foremost bogeyman. His breakthrough album, 1996's Antichrist Superstar, was a clanging, largely tune-free slab of metallic noise that sounded like one of hell's foundries working overtime. But his music was overshadowed by the man himself. With his pale skin, black eyeliner, milky contact lenses and penchant for dressing in tattered lingerie onstage, he looked like a recent murder victim. And then there was the circus sideshow hype that surrounded it. He supposedly smoked human bones, had a vertebrae removed in order to give himself a blow job and was a fully-signed-up member of the Church of Satan (sadly, only the latter was true). Naturally, all this failed to impress anyone who had passed puberty: religious groups regularly picketed his shows, while questions were asked in Parliament on the eve of his first UK tour. The Daily Express sternly proclaimed him "vile". The fact that he was basically just an S&M widow Twankey seemingly went over their heads. And apparently his.
"People always called me a shock rocker," he says derisively, "but I was never anything quite so crude. I saw myself as an artist. Artists are supposed to be provocative, right?"
In his late 20s, this was well and good. But he continues to plough the very same furrow today, aged 40, an evil musical overlord who has shocked so much he can shock no more. He is now almost quaintly camp. Michael Crawford could play him in the musical version of his life. He has a new album out this month, The High End Of Low. Like all Marilyn Manson albums, it is feral and furious. Songs have such titles as Unkillable Monster and Arma-Goddamn-Motherfuckin'-Geddon. His favourite is Pretty As A Swastika.
"That title came to me after I said it to a girl - as a compliment," he explains.
So you consider swastikas pretty?
"Hey, it's not like I said she was pretty like the Holocaust, right?"
The record company has been busy censoring the album in order to have it stocked in all major retail outlets, and this has made him happy: "I enjoy pissing off my record company."
Of course he does. He also like to scare those close to him. Last November, his latest girlfriend, Evan Rachel Wood, a porcelain-skinned actress 19 years his junior, and last seen as Mickey Rourke's daughter in The Wrestler, moved out of his house. Manson won't confirm whether they have properly broken up. Happily, he will discuss the album's opening track instead, Devour, which is about murder-suicide.
"I have reached a point in life where if somebody says they'll be with me until they die and then they leave me - well, I'll fulfil that contract, you know? I feel like I have nothing to lose, and that I am no longer afraid to do just about anything."
Wood, one hopes, can sleep easy. This is just Manson being Mansonly provocative. It's what he does. Always has.
Marilyn Manson may not have had the happiest of childhoods, but if you really look into it, it wasn't that bad. He was born in Canton, Ohio, in 1969. His parents - Hugh, a furniture salesman, and Barbara, a nurse - sent him to a religious school that he didn't much care for. He made a few friends, and instead lost himself in such geeky pursuits as Dungeons & Dragons and comic books. Shortly before puberty, he witnessed his grandfather enthusiastically masturbating over some depraved pornographic magazines, "literature" he later pored over himself. But this aside, nothing he revealed in his lurid 1998 autobiography The Long Hard Road Out Of Hell suggests that the young Brian Warner had it much worse than anyone else.
"Ok, I'll grant you that my upbringing as I described it then was pretty unremarkable," he concedes, "but in actual fact there was more to it than that, much more, things I didn't write about because I didn't remember them until just recently. What I have remembered goes a long way to explaining who I am today..."
Growing palpably awkward, right hand covering close to his mouth, he says that he has never talking publicly about this before, not even with close friends, and so he is not about to go into too much detail now. What he says, with long pauses between each sentence, is this: "It has something to do with abandonment. When I was a child. It happened in my life for an entire year but I blocked the memory out. Until now. I'm still coming to terms with it."
The memory, he explains, was a result of the fact that he recently did something he has never done in his life before: spend time along. Over Christmas, New Year and his 40th birthday, he saw and spoke to no one.
"It doesn't seem like such a big deal now, but it was then. It gave me a lot of time to think and, as it turned out, to remember."
He casts a glance around the gloom of the living room and laughs dryly.
"Maybe that's why my house is dark all the time. So many secrets, so much to hide. I may be a bad man in many respects," he ponders, "but that doesn't mean I don't have a good side as well. It doesn't mean I don't have morals, you know?"
Does it not? In his autobiography, Manson recounts his many high times on the road, each tour dominated by an almost ridiculous amount of excess. Onstage he would often fellate band members - not out of homosexual desire, he was always suspiciously quick to point out, but in pursuit of performance. He treated groupies with sadistic intent. There was one girl whom was stripped and bent over so Manson and his bandmates could spit into her anus; another, a deaf girl, had cuts of raw meat thrown at her. Surely that's nothing short of abuse?
He coughs, once.
"Yes, you're right. I do regret... I regret that now, I do. I have always hated the idea of exploiting anyone."
So why did you?
"Um, I guess because I didn't quite understand how to deal with the situation I was in. I exploited because I felt exploited myself. Thankfully, nobody died or was damaged irreparably, at least I hope not. But I have always been attracted to damaged people, I guess because I am damaged myself."
Two particularly damaged people who were drawn to him, though never directly, were Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who, on 20 April 1999, killed 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School, Colorado, before turning the guns on themselves. It was later revealed that both had been ardent Manson fans. If those in mourning were looking for a scapegoat, they'd found one.
"That whole period pulled my entire life out at the roots," he says.
"Did I believe I was partly responsible for it?" he asks.
"I felt the burden and the weight of the accusations, sure, but I never felt any more responsible for the it than anyone else. Why would I?"
The tragedy turned him into the most hated rock star of his generation.
"I've never tried to change anyone's opinion on that," he says. "I thrive on hate."
In many ways, he never recovered from the fallout. Though each subsequent album still sold well among the faithful, he became a shadow of his former self while other, younger pretenders to his crown overtook him with ease.
"Yes, there are plenty of bands now trying to do what I did but in a more mainstream way," he says, smiling tartly. The most successful of which, I say, is My Chemical Romance. Is he a fan?
"No, I am not. they haven't done what I've done; they haven't seen what I've seen."
Though he maintains that his new album is a career highlight (he plays it at full blast while we speak), Manson nevertheless seems increasingly out of time, adrift in his ghoulish palace, his many detractors convinced he is a spent force, a clown. He thinks otherwise, and talks enthusiastically about his music, his several movie ideas, and his art.
"I love to paint," he says, then leads me to the room in which he does just that ("on my knees"). It is even more chaotic in here than his bedroom, half-finished canvases of nudes, former girlfriends and countless self-portraits strewn everywhere. Though he says that the art would has embraced his work on its own merit (individual paintings can sell for as much as $150,000), it is also true to say that opinion on his brushwork is divided. Charles Darwent, art critic at The Independent On Sunday, finds little to admire.
"The word 'dire' springs to mind," he offers.
"I suppose it's vaguely interesting that a medium as reputedly anodyne as watercolour is being used to portray metal monsters, but that's about it. How depressing that people pay good for them."
We close the door on his art and head back down to the living room, which he inhabits mostly alone now, kept company only by his cats. He reveals that he has few friends and wants desperately to fall in love again, but his heart has been broken too many times, most painfully by the burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese, whom he married in 2005 (she divorced him a year later, citing "irreconcilable differences"). Their coupling elevated him into a level of mainstream celebrity he could never be entirely comfortable with culminating, bizarrely, when their wedding photographs appeared in US Vogue. Presumably Hello! hasn't returned their calls.
"I never wanted that; Dita did," he says, wincing, "Anyway, that's all old news. I don't have any hard feelings over her anymore. We've gained closure - or rather, I gave it to her."
His most recent heartbreak is over Wood. When they started dating, she was 19, he was a recently divorced 38-year-old-man seemingly in the midst of an unseemly midlife crisis. Classic Lolita territory, in other words.
"You're asking whether I was a corrupting influence? I'm sure I can be, but Evan was incorruptible. What I had with her was something special, something I would associate with reincarnation, time travel, complete mental psychosis..."
He sighs deeply, and suddenly looks terribly lonely. Manson isn't good by himself. He forever requires a soul mate - preferably much younger than himself ("I've always had a desire to attach myself to innocence"). sometimes he brings back girls to the house. Not all of them, he grins, flee in abject horror.
"Look, I am aware how this place must look to the outsider. It looks ridiculous and absurd. But it's supposed to be ironic. That's the role I'm playing, after all."
And what role is that, precisely?
He blinks rapidly, convinced the question is a foolish one.
"Rock star, of course. What else?"