Released: Epic Records, 29 August 1994
Peak UK Chart Position: #6
What was to become the most acclaimed album in their history to date was produced by the Manics in trying circumstances. The recording of Gold Against the Soul had seen them failing to resist record company pressures, their co-manager Philip Hall lost his battle with cancer in December 1993, and Edwards’ mental and physical state had deteriorated. Sony, who were to release the third Manic Street Preachers album on their Epic Records imprint, suggested Barbados as a recording location. Deciding to eschew “all that decadent rockstar rubbish” the band chose instead to work on the album at the tiny, cheap Sound Space Studios in Cardiff. Deciding in Wire’s words to not use “all the resources at their disposal”, the band largely self-produced the album and worked closely with engineer Alex Silva. The producer of Generation Terrorists, Steve Brown, returned to produce just one track, ‘She Is Suffering’.
The studio, since demolished, was located in an area of the city known for being its red light district; very appropriate given the theme of prostitution that dominated album opener ‘Yes’. Bradfield’s long years of heavy drinking are thought to have began with the Holy Bible sessions, which he also credits with his lack of a social life during this time. For his part, Silva blamed the disintegration of his own relationship on the sessions, which were claustrophobic and all-consuming – the band refused to allow record company people to make appearances at the studio. This period was not all bad, however – Wire recalled that while the band was not “happy happy”, they felt very comfortable together, and the record was completed in around seven weeks. This was less than a third of the time Generation Terrorists had consumed.
The difficulties of the sessions were matched by the sheer darkness of the material the band was working on, which has become one of the defining characteristics of The Holy Bible. Unlike previous records which were a relative 50/50 split in terms of lyrical workload between Edwards and Wire, THB was reportedly 70% to 80% written by Edwards alone. One notable exception was ‘This Is Yesterday’, Wire’s primary contribution and – probably not coincidentally – one of the album’s closest approaches to a light moment.
In 1994 Edwards’ mind was a dark place and The Holy Bible has come to be seen as the ultimate musical expression of this period in his thinking. Reflections on the darker parts of life had long been a Manics staple, but not like this: the album was steeped in topics like prostitution, self-harm, anorexia, racism, political corruption, authoritarianism, the death penalty and the Holocaust. To paint these black pictures, Bradfield and Moore bent into workable melodies Edwards’ enormous range of historical, cultural, political and other references and allusions; the result read like an explosive, stream-of-consciousness purging of the whole bloodied wreckage of the twentieth century. It was frequently almost unbearably bleak but always intelligent, impassioned and totally honest.
Realising Edwards’ dark visions as songs meant more than becoming creative with twisted vocal melodies – it also meant reinventing the way the Manics wrote and played music. The words were raw and close to the bone, suggesting a kind of rock that didn’t just return to the band’s punk roots but invented a whole new soundworld that dripped with a nihilism and menace that histrionic heavy metal pretenders could only dream of. The Holy Bible would be exposed, like a gaping wound. This exposure of the ugly sides of humanity was reflected in the cover, a painting by acclaimed artist Jenny Savile, who offered its use free of charge after a phone call with Edwards in which he described each of the album’s songs.
The three singles performed below expectations and although the album hit #6 on the UK charts, its sales were unimpressive over the longer term – in mainland Europe it did not chart at all. An album recorded in Barbados might have done better, but it would have been recorded by a different band. As it was, The Holy Bible was an unadulterated artistic statement that was vindicated not in its sales but in its fervent following and longstanding critical acclaim. It is an uncomfortable, challenging, magnificent work of tortured genius.
1) [T64] ‘Yes’
2) [T65] ‘ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayit’sworldwouldfallapart’
3) [T66] ‘Of Walking Abortion’
4) [A67] ‘She Is Suffering’
5) [T68] ‘Archives of Pain’
6) [A62] ‘Revol’
7) [T69] ’4st 7lb’
8) [T70] ‘Mausoleum’
9) [A59] ‘Faster’
10) [T71] ‘This Is Yesterday’
11) [T72] Die in the Summertime’
12) [T73] ‘The Intense Humming of Evil’
13) [A60] ‘P.C.P.’