[T68] ‘Archives of Pain’

Released on: The Holy Bible (Album #3) Epic Records, 29 August 1994
Track: 5

Few songs in the Manics catalogue, if any, have inspired as much fervent argument over lyrical meanings as ‘Archives of Pain’. Written perhaps entirely by Edwards, this buzzsaw track on the subject of capital punishment, serial killers and authoritarianism was named after a chapter in a biography of French philosopher Michel Foucault (not, as is often stated, a chapter in one of Foucault’s own books).

The song’s savage lyrics have been interpreted in a wide variety of ways, many of which are conditional on the listener’s perspective on Edwards’ beliefs and state of mind while he was writing. As a result, ‘Archives of Pain’ has been variously described as a frank advocacy of capital punishment on Edwards’ part, an argument for capital punishment from a third party perspective with which Edwards did not agree, a contemplation on a subject on which Edwards had not made up his mind, and various others. Speaking to Melody Maker in 1994, Wire described the song as “not a right-wing statement” but rather an argument “against this fascination with people who kill”. It’s clear that this fairly offhand comment does not go far enough to explain this troubled and troubling song, which has caused so much confusion over the years.

Whatever Edwards’ on views on capital punishment – he told Simon Price that the idea of a return to 19th century criminal justice “appealed” to him – the song takes advocacy of retributive killing to apocalyptic extremes. Lines like “all I preach is extinction”, “man makes death, death makes man” and the sheer brutality of the punishments the song “endorses” all imply that it is a madman speaking. All in all, ‘Archives of Pain’ reads very much like a song by McCarthy, the major influences on the Manics who wrote songs from the perspective of their ideological opponents more often than not. Like ‘Archives of Pain’, their songs could often be confusing for this reason.

Further confusing the situation is the assertion from the authors of Manics.nl that Edwards’ belief that Foucault’s book Discipline and Punish advocated more brutal forms of criminal punishment was “absolutely wrong”. Instead, the site goes on to say

“Foucault rejects nineteenth-century ways of punishment. He just describes them in his analysis of the development of punishment to show that our modern system of punishment is not as humane and right as we all think. It is a totally different sort of punishment, but as wrong as the nineteenth-century way. ‘Archives of Pain’ is not a right-wing song about the ‘eye for an eye’ concept, but is a statement against the glorification of serial killers.“

Ultimately, we will probably never understand the song any better than we do currently, given Edwards’ disappearance. However, while we are on the subject here is a somewhat more off-the-wall partial explanation: ‘Archives of Pain’ cannot be understood without reference to [T66] ‘Of Walking Abortion’, which posits that everyone must bear a degree of responsibility for the evil in the world. This makes sense of the “all I preach is extinction” line, because everyone is guilty of horrific atrocities and the reasonable penalty in the mind of our narrator is death. This brings to mind the Dark Judges from the comics anthology 2000 AD – in their warped logic, all crime is committed by the living, therefore life is a crime and the apt penalty is death. The Dark Judges – evil equivalents of the comic’s hero Judge Dredd – went on to wipe out the whole population of their home planet, located in an alternate dimension and known as Deadworld. After all, we know that Edwards was a fan of 2000 AD thanks to his references to it in [A60] ‘P.C.P.’…

Thankfully, the musical side of ‘Archives of Pain’ is much easier to process. It opens with a supremely evil-sounding bass line which is by far Wire’s most celebrated instrumental work. He has often been referred to as a mediocre bassist but this is a truly singular moment as far as his contribution to the Manics discography is concerned. Later, the whole band can take credit for the song’s incredible conclusion, during which the whole affair simply burns up before our very ears.

‘Archives of Pain’ is unique in that it is the only Manics song in which the band reference their own band by name.

Choice Lyric (Full Lyrics)
“there is never redemption / any fool can regret yesterday”

The House of Lords – upper house of the UK parliament, based at the Palace of Westminster in London.

Yeltsin – Boris Yeltsin (1931 – 2007), first president of the Russian Federation from 1991 to 1999, at which point he resigned with extremely low popularity ratings. Spearheaded “shock therapy” and the extremely rapid economic liberalisation which led to concentration of wealth in the hands of oligarchs and criminals.

Zhirinovsky – Vladimir Zhirinovsky (1946 -) rightist Russian politician and activist.

Le Pen – Jean-Marie Le Pen (1928 -), French far-right politician and longtime leader of the National Front (now led by his youngest daughter Marine).

Hindley and Brady – Myra Hindley (1942 – 2002) and Ian Brady (1938 -) also known as the “Moors murderers” for the killing of five children in Greater Manchester, UK between 1963 and 1965.

Ireland – Colin Ireland (1954 – 2012), known as the “Gay Slayer” for his murder of five homosexual men in London in 1993. Obsessed with becoming a serial killer and thereby attaining fame, he died in prison.

Allitt – Beverley Allitt (1968 -) murdered four children and attacked several others while working as a student nurse in 1991. Currently imprisoned.

Sutcliffe – Peter Sutcliffe (1946 -) also known as the “Yorkshire Ripper”. Convicted in 1971 of murdering thirteen women and attempting to murder seven others. Currently imprisoned.

Dahmer – Jeffrey Dahmer (1960 – 1994), infamous American serial killer who preyed on young men and practised rape, cannibalism, dismemberment, etc. Was himself murdered in prison in 1994.

Nilsen – Dennis Andrew Nilsen (1945 -) British serial killer who murdered fifteen men between 1978 and 1983. Known as the “Muswell Hill murderer” or the “Kindly Killer”, the latter due to what Nilsen believed was his “humane” methods of killing. Currently imprisoned.

Yoshinori Ueda – (?) Japanese man believed to have killed five people using overdoses of muscle relaxants in the early 1990s. Apparently released after pleading insanity.

Blanche – Eugene Terre’Blanche (1941 – 2010), South African politician and white supremacist. Murdered at his farm in 2010.

Pickles – Judge James Pickles (1925 – 2010), British judge who became famed for his controversial decisions and statements, such as claiming that rape victims were “asking for it”. Subsequently became a writer.

Amin – Idi Amin (mid-1920s – 2003) Ugandan soldier in the British colonial army there and subsequently brutal dictator of that country during the 1970s. Fled to Libya and then Saudi Arabia, where he died, after war with Tanzania forced him from Uganda.

Milosevic – Slobodan Milosevic (1941 – 2006), Serbian and Yugoslav politician charged with war crimes during the Yugoslav Wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia. Died in the UN war crimes detention centre in the Hague, Netherlands.

Nail it to the House of Lords – this is probably an allusion to German monk Martin Luther, who in 1517 nailed his Ninety-Five Theses, a document opposing the spectacular wealth of the Catholic church and the sale of indulgences, to the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg. Note: for another possible explanation of this line, see Chris’ comment below.


9 responses to “[T68] ‘Archives of Pain’

  1. Hi Andy,
    “Nail it to the House of Lords” – in my opinion this is another obscure historical reference, this time to Cicero; stood up against the proscriptions of Mark Antony and Octavian (fall of the Roman Republic), was assassinated and had his hands cut off and nailed to the door of the Roman Senate building as a warning to other political opponents. Just a thought.

    • That’s a great thought Chris, thanks! It seems even more appropriate that the line might be referencing both of these incidents, given that Martin Luther was apparently quite an admirer of Cicero.

    • That’s a bit of a stretch don’t you think? I fail to see any link to that reference.

      Surely a more likely explanation is in the House of Lords reference itself. Anyone with an objection to the proposed reinstatement of capital punishment which the song ‘espouses’ could object by symbolically nailing their opinion to the doors of the second chamber. If ever such a medieval proposal as the reinstatement of hanging were proposed it would have to be discussed and ultimately approved by the Lords.

      So perhaps, the song implies, you may voice your disgust but we all end up in the same box.

  2. Dunno for sure, but I read somewhere that James came up with the bass riff, and might of even played it on the record.

    • I haven’t heard that before, but I’ve heard a similar claim regarding [T132] ‘Miss Europa Disco Dancer’. If I can confirm this, I’ll include it in the revised version of the essays.

  3. Hi Andy, perhaps I’m being very stupid but I can’t find the point in the lyric when the Manics’ own band name is referenced.

    • Hi Cat – you have to listen very carefully to spot it, but “Manic Street Preachers” is sung instead of “Milosevic” at the end of the second chorus. Most lyrics websites do not reflect this, probably because they replicate the lyric sheet with the album (which may well be the way the song was written, but not the way it was recorded). It’s an interesting little detail.

    • Similarly its 20 years for me too Robert 🙂 The Holy Bible was the first album i bought before Everything Must Go and i remember it taking a few listens and then poring over the cd booklet to follow the unbelievable lyrics crammed into the songs as James somehow fits them to the music he and Sean made with their military precision! I too noticed the little quirk during Archives at the end of the second chorus and its always been a question mark for me even tho its ‘accepted’ James sings sings ‘Manic Strret Preachers’…i mustve replayed it over and over a few hundred times and to me it doesnt scan as that and i always hear him say ‘..Blanche and Pickles, Amin My electric guitars..’ ,as if his guitar is an instrument of torture which he plays the life out of in that amazing solo!

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