Released on: The Holy Bible (Album #3) Epic Records, 29 August 1994
Dachau is such an evil, quiet place. There’s no grass, and you don’t even see a worm, let alone any birds. All you can hear is this humming of nothing.
It was inevitable that a song explicitly and very obviously based on the band’s trips to a pair of Nazi concentration camps would end up becoming the darkest and most difficult listen in the entire discography. It isn’t just a question of subject matter: the Manics’ experiences in those places impacted enormously on the musical composition of the (fantastically titled) ‘The Intense Humming of Evil’. It isn’t anger, confusion or madness that drips from every drum beat and guitar figure in the song: it is pure horror. Portraying horror in music is something that few bands seriously attempt, and that fewer still can actually pull off. ‘The Intense Humming of Evil’ was never exactly single material, but it is devastatingly effective at what it aims to do.
A surprisingly large part of the atmosphere comes from the very long opening quote, which comes from the English-language Soviet documentary film – not a news report – about the Nuremberg Trials which took place between 1945 and 1949 at the Palace of Justice in the German city of Nuremberg. The quote uses the Russian name for Auschwitz (“osventsim”) instead of the more commonly heard German one. The unusual ringing, metallic sound which repeats throughout much of the song alongside Moore’s drums is also a key part of the deeply disturbing atmosphere. The outro is also noteworthy – it sputters to a stop like a failing engine, or a life ending. It is harrowing stuff.
‘The Intense Humming of Evil’ is significant in a more subtle way than its sheer darkness – in being neither a rock song nor an acoustic piece, it is a very early example of a Manics track which is primarily about atmosphere and creating a particular feel. This type of approach would become much more prominent on later records, although of course the band would never record anything quite like this track again.
The song is also one of the only ones about which a bit of internal dissent over lyrics has been recorded: it is said that Bradfield requested that changes be made to be words to make them more judgemental (“you can’t be ambivalent about the Holocaust”). Given his own comments about the song, it is possible that Edwards intended it to be partly about Holocaust denialism, which he described as “one of the few examples where even truth is being questioned” and which has continued to pop up in the media occasionally since 1994. The final lines also criticise Winston Churchill, usually thought of as a hero of the United Kingdom. The line “Churchill no different / wished the workers bled to a machine” is probably a reference to his fierce opposition to and determination to destroy Bolshevism (and by extension, leftist politics in general).
Choice Lyric (Full Lyrics)
“in Block Five we worship malaria”
Arbeit macht frei – German for “work brings freedom” or “work makes you free”. Inscribed over the gates of Auschwitz.
Transport of invalids – an official Nazi euphemism for the transports used to take people to the death camps.
Hartheim Castle – a castle near Linz, Austria used as one of several euthanasia centres during the Nazi era. Around 18,000 physically and mentally disabled people were murdered there under the “Aktion T4” programme.
Block Five – a specific block at Dachau camp used for medical experimentation, including deliberately infecting prisoners with malaria.
Malaria – an often deadly infectious disease carried by mosquitoes and widespread in tropical and subtropical regions.
Lagerstrasse – German for “camp street”. Used to refer to the main avenues in concentration camps.
Rascher – Sigmund Rascher (1909 – 1945), German SS doctor known for various barbaric and deadly experiments at Dachau. Executed in 1945 by the Nazis after his attempts to please Heinrich Himmler backfired spectacularly.
Churchill – Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965), Prime Minister of the UK during WWII and again from 1951 to 1955.