The Holy Bible is the third studio album by Welsh alternative rock band Manic Street Preachers, released on 29 August 1994 through Epic Records. At the time the album was written and recorded, lyricist and rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards was struggling with severe depression, alcohol abuse, self-harm and anorexia nervosa, and its contents are considered by many sources to reflect his mental state. The songs focus on themes relating to politics and human suffering. The Holy Bible was the last of the band’s albums released before Edwards’ disappearance on 1 February 1995.
Although it reached number 6 on the UK albums charts, global sales were disappointing compared to previous albums, and the record did not chart in mainland Europe or North America. It was promoted with tours and festival appearances in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Thailand – in part without Edwards. The Holy Bible received significant critical acclaim, and has appeared in numerous British magazine lists of the greatest rock albums ever made.
According to drummer Sean Moore, the band felt they had been “going a bit astray” with their previous album, 1993’s Gold Against the Soul, and so the approach to the follow-up was for the band to go back to their “grass roots” and rediscover “a little bit of Britishness that we lacked”. Singer and guitarist James Dean Bradfield recalls the band feeling they had become “a bit too rockist […] we had lost our direction”. The band stopped listening to American rock music and returned to influences that had inspired them when they first formed, including Magazine, Wire, Skids, PiL, Gang of Four and Joy Division.
Epic Records had proposed that the album be recorded in Barbados, but the band had wanted to avoid what Bradfield called “all that decadent rockstar rubbish”. It was bassist Nicky Wire’s idea, says Bradfield, that the band “should not use everything at its disposal” in recording the album. Instead, recording began with sound engineer Alex Silva at the low-rent, “absolutely tiny” Sound Space Studios in Cardiff. The album was mixed by Mark Freegard, who had previously worked with The Breeders. “She Is Suffering” was produced by Steve Brown.
Bradfield has described the recording of the album as preventing him from having a social life and Alex Silva attributes the break-up of his relationship with his girlfriend at the time to the long hours involved in the recording. Guitarist Richey Edwards attended recording sessions, but would, according to Wire, “collapse on the settee and have a snooze” while the other band members did all the recording.> He was drinking heavily and frequently crying.”Inevitably”, says Bradfield, “the day would start with a ‘schhht!’; the sound of a can opening.”
The album was constructed with “academic discipline”, according to Bradfield, with the band working to headings and structures “so each song is like an essay”.
Musically, The Holy Bible marks a shift from the modern rock sound of their first two albums, Generation Terrorists and Gold Against the Soul. The album incorporates various elements from other musical genres, such as British punk, post-punk, new wave, industrial, art rock, and gothic rock. During the recording of the album, the band was mainly influenced by post-punk bands such as Wire, Public Image Ltd., and Joy Division, and their new sound drew comparisons to similar artists such as Magazine, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Gang of Four. The record’s furious style was also compared to that of the popular industrial rock act Nine Inch Nails.
James Dean Bradfield has described the album as representing “the most definitive period for us visually as well as the songs we were writing and the record […] we’ve never been scared to admit that”.
While touring in early 1994, the band visited army surplus stores and bought clothing to wear on stage, in a homage to The Clash. This military image was used consistently by the band during the promotion of The Holy Bible, including in their videos and television appearances. A performance of “Faster” on the BBC’s Top of the Pops in June 1994 resulted in a record number of complaints—over 25,000—due to Bradfield wearing a paramilitary-style balaclava.
The album cover, designed by Richey Edwards while hospitalised, features a triptych by Jenny Saville depicting three perspectives on the body of an obese woman in her underwear, and is titled Strategy (South Face/Front Face/North Face). Saville gave her permission for use of her work for free after a discussion with Edwards in which he described each song on the album. The back cover features a photo of the band in military uniforms and a quote taken from Octave Mirbeau’s book The Torture Garden. The typeface on the front cover featuring the letter ‘R’ backwards is copied from Empires and Dance by Simple Minds from 1980.
The lyrics booklet features various images including Christian iconography, photographs of the gate at Dachau concentration camp and a plan of the gas chambers at Belsen concentration camp, a photograph of Lenin’s corpse, an engraving depicting an execution by guillotine in Revolutionary France, a picture of an apple, a photograph of a woman with a parasitic twin, photographs of each of the Manic Street Preachers as children and a photograph of a group of British policemen in gas-masks. The booklet also contains a Buddhist saying from the Tripitaka alongside a dedication to the band’s publicist, Philip Hall, who had died of cancer in 1993.
The title “The Holy Bible” was chosen by Edwards to reflect an idea, according to Bradfield, that “everything on there has to be perfection”. Interviewed at the end of 1994, Edwards said: “The way religions choose to speak their truth to the public has always been to beat them down […] I think that if a Holy Bible is true, it should be about the way the world is and that’s what I think my lyrics are about. [The album] doesn’t pretend things don’t exist”.
The album reached No. 6 on the UK Albums Chart, remaining in the chart for four weeks. This was seen by some as commercially disappointing, as all of the band’s previous albums had remained in the charts for over ten weeks.
When it was released in 1994, the NME saw The Holy Bible as primarily the work of James Dean Bradfield, saying “The Holy Bible isn’t elegant, but it is bloody effective”. Melody Maker, seeing it as primarily the work of Richey Edwards, described it as “the sound of a group in extremis […] hurtling towards a private armageddon”. Upon its re-release ten years later, the NME described it as “a work of genuine genius”.
According to Stylus Magazine: “The Holy Bible is easily one of the best albums of the 90s—ignored by many, but loved intensely by the few who’ve lived with it over the years […] It puts everything the Manics have done since to shame, not to mention nearly everything else [in music]”. Rolling Stone also reviewed the album positively: “even the pall of [Edwards’] absence can’t cancel out the life-affirming force that hits you with the very first song”.
The Holy Bible has continued to receive praise in the years following its release, with critics frequently listing it among the greatest albums ever made. The writers of Melody Maker ranked it 15th on its list of the top 100 albums of all time in 2000, and Kerrang! placed it 10th in a similar list five years later. It has also remained popular with the British public. In 2005, it topped a BBC Newsnight poll of viewers’ favourite albums. Readers of Q voted it as the 10th best album released during the magazine’s lifetime in 2001, and as the 18th greatest album overall in 2003.
All lyrics written by Richey Edwards (credited as Richey James) and Nicky Wire, all music composed by James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore.
|3.||“Of Walking Abortion”||4:01|
|4.||“She Is Suffering”||4:43|
|5.||“Archives of Pain”||5:29|
|10.||“This Is Yesterday”||3:58|
|11.||“Die in the Summertime”||3:05|
|12.||“The Intense Humming of Evil”||6:12|