Modern Classics: Marilyn Manson - Holy Wood

Marilyn Manson - Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death) - (Interscope/Nothing, 2000)

Between the release of 1996’s Antichrist Superstar and the year 2000, Marilyn Manson made a name for himself far beyond the parameters of the rock and metal world. In four years of religious terror, sexual expression (that Mechanical Animals cover freaked the fuck out of me as a kid) and baring his arsehole at any given opportunity, Manson had not only become the biggest name in metal but also one of the hottest names in Hollywood and a world-renowned villain. This wasn’t a guy that had us clambering to our TV’s because the gods at Later… with Jools Holland deemed him worthy of a slot or everyone watching Metallica headlining Glastonbury, this guy went beyond that and onto being a bona fide cultural phenomenon. He went on Letterman, he was photographed in the tabloids with a slew of beautiful women from A-list movies and TV and, frankly, he terrified the ever-loving shit out of families in middle America and beyond. You all know the controversy that surrounds Manson and the idiotic blaming of his art and persona for the senseless tragedy that occurred at Columbine but with Manson becoming an unwilling global hate figure (even The Sun ran a Manson hate piece) in the aftermath and with the eyes of the world upon him, he delivered this 19-track masterpiece.

Returning to more industrial and metallic ground following a flirtation with glam rock and late 90’s electronics (that haven’t aged well, in truth), Holy Wood was a dark and understandably choleric record but its strength could be found in its layers. Musically, it’s a complex record that ranges from the out-and-out head shots of The Fight Song and Disposable Teens to the lurching darkness of authority-baiting opener Godeatgod and the uber-sinister Cruci-fiction in Space. Antichrist Superstar might be anarchic and driven by savagery but Holy Wood is a much more psychological and disturbing exercise in plumbing the depths of musical darkness. If you want further reading on the subject and to see just how much multi-layered thought and effort went into the creation of Holy Wood, set aside a couple of hours and check out the Nachtkabarett website for details on the symbolism used throughout the album’s artwork and themes and to gain a greater understanding of the album’s conceptual take on American culture.

To bring things back to basics, everything about Holy Wood was fucking cool. The artwork that features a jawless Manson in the crucifixion pose is as evil as covers get and perfectly depicted the media’s vilification of him at that time. The video that accompanied Disposable Teens - with Manson in a variety of guises including a devilish pope and a rising 40-foot monster - was grotesque and theatrical in the way only metal can be but the clip for The Nobodies really seemed to encapsulate all of Manson’s darkness perfectly, both musically and visually, to create one of the best music videos ever made. Eerie lighting, fantastic costumes and camera techniques and an unforgettable performance from Manson emerging from the snow with antlers and twigs for forearms and screaming in the face of a snarling dog while sporting demonic horns, All this set to the soundtrack of one of Manson’s most anthemic numbers to score a bullseye encapsulating everything that was excellent about Manson at that time.

Marilyn Manson will always remain a phenomenon for his work on Holy Wood and towards the turn of the century, with a three album curve that will take the Pepsi challenge with any that you care to mention. The bile, hatred and scornful themes of Antichrist Superstar gave way to the drug-propelled elegantly wasted flavour of Mechanical Animals before reaching his creative zenith on Holy Wood. After being put on trial, if not literally then certainly by media witch hunt, Manson puffed out his chest and unveiled an album that stands the test of time nearly 15 years after it’s original release. Peel away it’s layers, get inside the themes and ideologies of the record and take that sinister journey again. It really is a gift that keeps on giving.