Marilyn Manson – Holy Wood (In The Shadow Of The Valley Of Death) review

I remember doing school projects about Marilyn Manson when I was in high school. I remember countless discussions about him with friends. I remember staying up late to see him when he would be on TV. I remember almost having the chance to see him, but missing out due to work (I only finally saw him last year). I remember reading his autobiography at least three times a year, every year, from about age 12 to age 25. When I think of the albums that have had the biggest impact on my taste, that I have loved for the longest, that have held up the most over the years; Marilyn Manson’s 4th full-length official studio album, 2001’s Holy Wood In The Shadow Of The Valley Of Death (…or just ”Holywood” for short) is never far from the top of the list.

He is a very diverse and eclectic artist, that has covered a lot of diferent ground over the years, but I would instantly blurt out ‘’Holywood!’’ before you had even finished asking me what my favourite album of his is. It was a real high point in his career artistically, even if commercially the previous two albums were bigger and this one was hindered by all that Columbine witch hunt nonsense. I don’t want to talk about that unfortunate business too much, but you can’t skim over it entirely. It certainly informed the tone of the album. The key phrase that really defines the whole album is ‘‘Guns, God and Government.’’ Its biting and acerbic lyrics cleverly dissect American political, religious and pop culture values in a really insightful way. I have to say, of all his albums, this one hands down has the best lyrics, the sharpest pen, the best blend of venom and wisdom behind it.

Its also a prog-esque masterpiece. The prequel to a conceptual trilogy (the triptych) beginning with his breakthrough record Antichrist Superstar and retroactively ending with the one that came before this, Mechanical Albums.

That’s just the lyrics. Where to even begin with the music…? The album contains two of the man/band’s best ever singles in ‘The Fight Song’ and ‘Disposable Teens’ which are beyond catchy, with incredibly memorable vocals, riffs and drums.  Equally memorable high energy moments are the utterly furious ‘Burning Flag’ which is one of Manson’s fastest and nastiest songs ever, or ‘Born Again’ which is one of the bounciest and catchiest songs any artist has ever written without releasing it as a single. Equally ‘The Love Song’ and ‘The Death Song’ are unforgettable gems that would be a lesser band’s biggest hit and proud concert finisher, yet here they are just two more songs among ninteen.

Its not all high energy though. Its 19 songs crossing numerous subgenres. A very wide range of moods and tones, speeds and directions all on display. The album can be incredibly dark and bleak, ‘Count To Six And Die’ literally ends with someone shooting themselves to death with a revolver. That’s a pretty ballsy move to make after just having been falsely accused of inspiring a mass shooting. ‘Coma Black’ is a dark sister song to the previous hit single Coma White, and the industrial-meets-prog ‘Cruci-fiction In Space’ sounds like some Bizarre mixture of Rammstein meets Rush at their darker moments. It was so cool how on live shows from this era it would tie into the theatrics (as seen on the excellent Guns God And Government Live In LA blu ray). I won’t even bother to describe it, I wouldn’t do it justic, just go and see for yourself.

Everything about this album is so interesting. Even the cover artwork is so iconic. Manson crucified with his jaw removed so he can’t tell his side of thestory. So his message is censored. It would be on the nose if it wasn’t so apros pos. Even the artwork on the inside of the booklet creates such a perfect aesthetic that runs through all the advertisements and music videos and single artwork. All that zodiac and tarrot imagery with creepy folk and religious imagery conjures up a scary vibe to terrify those who were already afraid of him. There was a really strong visual identity for this whole era, and it perfectly suited the music.

Thank god (and guns, and the government) that Manson got into this headspace at this point in time, with this band backing him. I know that some of it is nostalgia about a moment in time, but even when trying to look at it objectively, there is just something so special about this album. The music, the lyrics, the artwork. Its just such a perfectly formed and perfectly realised vision from beginning to end. He balances so many things, so well. This record is such an interesting journey. Its somehow instantaneous and a slow burn at the same time. Its somehow fun and horrendously austere at the same time. It feels somehow simultaneously like a misunderstood gem, and an obvious magnum opus. Cut the album in half with a certain mix of songs and it would feel like a dancefloor greatest hits set. Cut the album another way and it is a sombre and murky journey through the grimey underbelly of the complex country that rejected Manson so hatefully. He spits that hate back tenfold and sounds good doing it.