Life and Death Sentences

‘Let a hard and just sentence be given and carried out, as the honour of the nation demands and its greatest traitor deserves.’ Resolution of Czechoslovak resistance organisation, demanding severe punishment for Father Jozef Tiso, November 1946

‘We bear within us a reticent executioner, an unrealised criminal. And those who lack the boldness to acknowledge their homicidal tendencies, murder in dreams, people their nightmares with corpses.’ EM Cioran

‘[P]unishments in general, and prison derive from a political technology of the body.’ Michel Foucault

True Crime trading card (Eclipse Enterprises, 1992). Art by Jon Bright.

The voice of Mrs Irene MacDonald, forthright and unforgettable, conceals a terrible anguish. She seems to be admonishing the listener: ‘I wonder who you think you are, you damn well think you’re God or something…’ She is in fact speaking to the man who murdered her daughter, Jayne. Only he is not there. She didn’t even know the man’s name then, in 1980, when she was interviewed for BBC Television’s Newsnight programme. The special report by Martin Young, which aired on 27 November, provided the opportunity for several members of the public to speak their mind. Some had lost a child, brutally murdered by the serial killer known as the ‘Ripper’, or spoke on behalf of a relative who had fallen victim to him – two of the women had been attacked themselves but had survived the encounter. Each spoke directly to the camera, to the British public, in the hope that the man responsible, still at large and unidentified, might give himself up to the police, or that somebody who knew him, knew what he had done, might reveal his identity. [1]

Irene’s blunt, northern accent; her King James phrasing, which echoes the Book of Job (‘God give life, God taketh it away’); the plain, documentary quality of the material; its televisual source; and the universal sense of good and evil that it invokes suits the entire aesthetic of The Holy Bible perfectly – an album that draws on the mass media and the trauma of mass murder. These, the last words of the Newsnight report, would become known more widely, years after that initial broadcast, long after the ‘Ripper’, Peter Sutcliffe, had been arrested, tried and imprisoned. They open ‘Archives Of Pain’.

Sampled from television by Richey Edwards, the voice is backed by an unsettling ambient texture and the amplified noise of the cassette. And then the music begins with Nicky Wire’s ominous bassline, slow yet unstoppable: like a law of the land, or the cold, unrelenting purpose of a medieval torture device, ratcheting, interlinking with Sean Moore’s drums: the hi-hats hissing until the beaten snare and tom deliver their unavoidable verdict. James Dean Bradfield’s accompanying guitar comes first in short stabs, glinting like sharp metal, before sawing through the frantic chorus. The song bears the unmistakable influence of the Manics’ post-punk favourites. As Bradfield explained to Keith Cameron at the time of the album’s twentieth anniversary reissue:

“I didn’t know how to portray the weight and for it not to seem frivolous. I thought the very first thing people hear they’ve gotta know this is serious. So it’s channelling two of the best bassists of all time, Jah Wobble and Barry Adamson, and then obviously other things follow from that, be it a little Magazine or PiL, one of the few bands that could pick a serious subject and not cheapen it by putting it in a rock song.” [2]

The middle word in life

A strict, manic logic is at work in the song’s opening line: ‘If hospitals cure then prisons must bring their pain.’ It echoes similar, conditional forms found throughout The Holy Bible, appearing like tenets: ‘If you stand up like a nail then you will be knocked down’; ‘If you’re fat don’t get ill’; ‘If you really care wash the feet of a beggar’; and elsewhere in the band’s catalogue – most famously, in what is perhaps the definitive Manic Street Preachers song title: ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’. But that was yet to come. In 1994, Richey Edwards was becoming increasingly fixated with the character of the American photojournalist played by Dennis Hopper in Francis Ford Coppola’s film adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the Vietnam set Apocalypse Now. At one point in the film, he relates the wisdom of the enigmatic Colonel Kurtz, a highly decorated military figure who has established his own merciless tribe, and his own law, in the depths of the Vietnamese jungle:

‘And suddenly he’ll grab you, and he’ll throw you in a corner, and he’ll say, “Do you know that ‘if’ is the middle word in life? If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you…”’ [3]

‘Archives Of Pain’ is a song of similarly unwavering intent. It seeks to remake the law for the modern age. It is a song of death. Of a life for a life. It is also a notably bewildering entry in the Manic Street Preachers songbook, advocating as it does the use of capital punishment. Beyond any strict legal philosophy, it promotes righteous vengeance.

The song’s title and some of its lyrical content is derived from David Macey’s biography The Lives of Michel Foucault (1993), specifically the chapter that concerns the French philosopher’s 1975 work Discipline and Punish. Wire explained:

“There’s a book by [sic] Michel Foucault with a chapter called ‘Archives Of Pain’. Richey and I did that book [Discipline and Punish] at university, and it had quite an influence on us. It talks about the punishment matching the crime. But the song isn’t a right-wing statement, it’s just against this fascination with people who kill. A lot of people don’t like to see rapists getting off with a £25 fine.” [4]

The comparison of hospitals and prisons as social institutions, as well as the graphic images of public executions, in particular by means of tearing the torso of the condemned using ‘horses and chains’, is lifted from Foucault’s text, specifically its opening account of Robert François Damiens’s brutal punishment for the attempted regicide of Louis XV in 1757. [5] But the unforgiving point of view of the song, and the references to contemporary figures and a modern culture fascinated by true crime are the band’s own. Edwards’s tour programme notes emphasise this overlap:

“Bentham’s ‘Panopticon’ – visibility is a trap.

Foucault – Savagery is necessary.

Is revenge justified? Nothing in common with Manson or Dahmer cult and its current fashionability. There is no glory in innocent death. Death/Murder/Redemption part of the human condition.” [6]

Addressing the ways in which punishment has changed over the centuries; the ways in which bodies have been subjected to sentences of wildly different types, underpinned by changing philosophies of individual rights and uses of power; as well as the evident failures of the criminal justice system to dissuade criminality and the glorification of violence in popular media, ‘Archives Of Pain’ expresses what Edwards and Wire see as a hypocrisy in modern society – one that prides itself on its civilised advancement yet harbours the most destructive, vengeful impulses. It is a song of extremes, the type that run through the entirety of The Holy Bible: extremes of judgment – of oneself and others – and starkly contrasting qualities: Hospitals/Prisons. Architect/Butcher. Fat/Thin. Innocent/Guilty. Black/White. And it sees the band moving further from the type of recognisable left-wing slogans with which they had been associated since their earliest interviews and songs, and the images of the four clad in Clash-style stencilled shirts based on Situationist graffiti. In describing the genesis of the song, Wire said:

“That was the song that me and Richey worried about the most, and did the most work on. It was written as a reaction to the glorification of serial killers. In ‘Silence Of The Lambs’, Hannibal Lecter is made into a hero in the last scene of the film – people feel sorry for them. It’s like that line from Therapy? ‘Now I know how Jeffrey Dahmer feels’. I don’t f***ing want to know how Jeffrey Dahmer feels, and I think it’s quite appalling to put yourself in that position. Everyone gets a self-destructive urge, the urge to kill, but I don’t particularly like the glorification of it.” [7]

Speaking with a US interviewer following the album’s release, Bradfield expressed the sense of political confusion felt by the band at the time and how that informed the song’s perspective:

“We started writing a song about capital punishment. And there is a philosophy that says the punishment should fit the crime. And that’s a very popular right-wing philosophy. This is really strange because we’re like a very traditionally left-wing band, very kind of got our roots in left-wing politics. And so we started writing this song, then we finished it and we read down the lyrics and stuff, and suddenly we realised, ‘Oh my god, we’re right-wing zealots.’ We realised we’d become so confused that we had a right-wing perspective on something, and this was a massive shock to us, a very massive shock to us.

“And there’s a philosophy called Janus head philosophy, where right and left meet and they become indiscernible from each other. I think that’s what we’re typical of. We’re so confused that we don’t know what to believe in anymore.” [8]

This unease is reflected in the performance of the song. Bradfield’s enunciation is key to its effect; the emphases placed at unusual points, amounting to what Larissa Wodtke describes as ‘an alternate unholy language’, making the voice sound unnatural even as it assures the listener of just how natural dehumanising violence is: ‘The SENner of Hu-MAN-A-Tee is Cru-Al-Tay (The centre of humanity is cruelty)’ [9] The words are pulled apart into their constituent syllables. When the name ‘Pickles’ is almost returned in the phrase ‘pick at the holes’, there is not only a subtle aural link in the word choices; the condemned is graphically being pulled to pieces.

The accusatory vehemence of The Holy Bible as a whole is reiterated on ‘Archives Of Pain’ as it namechecks a second ‘Brady’ (Ian), following on from the reference to (James) Brady on ‘Ifwhiteamerica…’ and marks the first of two mentions of Boris Yeltsin. Similarly, the description of Mussolini hanging from a butcher’s hook seems to be carried forward from ‘Of Walking Abortion’, here transformed into the more generic image of a ‘drained white body [hanging] from the gallows’. ‘Archives Of Pain’ runs with the condemnatory view of humankind arrived at in that song, with another withering truth: ‘There is never redemption / Any fool can regret yesterday.’ Despite the uncharacteristic moral perspective of the song, there are clear ways in which the writing marks it as typical of Manic Street Preachers, and Richey Edwards’s style in particular.

The title of Martin Power’s biography of the band, Nailed to History, picks up on one of the most striking recurring motifs in Manic Street Preachers’ lyrics – one that is suggestive of both religious symbolism and imagery of self-harm. The word ‘nail’ is used to refer both to the human body, as on ‘Roses in the Hospital’ (‘Try to pull my fingernails out’), but more often to a decisive act: that of ‘nailing’. There is a figurative usage, as on ‘Crucifix Kiss’ (‘Nail a crucifix onto your soul’), ‘La Tristesse Durera’ (‘The applause nails down my silence’), ‘Faster’ (‘If you stand up like a nail…’) and ‘Removables’ (‘Conscience binds you in chains / Trial by stone hammer and nails’). And there is an overlap of both the literal and symbolic: the depiction of self-harm with subtly Christian overtones on ‘Die in the Summertime’ (‘Scratch my leg with a rusty nail’); while one of Richey Edwards’ last lyrics, ‘Peeled Apples’, which appears on 2009’s Journal For Plague Lovers, manages to transform the straightforward, though discomforting, image of ‘Roses in the Hospital’ into one of a more metaphorical power: ‘Bruises on my hands from digging my nails out’, in which the listener might imagine either the fingernails, or nails driven through the palms. In ‘Archives Of Pain’ a more political meaning is conveyed, though still bearing a religious connotation: ‘Nail it to the House of Lords…’.

Precisely what is being demanded is not clear; is it the sentiments of the opening lines, amounting to a manifesto of punishment and its justification, that are to be written out and nailed to the doors of the parliamentary chamber? Numerous commentators have compared the image to that of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenburg Castle church in 1517. Given that Luther was protesting the abuses of the clergy’s power and arguing that spiritual redemption must come from genuine spiritual experience and acts of mercy rather than the sale of indulgences (‘Everything’s for sale’) the link is compelling. Edwards was certainly interested in religious history, as can be seen in the scrawled working drafts to ‘Revol’ reprinted in The Holy Bible 20, which includes a reference to ‘VIA CESSIONIS – great schism’. He was able to transform such archaic imagery into lyrics of contemporary vitality while also drawing his own summary conclusions about the world from present day events.

‘I sense a smell of retribution in the air’

Most choruses of The Holy Bible give Bradfield some respite from the flood of Edwards and Wire’s words, if not the demands of projecting those he must sing, often in shouts and howls. The chorus of ‘Archives Of Pain’, however, offers no letup. Rather than a simple repeated phrase or couplet, it is a roll call, a register of blame, a list of those who have perpetrated unforgivable crimes, according to the narrative perspective. It is a genealogy of evil, a dark twist on the Genesis recitation of the generations. It is a prayer for vengeance. But there is no ‘Amen’ – only Amin.

It is a call to action: ‘Kill [A, B, C..]’; ‘Give them the respect they deserve.’ It is outright incitement. Rather than lapse into the type of lyrical abstraction that might make the song more universal, Edwards and Wire target real contemporary figures. [10] It is an awkward combination of political leaders, of varying culpability, and serial killers. Wire explained: “That line: ‘Kill Yeltsin, who’s saying?’ – well, Yeltsin is a figure of hate to us. A person who’s basically an alcoholic… That’s a personal, petty Manics thing.” Such pettiness was nevertheless enough to see Yeltsin named again on the album, appearing as he does on another Who’s Who of modern failure and disrepute, ‘Revol’.

The song might be seen as following in the line of McCarthy’s ‘Charles Windsor’, which the band had already covered, in its depiction of the execution of a public figure. The style is also somewhat reminiscent of one confrontational verse in the Guns N’ Roses song ‘Get in the Ring’, which takes direct aim at those journalists whom the US band saw as having misrepresented them in the press (‘Andy Secher at Hit Parader… Mick Wall at Kerrang! Bob Guccione Jr at Spin…’). Not only is there a similarly bold public finger pointing at work (and self-reference, as we shall see) – albeit much more extreme in the case of Manic Street Preachers – but the choice of names grounds the music in a particular time, without fear of the song’s possible diminishing relevance over time; as is also the case with tracks such as ‘Ifwhiteamerica…’ and ‘4st 7lb’. While the Moors murderers and the Yorkshire Ripper may have a permanent place in the British psyche, listeners are likely to be as unfamiliar with the Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky now as they might well have been in 1994.

True Crime trading card (Eclipse Enterprises, 1992). Art by Jon Bright.

Another, seemingly unlikely, musical comparison might also be drawn between ‘Archives Of Pain’ and Madonna’s ‘Vogue’, in which the pop singer lists a number of popular icons who might inspire the listener to find their own star quality – a song predicated on the spectacle of the human body on display (though dancing rather than dangling), offering a route out of the ‘pain of life’. Conversely, the Manics had recognised early on that celebrity culture was just as likely to make heroes of the most reprehensible figures in the public eye. Indeed, it is the first symptom of cultural despair that the band identify on their debut album, Generation Terrorists: ‘You need your stars / Even killers have prestige / Access to a living you will not see.’ [11] This idea is suggested too by the inclusion of the True Crime trading card portrait of Andrei Chikatilo in the booklet of The Holy Bible (which, somewhat unexpectedly, illustrates the lyrics to ‘Faster’ rather than ‘Archives Of Pain’, further suggesting a dispersal of themes and meaning across all the album’s lyrics). A 1992 article in the New York Times reported sales of the collectors’ cards were on the increase despite fears expressed by boycott groups that ‘criminals would supplant sports figures as heroes’. [12] If the Dahmer cult was beginning to replace that of old American icons like ‘DiMaggio, Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean’, something already described happening earlier in Foucault’s archaeology of criminal history, ‘Archives Of Pain’ attempts to crush any such sympathetic identification with the criminally minded by calling for the death penalty.

Of all those named, the inclusion of Beverley Allitt is particularly striking, her criminal record mocking as it does the extreme contrast between hospitals and prisons with which the song begins to outline its harsh ethic. Allitt abused her role as a nurse at Grantham and Kesteven Hospital, Lincolnshire, murdering four children who were in her care, attempting to murder three more and causing grievous bodily harm to a further six.

There is only one full name on the list: Yoshinori Ueda, about whom comparatively little can be learned in English language press archives. Ueda was a son of a liquor store owner who was left disgraced after a friend failed to respect a 70 million yen debt for which Ueda had acted as a guarantor. He moved away from his home town and later became known as a dog breeder and trainer. In 1994 he was sentenced to death for five murders. Ueda had secured large payments from certain of his victims, claiming the funds would be used for his ‘dog training business’, before drugging them with a muscle relaxant used by veterinarians and not traceable in the victims’ bodies. The Sunday Times reported on Ueda’s arrest and the concerns that it raised about declining morality and the influence of Western culture in Japan on 13th February, just before recording of The Holy Bible began. [13]

The inclusion of such notorious as well as obscure figures can be seen as part of what Daniel Lukes sees as The Holy Bible’s attempt to shore ‘fragments against the ruin’, by which he views the album as a modern day Waste Land; or, as Larissa Wodtke sees it, more generally, an attempt to build an archive, a tendency that runs through the entirety of the band’s output, as unstable as that might prove to be. [14]

There are two strange anomalies between what appears in the typed lyric sheets, what is sung by Bradfield, and what is printed in the album booklet: (Saddam) ‘Hussein’, already namechecked on the Little Baby Nothing B-side ‘Dead Yankee Drawl’, was substituted for the similar sounding but clumsy ‘who’s saying?’. The reason for this hesitance to include the Iraqi dictator in the final list is not certain. And as many fans have pointed out, the last chorus replaces ‘and Milosevic’ with ‘Manic Street Preachers’, a switch that does not make its way into the booklet, but which is confirmed by the working materials that appear in the 2014 reissue: the band bizarrely implicating themselves in the same breath as dictators, corrupt public figures and murderers. Who’s responsible? You and Us. As with ‘Of Walking Abortion’, the song’s argument slides from an attempt at a sober consideration of historical crimes and a rational ethic into a full-blown misanthropic assault.


It is not easy for the listener to judge the extent to which Edwards is advocating capital punishment himself. Is the song espousing an extreme perspective as a way of articulating the sorts of views that the modern era makes plausible? Writer David Evans sees the lyric as a ‘rhetorical performance; it is designed to make us confront the idea that cruelty is a part of human nature, explaining the rise of serial killers and fascists alike’. [15] Wire has recalled Edwards handing him his words with a sense of black humour: “He gave me the lyric and said, I think you’ll really like this.” [16] In her essay on the album, Rhian E Jones describes how certain of the lines ‘felt uncomfortably close to the manufactured outrage of the Daily Mail’, before proceeding to dismantle the coherence of the song’s point of view: “If we have already established that everyone is guilty – and we will, ultimately, all be buried in the same box – then why the emphasis, so luridly expressed here, on punishing individuals?” [17]

But The Holy Bible is driven by outrage, and frustrations of logic; by its graspings, its inherent conflicts – and explores the depths of personal failure as much as it stands back and observes with critical insight. It is the unusual willingness to countenance converging lines from seemingly opposing political perspectives, to recognise the more frightening impulses of the individual and group, the hypocrisies – the sort of ‘permanent contradiction’ described by Octave Mirbeau on the album’s sleeve quote – and to express this all through such a provocative artistic concept, almost uniquely through the medium of rock music, that makes The Holy Bible enduring. This is what makes it so much more than an ultimately futile attempt at marrying rock music and academic rigour: a ‘triumph of art over logic’, as Keith Cameron succinctly puts it. Jones does also recognise this, saying, “there is the suggestion that what is being condemned has been explored from inside as well as out.” But her critical comparisons between the song and the Daily Mail must be set beside the fact that material from that British newspaper’s sister tabloid, the Mail on Sunday, provided such remarkable source material for ‘Yes’ – also thereby extending the stylistic similarities with precursors such as PiL, who had drawn on details of a Daily Mirror account of a kidnapping for the lyrics to ‘Poptones’.

True Crime holographic trading card (Eclipse Enterprises, 1992). Art by Patrick Ray.

Following the album’s release, journalist and band biographer Simon Price found Edwards reconsidering the potential mixed political message of the song, but still seeming to come down on the side of extremity and comparing his point of view with that espoused on another album track, ‘PCP’.

“I like the idea in ‘Archives Of Pain’ I took from Michel Foucault, when he advocates a return to 19th century values of execution and capital punishment. You know, it appeals to me, but you shouldn’t only bring back capital punishment. It should be compulsory that your body be kept, have oil poured over it and be torn apart with horses and chains. It should be on TV, and four or five year olds should be made to watch it. It’s the only way. If you tell a child ‘That’s wrong’, he doesn’t really learn. But if you show a body being ripped to shreds, after ‘Blue Peter’, he’s gonna know. But then, that’s really right wing. Which I’m not. On things like censorship I think everything should be allowed on television. You know, I mean anything. I don’t know who believes that any more. Every left-wing party says there should be some degree of censorship, that some things are bad taste. But it’s unjustifiable for anyone to decide what is bad taste.” [18]

In an earlier interview with Price, in late 1993, in which he explained his fascination with the Sudanese politician Hassan Al-Turabi, Edwards raised the issue of moral uncertainty in the West:

“He’s come to power in Sudan and reintroduced Shariya [sic] law which isn’t Islamic Fundamentalism, but along those lines: amputation for theft, which…I’m not saying it’s a good thing, but I quite like what he’s doing. Islamic Fundamentalism scares the West, and makes us examine our own moral ambiguity.” [19]

While Edwards clearly recognised the severity of Turabi’s policy, he evidently saw it as something unambiguous by which to gauge the decline of the moral foundations of Europe and America. This might reasonably be linked with his interest in Joseph Conrad’s Colonel Kurtz – and the film incarnation of the same character, played by Marlon Brando, who in one scene of Apocalypse Now admits his admiration for a troop of Viet Cong soldiers which unhesitatingly amputated the arms of children who had been inoculated by American troops. Edwards’s comments throughout 1994 and some of the lyrics of The Holy Bible must of course also be read in the context of his deteriorating mental health.

In Elizabeth Marcus’s documentary No Manifesto, Bradfield explains how Edwards unpacked the song’s argument for him:

“The reasoning behind a song like ‘Archives Of Pain’ is that if you don’t believe in God and you expect the state to serve out justice, if there’s no punishment to fit certain crimes then justice doesn’t exist. And if justice doesn’t exist then people will revert back to God.”

Listening to The Holy Bible it is for the most part difficult to find much evidence for the band’s attempt to ‘rewrite the 10 Commandments’ that Wire described it as being in an interview with Kerrang! – but ‘Archives Of Pain’ is clearly focused around the imperative ‘Thou shalt not kill’, in which case it seems to come down on the side of more archaic attitudes, those that saw death as a proper punishment for the crime of murder. This view has of course been superseded in an increasing number of Western countries by the rights of the individual. The spur for this line of thinking is Foucault’s writing on the public executions of the past, which have given way to imprisonment; the disappearance from public view of the physical register of punishment, for even the most heinous crimes. While Foucault sees such systems of control as are exemplified by modern prisons as extended across other areas of society – the mechanistic structure of hospitals and prisons thus being likened – Edwards’s lyric simply cries for the return to previous methods, keeping the body as a publicly visible measure of all human experience.

The second verse of the song is no less extreme in its use of language and condenses all the song’s qualities further, extending the strange articulations that give it its menacing quality: ‘Not punish less, rise the pain’ [20]; and its assumed authority in conditional warnings: ‘If man makes death, death makes man’. There is the unusual use of the verb ‘crouch’ (‘The weak die young and right now we crouch to make them strong’) suggesting a submission before those who are less powerful in order to give them standing in society. Again, the word is almost echoed in the reference to ‘Hindley’s crochet lectures’ – an attempt at prisoner reform that the song dismisses. The final, resounding ‘All I preach is extinction’ appears in one typed lyric sheet as ‘All I preach is execution’, the revision perhaps made to avoid the repetition of ‘execution’ twice in the same verse. Nevertheless, the repetition of particular words and names across the album gives a sense of lyrical cohesion even where individual songs suggest a collaged construction of conflicting perspectives: ‘weak die young’/‘weak have none’ (‘Yes’); ‘tear’/’tear’ (‘Yes’) ‘drained’/‘draining’ (‘Faster’). Bradfield ends by spelling out the word ‘deserve’. Here the song has a precedent in ‘Sorrow 16’, in which ‘beautiful’ is broken up into its constituent letters. It might have been another bitter twist on pop history to choose that other key word, ‘Respect’, already spelled out in 1967. It is at least an improvement on ‘Drug Drug Druggy’s dire sign-off (‘ABCDE’). It hammers the message home.

The extended guitar solo that closes the song, meanwhile, is a spectacle of its own: ferocious, stirring, taking us back to where we began in the song: a conduit for primal energies that can no longer be contained.

Ripper Territory

The Holy Bible shares musical and thematic characteristics with some of the most subversive music of the 1970s and 1980s. While the album’s post-punk influences are well known, the similarities with industrial music and noise deserve more attention. Daniel Lukes has drawn out certain pertinent links with the sonic and lyrical approach typified by groups such as Throbbing Gristle, the interest in ‘low grade noise, atonality, distortion, disruptive, mechanized sounds, copious use of samples… drum machines and programmed rhythmic patterns, themes of angst, dread, existential horror, totalitarianism, politics as violence, the surveillance state’, as well as the influence of ‘the literary and conceptual cut-ups and splicings of William Burroughs and JG Ballard’. [21] The sustained fascination with the most extreme areas of human psychology and social and political history across recorded albums and performances is mirrored in The Holy Bible’s references to the Holocaust, serial killers and sexual violence, certain elements of the album’s art design – and the aggression of the band’s live appearances following its release. Lukes notes that, “in its mimicry and terminal acceleration of right-wing disciplinarian discourse [‘Archives Of Pain’] also recalls the writing of transgressive author Peter Sotos”. But it is through Sotos’s role as a sometime member of Whitehouse, a group not mentioned by Lukes, that this connection can be more closely discerned.

Industrial and noise groups made artistic choices more likely to alienate listeners than garner fans and secure Top of the Pops slots. Though they went much further in avoiding the aestheticisation of the most horrific subject matter than Manic Street Preachers, the result is an art that relatively few have the interest to engage with, as against Manic Street Preachers’ long-held desire to produce wide-reaching popular rock music injected with critical thinking. Certainly at times the moral judgement of the earlier bands is even more questionable. Yet it would be a shame to simply refuse to look at what these artists are getting at, easy as it is to do since it all operates in the shadows of the pop charts and comforts of the entertainment industry.

Considered alongside The Holy Bible, there is a shared focus on using abrasive and atonal sounds, and carefully selected excerpts from the media, against which to explore unsettling questions. The use of feedback, noise and vocals – often admonishing, shrieking, or which sound to be suffering or enraged – in noise music, or ‘power electronics’, finds an unexpected counterpart in The Holy Bible. The speed, brute melodies and political sloganeering of punk, and the angular attack and cold electronic sounds of post-punk and new wave each had a clear, acknowledged influence on Manic Street Preachers, but the uncompromising intent and often physically dangerous feedback and volume, and the avant-garde aspects of industrial and noise music, yielding to no musical or lyrical expectations or etiquette, raise some pertinent points of direct comparison as well. Remarkably, Manic Street Preachers seem to reconcile all of these reference points.

Throbbing Gristle had screamed for ‘Discipline’ on one notorious track, the artwork for which saw the band standing outside the former Nazi Ministry of Propaganda in Berlin. Listen to Whitehouse’s ‘Ripper Territory’, which comprises a television news report on the arrest of Peter Sutcliffe and a mix of synthesised noise and feedback. It is akin to the Nuremberg sample on ‘The Intense Humming of Evil’. It could easily be an alternative intro to, or the perfect ending for, ‘Archives Of Pain’. (Whitehouse members were even photographed outside the Old Bailey in London at the time of Peter Sutcliffe’s trial.) ‘Ripper Territory’ features on the album Dedicated to Peter Kürten, named for the German serial killer, nicknamed the ‘Vampire of Düsseldorf’. Another album by Whitehouse, Buchenwald, takes its title from one of the Nazi concentration camps and includes the track ‘Dedicated to Alberto DeSalvo’ as well as an inner sleeve illustration of a public execution by means of tearing the torso.

True Crime trading card (Eclipse Enterprises, 1992). Art by Jon Bright.

The rise of fascism and the Holocaust are repeatedly referred to on The Holy Bible in images and words, inspired by Edwards and Wire’s interest in history and especially the band’s visits to two concentration camps during their German tour in 1993. The album also engages with the threat of a resurgence of fascism in France and Eastern Europe in 1994. And there are copious references to killers and dictators, most notably on ‘Archives Of Pain’. But though there is a similar interest in exploring totalitarianism and murder, there is a key difference to be made in the social and psychological emphasis given, between Manic Street Preachers and their predecessors. While Whitehouse take an unconventional, and for many listeners unjustifiable, artistic approach in trying to countenance these ineradicable evils through the performance of vicarious identification, the sort of approach that Wire had criticised touring mates Therapy? for, Manic Street Preachers both accept man’s inhumanity to man and strongly reject any possibility of empathy with the most vicious perpetrators, firmly taking the side of victims, albeit to the extent that ‘Archives Of Pain’ is a rallying cry for capital punishment – a violent extreme in its own right.

There often arises the accusation that any such artistic approach is ‘adolescent’. It is a word that comes up time and time again in writing about Manic Street Preachers in general and The Holy Bible in particular; sometimes positively, with ‘Faster’ often judged to be an encapsulation of teenage confusion and energy. Rhian E Jones has looked into the history of the teenager as a concept, via rock historian Jon Savage, as well as the conditions of modern capitalist economies that see traditional markers of adulthood dissolving, and has considered the ways in which this has shaped the band’s music and lyrics. But the word is often used to criticise the band; or any band for that matter, especially those that explore similarly extreme material. Lukes unfairly characterises Edwards’s literary canon as ‘that of an angst-ridden young man; fundamental, even life-saving when you are young and despairing; limiting and oppressive and inadequate when you grow beyond that stage.’ A similarly condescending tone is struck by Jones, who remarks how the band ‘still tend to be associated with a particular form of adolescent intensity’ and that the album is one ‘that only a teenager could properly love. Suffused with self-pity and self-disgust, lacerated by doubt and despair, boiling over with melodrama’ and that it ‘deals with themes… which inform much of adolescent psychology’. Moreover, she concludes that its ‘idealist absolutism, too, is adolescent, informed by the rejection of an adult world whose willingness to compromise implies weakness, corruption or surrender.’

In his 2014 lecture ‘Crime Calls for Night’, writer David Keenan puts paid to such journalistic commonplaces, as he outlines the ways in which marginal British and US artists have used non-musical sound, words and imagery to explore the more troubling aspects of psychology and personal experience – in particular through the potency of ‘night imagery’ and references to atrocities both contemporary and historical, personal and reported – to confront hypocrisies and evasions in the mass media and popular culture; to perform ‘psychic self-surgery’. Keenan even finds illuminating links – via zoologist R Dale Guthrie – between the subject matter of paleolithic art (the earliest evidence of humankind’s urge to depict the world, which Guthrie argues was mostly created by adolescents) and the critical aesthetics of punk and industrial music. Keenan says:

“We’ve gotta be very careful how we use the word ‘adolescent’. Rock ‘n’ roll is an adolescent art form. If we’re gonna use ‘adolescent’ as a criticism, I’m afraid we’re gonna have to write off most of the great rock ‘n’ roll music that we all love. It’s not valid. Rock ‘n’ roll is a form that is powered by the energy of adolescence – good and bad.” [22]

But the subject of adolescence, childhood and adulthood, immaturity and moral responsibility should alert us to a blind spot at the heart of ‘Archives Of Pain’. There was in 1994 a criminal case involving children that still dominated the British public’s consciousness. The murder of two-year-old James Bulger and the arrest of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, themselves both only ten years old, revived debates around crime and punishment with an urgency not seen since the Moors murders. The public reactions that followed the arrest of Thompson and Venables revealed the sort of underlying lynch mob dynamics that would seem to organise the vengeful, punitive force of ‘Archives Of Pain’. The pair were found guilty on 24 November 1993, becoming the youngest convicted murderers in modern British history.

Wire and Edwards avoid mention of the crime on The Holy Bible, they do not name the boys on ‘Archives Of Pain’. But the horror of such a case seems to find echoes here and there; in the fragments from lives of child exploitation that are transposed from a Sunday tabloid to the lyrics of ‘Yes’; in the references to videos involving sexual violence against children; and in the way that the seemingly idyllic scene of ‘whole days throwing sticks into streams’ described on ‘Die in the Summertime’ is infused with so much unease. There is no derision, no wryness, no embarrassment in the way that Edwards in particular treated childhood, adolescence or adulthood.

It is not sticks but rather stones that are cast on ‘Archives Of Pain’, even knowing that no one is blameless – or as Edwards would put it, in one of his final lyrics, ‘the stone is you’. The image can be one of revolution just as it can be one of public execution. The band find the perfect summary image for this thought too, one that captures the zeal for revolt becoming the nightmare of political terror, left mirrored by right, in the drawing of the execution of Robespierre that was selected to accompany the lyrics to ‘Archives Of Pain’.


[1] The full BBC report can be viewed online at:

[2] Cameron, Keith ‘Chapter and verse. Track by track. 13 Reasons to believe in The Holy Bible’, liner notes in The Holy Bible 20 (2014)

[3] Stephen Lee Naish, author of Riffs and Meaning, which focuses on the Manic Street Preachers’ album Know Your Enemy, has explored the history of Dennis Hopper’s readings of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, ‘If’, which is excerpted in the scene from Apocalypse Now discussed here. See ‘The Middle Word in Life: Dennis Hopper and Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’’, Empty Mirror, 8 December 2015. Accessed online at (15 June 2020)

[4] ‘Manics’ New Testament’, Melody Maker, 27 August 1994. Accessed online at,_27th_August_1994 (14 June 2020)

[5] It is likely that Wire also took the working title for the album, ‘Poetry of Death’, from the same book, a phrase which appears in a discussion of Foucault’s friendship with the composer Jean Barraqué and the latter’s enthusiasm for Hermann Broch’s novel Der Tod des Virgil (p.53). Of further interest, another line in the ‘Archives of Pain’ chapter seems to have fed into the writing of ‘Yes’: ‘Foucault was now beginning to argue that power does not suppress desire: it produces it, creating the very form of the individual subject.’ (p339) Finally, it may not be entirely unremarkable that this same chapter describes the murder of a Jewish journalist in Brazil, a ceremony for whom was led by the Archbishop of São Paulo who ‘advanced towards the faithful and greeted them by shouting “Shalom, shalom”.’ (p.351). All quotes from Macey, David The Lives of Michel Foucault (Vintage Books, 1995. First published in 1993.)

[6] Edwards, Richey The Holy Bible tour programme, 1994. Accessed online at (14 June 2020)

[7] ‘Manics’ New Testament’, op cit.

[8] ‘James Dean Bradfield 1995 US interview’. This interview can be heard online at

[9] Wodtke, Larissa ‘Architecture of Memory: The Holy Bible and the Archive’ in Triptych (Repeater Books, 2017)

[10] But even the explicitly socialist anthem ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’ saw its chorus line co-opted by the right-wing British National Party for a 2009 video campaign – despite the unequivocal line: ‘If I can shoot rabbits, then I can shoot fascists’.

[11] The song ‘Slash ‘N’ Burn’ specifically remarks on the cultural cachet that is attached to icons like Madonna: ‘Madonna drinks Coke and so you can too.’

[12] ‘“True Crime” Cards Thriving Despite Outrage’, New York Times, 6 December 1992. Accessed online at (20 August 2020)

[13] Rufford, Nick ‘Serial drug killer unsettles Japan’, Sunday Times, 13th Feburary 1994. Biographical information sourced from the following webpages:; (Both accessed 22 June 2020)

[14] See Jones, Lukes, Wodtke Triptych (Repeater Books, 2017)

[15] Evans, David The Holy Bible (Bloomsbury Academic, 2019)

[16] No Manifesto: A Film About Manic Street Preachers (2015, dir. Elizabeth Marcus).

[17] Jones, Rhian E ‘Unwritten Diaries: History, Politics and Experience through The Holy Bible’ in Triptych (Repeater Books, 2017).

[18] Price, Simon ‘Archives of Pain’, Melody Maker, 3 December 1994. Accessed online at,_3rd_December_1994 (15 June 2020)

[19] Price, Simon ‘Richey Edwards of Manic Street Preachers chooses his Men of the Year’, Melody Maker, 25 December 1993. Accessed online at,_25th_December_1993 (15 June 2020)

[20] This is likely to have been adapted from Foucault’s not ‘punish less’ but ‘punish better’, as described by Macey – the grammatically suspect ‘rise’ creates an abrupt doubling effect with the word ‘sterilise’.

[21] Lukes, Daniel ‘Fragments Against Ruin: The Books of Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible’ in Triptych.

[22] Keenan, David ‘Crime Calls For Night’, lecture delivered at Off The Page, Arnolfini, Bristol 26–28 September 2014. Coproduced by The Wire, Arnolfini and Qu Junktion. Accessed online at (15 June 2020)

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