The period prior to the release of the Holy Wood (In The Shadow Of The Valley Of Death) album, on 13 November 2000, was a difficult one for Marilyn Manson. If his aim was to court controversy, then he more than achieved that in 1999 when the US media held him up as the scapegoat and chief inspiration for the Columbine High School shooting. As it happened, however, the perpetrators of the massacre weren’t fans, but the accusation did prompt The God Of F__k into a period of self-imposed exile with the cancelation of a handful of tour dates and a refusal to give interviews. But Marilyn Manson were a powerful force not about to wither under the glare of scrutiny. Instead, they came back fighting.
Holy Wood… ultimately exists as the third instalment in the reverse trilogy of albums preceded by Antichrist Superstar and Mechanical Animals. Inspiration for the concept came from Adam Kadmon, who, in the Jewish faith, is the first man on Earth, and who, through Manson’s lens, idealistically yet naïvely sought to inspire a revolution through music. The album largely ditched the glam sound of its predecessor and returned to the more industrial, metallic-punk sound of earlier work. But Manson also took the opportunity to directly address the Columbine High School massacre.
The album’s first single, the coruscating ‘Disposable Teens’, plays on the idea that rock’n’roll prompted the decline of Western civilisation, creating the very society that teenagers today rebel against. If that song is a veiled reference to the shooting, then Holy Wood…’s third single, the eerie and dark ‘The Nobodies’, addresses the perpetrators directly, along with the idea that they were society’s forgotten sons until their names were etched in history for committing such a heinous act. The theme of disenfranchised adolescence is, however, one that permeates the entirety of this 19-track behemoth.
Hitting their creative peak
From the mournful opening refrains of ‘Godeatgod’, it’s clear that every songwriting nuance Marilyn Manson had learned over the previous three albums would be thrown into the mix. And, of course, there’s the ever-present dichotomy of good versus evil, from the pulsating ‘The Love Song’ and sinewy ‘The Fight Song’, through to the disco groove of ‘The Death Song’. Various recording locations for Holy Wood… were chosen in order to to deliberately reflect the moods of its compositions, with the desolate landscapes of Death Valley and the pomp and flamboyance of Hollywood mirrored in stark songs like ‘Target Audience (Narcissus Narcosis)’, ‘In The Shadow Of The Valley Of Death’ and ‘Valentine’s Day’, the grungy ‘King Kill 33’ or the hedonistic ‘Born Again’ and bludgeoning ‘Burning Flag’.
Like a true artist, Marilyn Manson had lofty ambitions for Holy Wood (In The Valley Of The Shadow Of Death) as both a musical and a visual project. He originally planned to create a movie to explore the album’s concept, as well as an accompanying graphic novel and coffee-table book. Indeed, the album’s complex symbolism and involved storyline was fodder for a fascinating deep-dive into Manson’s thought process. The side projects fell through, however, and Holy Wood… failed to hit the commercial success of its predecessors, despite finding the band reaching their creative peak.
“I’ve got a big fight ahead of me”
America may have become burned out on Manson’s controversy, but he wasn’t ready to back down. He told NME, in September 2000: “1999 was a pivotal year – as was 1969, the year of my birth. The two years share many similarities. Woodstock ’99 became an Altamont of its own. Columbine became the Manson murders of our generation. Things happened that could’ve made me want to stop making music. Instead, I decided to come out and really punish everyone for daring to f__k with me. I’ve got a big fight ahead of me on this one. And I want every bit of it.”
Holy Wood (In The Valley Of The Shadow Of Death can be bought here.