An ambitious work of art in an artless world.
By the time the Columbine High School Massacre shocked America in the spring of 1999, Industrial Shock-Rockers Marilyn Manson had dwindled from being the nightmare of the nation, in the shape of the antichrist superstar, to an androgynous alien and a penchant for the glamorisation of drugs via way of the unusual inspiration of eighties Hair Metal. Whilst the events of the Columbine Shootings are in no way possible something to celebrate, it was in some respects a small miracle for Marilyn Manson. Scapegoated instantaneously by the media as the sole reason for the shootings, after the band's merchandise was found in the bedroom of one of the shooters, the band's world was turned upside down, their eponymous front-man found himself plastered on the screens of every American's TV, with tours cancelled here, there and everywhere.
Billed as the final third in their magnum opus triptych – completed by 1996's 'Antichrist Superstar' and 1998's 'Mechanical Animals' – and ultimately regarded as the opening record of the three, 'Holy Wood' was a clear-cut shots-fired no-holds-barred tour-de-force aimed directly at America's obsession with firearms, death, and fame, ultimately a retrospective monologue, a war on the entertainment industry. Twisting their typical Industrialised Shock-Rock in to twisted strands of darkness, channelling all of their anger in to their music, 'Holy Wood' is the definitive Marilyn Manson record – both musically and lyrically.
"The death of one is a tragedy, the death of one is a tragedy, but the death of a million is just a statistic" is just one of the thousands of lyrical expressions of deep anguish thought philosophically and screamed poetically from Manson that is as resoundingly relevant and resonate in 2017 as it was at the time of its release in 2000, when America was arguably at a similar state of unrest, on the brink of terrorism and locked in a war with gun crime. Sounds similar, doesn't it?
As if you were the protagonist in a horror movie designed for you to die, opening monologue 'Godeatgod' cripples you in fear as Manson's opening sentiment, a mind-numbingly song-long metaphor for the death of JFK (who appears numerous times throughout 'Holy Wood'), the line "Dear God the sky is as blue as a gunshot wound" ringing round and round in your eardrums as the following one-two double-punch of 'The Love Song' and 'The Fight Song' pound you submissively into the universe Marilyn Manson have created in the land of 'Holy Wood', allowing you to feel as if you're the album's protagonist, Adam, following your own journey in a world that doesn't want you.
Whilst the Arena Rock copy-and-paste cleverness of super-hit's 'Disposable Teens' and the aforementioned 'The Love Song' and 'The Fight Song' are the well-known live-staples of the album, the true highlights are found in the deepest, darkest depths of the record, whether that be the Incredible Hulk-infused Industrial rampage that is 'Born Again' or the stripped-back simplicity of 'Lamb Of God', a solemnly submissive soliloquy where Marilyn Manson sews the seeds of surrender to the irony of the American dream in the physically-felt lyrics that ripple throughout you sonically; "If you die when there's no one watching and your ratings drop and you're forgotten, if they kill you on their TV, you're a martyr and a lamb of god, nothing's going to change the world".
Truthfully, from the very first moment I heard this record – having developed an obsession of Marilyn Manson through watching and studying Michael Moore's Manson-featuring documentary 'Bowling For Columbine' during my A-levels and childhood memories of the Marilyn Manson cover of 'Tainted Love', and countless joint listens of Marilyn Manson's greatest hits growing up – I fell into a deep love affair with its world, with its concept and with its statement. I felt as if I were one of millions of vessels for Manson's thoughts, as if I and the leader of the eponymous group were one and the same. 'Holy Wood', in all its darkness, when stripped back to its skin and bones is a record as relatable to thirty-something pro-right anti-gun protestors as it is a twenty-something British student. At its heart, 'Holy Wood' is a record for the nobodies, the ones who lay in wait for the day they might be wanted by the popular kids, by the media, by the ones with the cameras, or the ones with the guns.
Whilst the years after 'Holy Wood' led Marilyn Manson down some painful paths through line-up changes, sonic differences and a string of forgettable albums – apart from 2015's career-reviving 'The Pale Emperor' – if they were to never ever release another record, or to disappear from the world entirely, they would always be remembered for 'Holy Wood', a record which on release failed commercially and critically, but in the years that have followed, has found itself at the forefront of Marilyn Manson fandom and fame, retrospectively regarded as an ambitious work of art in an artless world.