While I often review newer music in this column, this time I wanted to reach back into the past (but not too far!) to pull out another album you might've missed. It's a concept album and I feel it's sorely overlooked by fans of the artists who created it. For that reason you might not even know it exists or you may've been told that it's not all that good. Today I'd like to offer you my perspective on what I feel is one of the strongest albums ever put out by the group & artist who use the name Marilyn Manson.

Titled 'Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death)', this CD came out in 2000 shortly after the Columbine massacre of 1999. Not only does it address that tragedy and the media circus which surrounded it, the album also serves as the first part of a trilogy that includes Manson's Mechanical Animals and Antichrist Superstar. The kicker is that, though it was released last, this is actually the beginning of that three part musical epic.

In terms of the story, I'll stick to addressing the part that takes place on Holy Wood rather than cover the overarching tale. Holy Wood is a fictional place of wealthy, beautiful people who live lives of decadance. I doubt it'll be too much of a logical leap for you to figure out which real life place it represents. The Valley of Death serves as the fictional gathering place for various social rejects and societal misfits. It is from the Valley of Death that Adam Kadmon, the story's protagonist, emerges to lead a revolution against the filth and decay he sees in Holy Wood. As the album progresses Adam will succeed in his revolution, only to have it hijacked by the profiteering media who turn it into a cheap commercial phenomenon. This leads Adam to commit suicide, the rest of his story to be continued in Mechanical Animals.

Now that story's interesting enough, even though I wanted to be able to read the entire novel that accompanies it. Unfortunately, due to publishing disputes, the novel has yet to see publication despite the fact that Chuck Palahniuk has read the manuscript, confirming it to be a great read. For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the album is how it kept a cohesive story going while still weaving in all sorts of smaller references to events of its day and larger cultural phenomena that have had shaping effects on our world. I'll give some examples below. The sound of the album is easily enough summed up in the ever cliche description "rock 'n roll". From deep melancholy to raging black inferno, the album remains consistently rock-based to my ears, while still including the industrial elements Manson's known for.

Since I've not got the time to review each of the songs (though they could probably all get a sizeable write-up themselves), I want to highlight my favorites. We'll keep in mind that the primary 'themes' of the album are the effects of the mass media combined with 'conservative Christian culture' and its effects on the youth of the United States. So here we go with a short list of musical reasons you ought to give this album a listen:

The Love Song - In case you wondered if anyone's ever used the metaphor of children as bullets fired from mothers as guns with father's pulling the trigger, I'm sorry to say it's been done. This song really lays itself out as a provocation of families to examine how they operate and why they behave as they do. Plus, who doesn't enjoy a love song, right?

Disposable Teens - It's hard not to like this song, in part because it pulls on the same militaristic stylings that made 'The Beautiful People' such a hit. It borrows heavily from 'Revolution' by The Beatles, throws in a reverence to George Orwell's book '1984' ('Rebel from the waist down' which some also see as a reference to Elvis Presley) and tops it all off with a scathing chorus of, "You say you want a revolution, man, and I say that you're full of shit!" Pretty much encapsulates the tradition of young rebels inevitably selling themselves out to authority as they reach adulthood. 'Nuff said.

The Nobodies - This song's one cheeky little number, as my British friends might say. It addresses the concept of ignored youth trying to find ways to achieve the fame the whole world seems so obsessed with. In particular, Eric Harris & Dylan Klebold of Littleton, Colorado. The infectious chorus says it all, "We are nobodies, wanna be somebodies. When we're dead, you'll know just who we are."

Lamb of God - This one covers the phenomenon of national martyrs in the US media-driven popular culture. It's a moving piece that speaks of the assassination of both John F. Kennedy Jr. and John Lennon. You'll find another reference to JFK in the song 'President Dead' which is 3 minutes and 13 seconds long, interesting because frame 313 of the Zapruder film is where we see JFK's head get struck by the bullet that ends his life. I feel the song's chorus speaks for itself:

"If you die when there's no one watching,
Then your ratings drop and you're forgotten.
But if they kill you on the TV,
You're a martyr and a lamb of God."

That wraps up my assessment of an album I could review for about thirty more pages. It's a sharp critique on the widely exported 'American culture', an enthralling fictional journey and a real tribute to the level of meaning music can offer us while still remaining entertaining. It's one of the few CD's I've ever found strong enough to deserve consecutive listenings long after it came out.

If you've not given this album a chance, grab it and find yourself a place to listen to it undistracted, I believe you'll find it offers not only excellent tunes but genuine food for thought that's hard to find these days. I'll leave you with a quote by Marilyn Manson which he made during an interview featured in the film 'Bowling for Columbine' when asked what he'd tell Harris & Klebold if he'd known them prior to the killings. I think it shows that below the social critique of this album there's a message that's distinctly addressing the human spirit's capacity for empathy. Check it out.

"I wouldn't say a single word to them; I'd listen to what they have to say, and that's what no one did."

Lyrics submitted by mike

Marilyn Manson - Holywood song meanings
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    General CommentSo true - This is my favourite Manson album because it says a LOT about society and has a great story.

    I too would love to get my hands on the novel!
    Marilyn Mansonon October 30, 2008   Link

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