For its 20th anniversary, Manic Street Preachers are finally ready to play 'The Holy Bible' in full without Richey. Emily Mackay finds the trio squaring up to their greatest achievement
and heaviest millstone in their Cardiff studio.
Over the studio monitors, the metallic clank and iron-lung whirr of The Intense Humming Of Evil' slowly grinds to a halt, shuddering drums and coiled, cold guitars unspooling into collapse. The three members of Manic Street Preachers focus, eyes down, absorbed to the end. Silence falls. "Merry Christmas," says Nicky Wire.
In Faster Studios, Manic Street Preachers' cosy little corner of Cardiff, things are getting intense. Three weeks into rehearsals tar the seven shows in December at which they'll play their 1994 landmark album 'The Holy Bible' in full, Nicky describes them as "still a good 25 per cent away from playing it correctly".
Some of these songs haven't been aired live for nearly 20 years. There's unfinished business here - they played one tour after the album's release, including three shows at London's now-demolished Astoria in December 1994, said to be among the best they ever did. In February the following year, the Manics' rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards, chief' lyrical architect of 'The Holy Bible', disappeared. The dates for the following year, including a US tour, were cancelled. In the years immediately following Richey's disappearance, the band shied away from their most recent album, moving forward into survival and 1996's 'Everything Must Go'.
"I really enjoyed how 'The Holy Bible' confronts the audience, but that album confronts us, too," James Dean Bradfield told Select in 1996. "You play it onstage and you can feel Damien around the corner. It feels like handling a cursed chalice. You can feel the lesions breaking out all over your body."
Two decades on, the band are finally ready to confront and celebrate The Holy Bible', even after James told NME in August that there was "a massive question mark in our heads" about whether they could do it. Today, he and Nicky both admit that 'Die In The Summertime' and others still scare them. If there are no visible lesions, there have still been a few hiccups. Nicky has an overextended ligament in his thumb that stopped him playing bass for two weeks, and means he has to wear a support on his hand. "I haven't turned into Michael Jackson or anything," he reassures me. James, meanwhile, has suffered a dental abscess. The normal solution is root canal surgery, but as that carries the risk of putting him out of rehearsal action for two weeks, he's having to neck the antibiotics and hope for the best. "'The Holy Bible"s ruined us already! We've got fucking injuries coming out everywhere!" laughs Nicky.
The band are pushing on; they've requested the master tapes of the album back from Sony, and are forcing bodies and minds into 'The Holy Bible"s brutal harshness - those time signatures, those fiddly bass and drum parts, that screaming, all those words, words, words...
"There's a state of mind with 'The Holy Bible' that you have to be really physical." says Nicky. "You have to go out there with deep conviction, because you just can't coast it."
With three weeks of rehearsals to go (and plans for a US tour being firmed up) pressure is mounting, and today's session is drawing to a close after run-throughs of 'Ifwhiteamerica...', '4st 7lb', 'Die The Summertime', "The Intense Humming Of Evil', 'Of Walking Abortion' and 'Yes' that have the intent of coiled springs. Not every lyric - or, given James' dental state, every scream - is there yet, but that roiling, evil, under-the-skin guitar sound, the itchy ferocity of the rhythms, the furious drive...it's eerily right. The sensation is akin to, as James describes the album, "that feeling of becoming".
I'd asked the band earlier if they themselves had seen any bands play albums in full, and James said he'd been to see Echo And The Bunnymen's 'Ocean Rain' and Brian Wilson's 'Smile'. "And to be honest, I went to those gigs with reservations, and you sit down, and the first song starts, and if it's a good atmosphere you get transported to the place you listened to the record for the first time, which was my bedroom back in Pontypool. And you get into it! You can talk as much as you like about how a band can become a living museum - which is a valid argument - but when it's done right, it's brilliant."
That effect is already there with 'The Holy Bible'. I'm stunned. The Manics, however, are just drily dealing with it, heading home after a day's work. Sean's route is down the M4. "That's when you'll see the real rage," he says. "If only you could capture that on record."