Richey James Edwards disappeared in February 1995, just months after the release of the Manic Street Preachers' lacerating third album, The Holy Bible. He was officially presumed dead in November 2008 and just months later the Manics released Journal for Plague Lovers, an album that's an explicit sequel to The Holy Bible right down to its Jenny Saville cover art. The Manics pay tribute to their lost comrade by setting his last writings to music, getting Steve Albini -- beloved by Richey for his production on Nirvana's In Utero, a clear antecedent and close relation to The Holy Bible -- to produce a record unlike any they've made since his vanishing. Tripping on barbed-wire guitars and twitchy as a raw nerve even when it's draped in strings, Journal for Plague Lovers consciously harks back to the emotional bloodletting of Bible, only this manages to skirt the darkest corners of the soul, never quite feeling as desperately hopeless or unsettling as that bleakest of albums. Curiously, there's a feeling of comfort, even relief, to Journal for Plague Lovers, a palpable sense that the bandmembers are grateful to be confronting Richey's ghost head-on. Of course, the Manics never ignored Edwards, but he was notable as an absence -- not presence -- in their music: when he left, they chose to leave behind their arty punk for dignified arena rock. Here, they ditch that inflated sound -- although, truth be told, they were making inroads in this direction on 2007's Send Away the Tigers -- for tight, clanking, cantankerous guitars, so they're not only singing Edwards' words but playing his music, bringing him back into the band in a way that makes them full. Now that they've completed the songs he left behind, it's not that the Manics can finally put Richey to rest now, but rather that they've found peace, that they're finally ready to acknowledge and embrace the blackest portion of their past, and that the grieving has finally stopped and they're moving forward. Indeed, Journal for Plague Lovers winds up being The Holy Bible in reverse: every moment of despair is a reason to keep on living instead of an excuse to pack it all in.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine