Only in that brief moment in the '90s, when the record industry was grappling with the impact of alternative rock going mainstream and just as Brit-pop was hitting its stride, could the Manics release such a dark, difficult album on a major label, get it played on such pop-oriented programs as Top of the Pops and MTV’s Most Wanted, and make appearances at the Glastonbury and Reading festivals. And then, in a flash, it was over. Richey James went missing on February 1, 1995, and after that The Holy Bible was frozen in amber, forever seen as his last will and testament, just like how In Utero seemed like a suicide note in the wake of Kurt Cobain's suicide in April 1994. After James' disappearance, plans for an American release of the LP were shelved, but in retrospect, it's likely that The Holy Bible -- like some latter-day Manics albums -- would never have had an American release at all. To those who know the album -- and it's a small, dedicated group of partisans who do, since not only didn't it see American shores for a decade, but it didn't sell as well as previous or subsequent Manics albums in the U.K. -- it can comfortably be compared to the Clash's London Calling, but that's not quite accurate, no matter how much inspiration the Manics drew from the Clash. London Calling is a sprawling, exuberant celebration, so generous and big-hearted it can't be contained by a single album, whereas The Holy Bible is a bleak, introspective, insular album that's bracing in its darkness. It's not that The Holy Bible deliberately alienates listeners, but that it wears its pain too openly and presents it too vividly to be an easy listen. It can be a cathartic experience, but it's the kind of experience that doesn't lend itself to everyday listening: not only was it too dark, it was too English for a mass American audience, but years later, those things don't seem to matter as much, and in its tenth anniversary edition it can finally be seen -- and easily heard by American audiences -- as a singular, bracing rock album, quite unlike any LP before or since.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine