From Kerrang! Extra No. 5, supplement to the UK music magazine, June 1985)
THE KILLING TIME
Harlan Ellison was at one time, and indeed may still be, the World's best selling Science Fiction writer. He won a Hugo award (sci-fi's equivalent of an Oscar) for an episode of 'Star Trek' he once wrote called 'The City On The Edge Of Forever'.
Many years ago he attempted to write a short story called 'The One World People' which was to be based around the idea that there are some types of people who can be instantly summarised or stereotyped by the application of one word. The story never proceeded beyond the initial outline phase, but its possibilities are just as pertinent now. If there is one word that could adequately sum up what Killing Joke are all about, that word would be INTENSE.
I had been asked to write an article on Killing Joke way back in 1983 when they released the impressive 'Fire Dances', so I went along to see their show before committing myself too deeply ... they bored the shit out of me.
Come 1985, though and killing Joke have moved up several gears. The recent single, 'Love Like Blood', is a stirring, powerful piece of vinyl drama, lifted from their current album, 'Night Time', which contains variations on a theme. Whatever else maybe true about Killing Joke one factor remains certain: their music has attained a strength and purpose that cannot be ignored. And, remarkably, they appear to have achieved this with no more than the barest whiff of compromise. Killing Joke are arriving in a big way ...
Maybe I am imagining it, but the recent winter seemed relentlessly cold and I appear to have been forced to meet it head on rather too often. The wind comes careering in from the dark and pitiless Brighton coastline, twists around the corner of the Top Rank and finds me shuffling down the street. It batters me around the exposed areas of my skin and I keep remembering that awful night at the Hammersmith Palais when I first encountered Killing Joke.
I don't really know what I'm doing here. I hammer at the door but no-one seems inclined to let me at my guest pass so I wander around the building until I find an open door. Inside, it's warm and inviting, it bustles with pre-gig activity; I find an inconspicuous spot to watch from, to repair my circulation and hope that no-one notices me.
"I know you!"
He probably does, I'm not going to dispute it, he even looks vaguely familiar.
"I'm Raven, bass player with Killing Joke."
He offers a hand. Of course. So that's what happened to Paul Raven! The last time our paths crossed Raven had been playing in one of the latter incarnations of the Cuddly Toys, a band about whom I could write tomes, and perhaps one day will - come back Sean Purcell, you were never destined to be a sheep farmer. They (CTs) were playing the Marquee and I was there reviewing the gig for Record Mirror (grapple fans may be interested to not that at the time that band was being managed by Kendo Nagasaki and his manager Gorgeous George!) This connection also explains the presence of keyboard player David Kovacevic, himself a former Cuddly Toy, alongside his old colleague Raven in the revamped Killing Joke line-up. This introduction has, in turn, allowed Jaz Coleman to move out front and concentrate solely on singing, which may also explain why I didn't get bored this time.
Kovacevic cuts a slight, frail figure who looks about as comfortable as a bacon sandwich at a bar-mitzvah. But Raven is in his element. He leads me first backstage and then outside to the band's tour bus where an inane film, starring, incredibly enough, former world boxing champ Sugar Ray Leonard is being pumped through the 'snowbound' video system. Sugar Ray plays an up'n'coming boxer who makes it to the top but is then asked to throw a fight by his unscrupulous manager who has bet heavily on his opponent, an animalistic Puerto Rican. Sugar Ray has lost his only friend and his wife in his climb to the top and is prepared to take a dive before they persuade him to stand up for truth, justice and the American way and fight a clean fight. I never got to see the end but you can probably guess it for yourself.
Back inside the Top Rank I am suddenly thrust into conversation with Jaz Coleman, dark, swarthy lead singer and mainstay of Killing Joke. I'm here to interview you, I offer, as we stride backstage, again. In the dressing room I'm given a glass of wine and told to sit in a chair. The room is alive with people: friends, hangers-on, road crew, all sorts. I pick up a copy of the NME and read the interview with Dave Lee Roth. Gasp! The girl appears to like him - NME goes Heavy Metal Crazy Shock Horror!! - but then everybody likes Dave Lee Roth, he's a character, one of the greats! No-one has a bad word to say about Dave Lee Roth. In fact, everybody likes him so much that no-one has yet been unkind enough to mention that his hair is receding. Even Paul Raven likes Dave Lee Roth.
Someone is playing Gillan very loudly on a Walkman wired up to a set of speakers; someone else lights up a joint; in the far corner someone has left a copy of 'The Dangling Man' by Saul Bellow on top of a flight case; the support band booms out their set and I move on to the Mick Jones interview - they like him, too. Eventually, Coleman chaperones me, my tape recorder and his guitarist Geordie into a corner of the room for 'the interview'. To be honest, I don't feel up to it, I'm not sufficiently prepared and I'm distinctly not in control of the situation.
Jaz Coleman has the same birthday as Aleister Crowley, according to the press biog. And according to a friend of mine, who knows rather more about these things than I, Killing Joke are the only people who have ever had anything cogent to say on the subject of The Great Beast. But we never got around to talking Thelemism, basically because I let slip the reins and couldn't grasp them back. They talk fast, Jaz and Geordie, and my presence was superfluous. So let's talk Intensity ...
"The intensity of our music come out of our psyches," enthuses Jaz, "we have to play! The explosive part of Killing Joke is the way we are! We have to play or else we'd turn into murderers or something! The intensity of our music comes from within ... and that's probably the reason why people are so disturbed by it. We have a closer relationship with our intensity."
The tone and pattern of this man's speech will brook no argument; he states this as fact and expects it to be received as such. If it weren't for the fact that Killing Joke ARE producing such powerful music it would be much easier, much safer and much more comforting to be able to laugh at him and his outpourings. But all the time you're struck with the disquieting and gnawing thought that he might just be right. Let's talk about Lemmy and Heavy Metal.
"Did you see Lemmy on the '... Whistle Test'? He was fucking brilliant! He was going on about the good thing with Heavy Metal being that it doesn't progress ... well, I'm afraid we dispute that! We're interested in different rhythms, more stomp-like rhythms ..."
"We like rhythms that are, like fuckable," interjects Geordie, "really pulsing and heavy but dirty, too!"
"But our rhythms are different," continues Jaz, anxious that this point should not be lost, "and the difference between us and a lot of other bands, not just Heavy Metal bands, is that we musically summarise the decade we live in as opposed to just perpetuating the early Seventies myth which all these other bands seem to be doing. The sound we use is exclusively an Eighties sound, there's no solos in it as such - we don't believe in that, we believe in one glorious rhythm section! We use a wall of noise, sure, but there's a million orchestras within our wall of noise! It's Hi-Energy!"
This Hi-Energy sound, they say, has resulted in the Killing Joke machine overtaking the popularity of Lemmy's Crew in Europe to the extent that, "they don't book their tours at the same time as us ... and we nicked a load of their audience as well, ha!"
Certainly, out front the Killing Joke support comes in all shapes and sizes. It's as if this band has successfully collated all the misfits into one fused whole; all the people who don't quite fit in anywhere else find a home under Killing Joke's wing. So who are the KJ audience?
"The Killing Joke audience," intones Geordie, "is the concrete children."
This pronouncement comes down like an edict.
"When Heavy Metal started," he continues, "it was some sort of threat, it was new and exciting, but not it's, like, passe. It's got the same riffs and it comes as some sort of security, you can go somewhere and all the people will be dressed the same ... just like all the ones with the spikey hair: it's nothing new, it's bollocks.
"You see, you can be psychologically heavy as well, choosing the notes you use, real fucking nasty!"
"We don't want to patronise our audience with the same old ideas and the same old themes within the songs, yet at the same time our music is so fierce I think it puts most Heavy Metal bands to shame!"
Jaz has no doubts about the medium being the message. With the message in hand, Killing Joke strike out immersed in a pioneer spirit...
"It's only the pioneer spirit," explains Geordie, "that progresses and changes, you've got to have it."
"We've pioneered a new style of music," elaborates Jaz, "we're utilising the insanity of the world!"
"All human beings are parasites," Geordie lays down another edict, "we're just coming to terms with it."
Killing Joke, according to Jaz, are becoming an arena-oriented band who, in the coming years, will have such Golden Boys as U2 and Big Country "feeding out of our hands!" History will determine whether this is a prophetic claim or merely empty rhetoric. In Europe, certainly, they are already reaping the rewards of five years spent in relative obscurity honing their talents and now Britain looks to be teetering on the brink as well.
So will they do it, will they crack it this time round? Well, personally, nothing would surprise me and I certainly wouldn't bet against them.