From Camm magazine, published in Chicago, Illinois, USA, Volume 1, #10, January 1991.
|Killing Joke: Namechecked By The Best
By Greyson Stoehr
Chicago came to international attention long ago, but has recently become second home for one of the greatest "unknown" international bands of our time, Killing Joke. If the name doesnít ring any bells, then perhaps youíve heard their music as part of a soundtrack, in a nightclub or through the bands they have influences - bands such as Prong, Ministry, Flotsam & Jetsam and Metallica have all namechecked Killing Joke.
So why is a band that has been around for eleven years going to grab your attention NOW? Surely any band whose roots reach from post-apocalyptic punk, reggae, thrash, industrial white noise and synthesizer overdose with liberal lashings of metal must be nearly done for. Over the hill and ready for rockers theyíre not! In fact, all signs are that theyíre more than ready to rip away the boredom and reclaim their place amidst the many metallic and thrash pretenders to the throne.
What Jaz Coleman, lead singer/songwriter and KJ guiding light said during his recorded Cortauld Talks back in 1988 was that the point of their music was "...bombarding the individual with disturbing aspects of modern-day reality on the stage." (A younger Coleman had told Sounds in 1982: "Weíll make a sound like nature throwing up.") Either way, the cutting edge of metal came to life in the hands of Jaz and his compatriots. While Coleman wove stories of fury and mysticism into his lyrics and keyboard lines, Paul Raven and Paul Ferguson took bass and drums, respectively, to new heights of berserker rhythm as Geordie Walker set slashing, singing guitar over the whole. The music shifted and grew as they did, the whole band a dichotomy of ethereal magic and no-nonsense juggernaut. As the years went by, Raven dropped out, Ferguson soon followed and the light went out. Coleman recharged his own overloaded batteries with a solo project Geordie helped him with, eventually to become Outside The Gate. This was released as a Killing Joke album due to pressures from ex-management, but was more the product of the split personality - with the bottom missing, there was nothing to anchor the project.
Eventually the rift was mended - first with the acquisition of Martin Atkins, late of Ministry and PiL on drum duty, then with the return of Paul Raven. Martin had his own thoughts on this. "[Raven]ís just SUPPOSED to be in this band; itís a chemistry thing where the sum of the parts is about twenty times what it should be. Itís just great!" His own involvement came out of frustration and the feeling that something greater could come of this configuration.
What got Martin interested was "the early music and the spirit that is Killing Joke. And something that Iíd lost - the spirit of Public Image Ltd. in 1979. Dangerous, very, very dangerous - if you donít like our music, fuck off. PiL had certainly lost that spirit and Killing Joke had for a couple of years. So I wanted to be involved in that band that made me feel the way I like to feel.
"A couple of strange things happened about a year and a half, two years ago," he said. "I actually stopped playing my drums; I was fairly disillusioned with the whole thing. He was involved with booking a Rapeman show "and Ray Washam, the drummer, was phenomenal. I just stood there watching him. At the end of the show, Iíd said, ĎWow, you were absolutely brilliantí, and he said, ĎWell, I want to thank YOU,í because heíd listened to my drums on the early PiL stuff and that was what had made him want to be a drummer. That made me feel very strange, so I set my drums up the following day and started tinkering around. Then the phone rang and it was Geordie, saying ĎCome over to England, we need a drummerí. It was all very strange. I jumped on a plane and as soon as I sat down at the rehearsal room in London, it was like, ĎIím supposed to be hereí."
But the energy needed to return. When asked how the new album differed from the previous release, Atkins laughed and replied, "Itís not crap! You see, one of the things I said when I went over to England a year and a half ago was ĎI want to be involved with Killing Joke, but I donít think the two years previous to my arriving in London was Killing Jokeí." When asked what defined Killing Joke, he said, "Killing Joke is just MAYHEM, people bleeding and lauders of skin falling off, you know - STEAM!" Pausing, he laughed, "Oh dear! All I can say is, people are saying ĎOh, thank god theyíre back!í The band that a lot of people have loved for a long time - and I think they have found it difficult to like over the last couple of years - are back! And everybodyís breathing a sigh of relief because they can wear their Killing Joke shirts with pride. Itís a double album and somebody said last night that Ďitís like early Killing Joke, but itís 1990'. It would be totally retarded for us to try to reproduce the spirit of the first few albums, but we wanted to reproduce the spirit of that and weíre much older and wiser ... somewhat unfortunately! But thatís the only way for me to describe it. When I listen to it, it still surprises me that we managed to do it."
Jaz also explained, "I can only say how it is for me, really, and how I use the entity Killing Joke. Killing Joke is really a musical collaboration of four individuals at its best. We write from our nightmares, our fears. Itís a way of channeling some of our doubts and uncertainties about the future into a musical form. And in saying that," he laughed, "it sounds awfully intellectual, but in actual fact, the music is very spontaneous and explosive. Itís really a medium for our emotions and thatís the only way I can describe it."
This sort of catharsis shows up on Extremities, Dirt and Various Repressed Emotions as a reborn Killing Joke - a band unafraid to unleash the raw power of their feelings. With a roar, the album opens with Money Is Not Our God and has over an hour of massively moving energy. Jaz elaborated, "On the new album, we have ten tracks and theyíre all over five minutes long, some of them even longer. There are many, many changes in the music and in that way, I think itís a revolutionary LP because itís so different than anything you can listen to. It doesnít have an orthodox rock format in the way that we have arranged the whole sound and the structure of the music. Itís very, very different there. We arranged each of the songs as if we would be doing them live, so we have long instrumental introductions where it gets intense and more intense and more intense until I bring in the vocals."
The new release also welcomes the return of one of the Joke signatures, layers of shimmering guitar. "Yes, thatís right," affirmed Coleman. "Absolutely LOADS more. The one thing that is traditional about the album is that the drums and the guitar are very high up in the mix. The album sounds very much as youíll hear it live, basically. We took two days to lay all the tracks down, so itís got a very, very live, raw feel to it and itís an incredible LP. I play the LP up against the last seven albums and they all pale in intensity in comparison to Extremities."
A large "problem" of sorts has been that Killing Joke is not easily labelled - therefore, not easily embraced. Having signed to a metallic label such as Noise International and having influenced so many metal bands, still, the term "metal" fits loosely. Jaz felt this was down to their fierce intensity. "Because of the intensity, weíve had all sorts of funny people saluting the music. Everyone from Jimmy Page to two guys of Van Halen and, of course, Metallica. A number of bands. I suppose itís because theyíve heard Geordieís guitar. They havenít heard anything like it." Colemanís appreciation for Walkerís talent is a big key to Killing Jokeís overall sound. "Geordieís a unique player insofar as while he uses a big sound, he uses obviously a high energy element to his sound. The one thing that differentiates his playing to anybody else is the actual chord formations and structures that we use within Killing Joke that are born, really, on the keyboards and guitar. In that way, he is completely and utterly unique," he offered. "Any guitar player worth his salt that will listen to him and try to reproduce his playing will realise it is absolutely impossible. His soul, his music, his chord structures come from a very strange place. Heís undoubtedly a unique player.
"Our rhythms differentiate us from anything that is classified as metal in that way," he continued. "Our rhythms are essentially tribal with a strong keyboard element, an atmospheric element. For example, we never play guitar solos in Killing Joke and we never will, because our style is basically an anti-style, that is to say, we donít use melody, we use a wall of sound, we use noise. In saying that, when you listen to Geordieís guitar, it sounds like a million choirs in unison; itís a very beautiful sound. I love working with him. Apart from Geordie, there are very few guitarists I think I would work with."
If you were lucky, you caught one of the bandís three "warm-up" gigs in late September, where the total experience was unleashed. If "intense" describes the album, then be prepared for the live show, which is sufficient to rip your face right off. This short jaunt was to provide the band with film footage for their first video off the album. Martin said, "Itís a song called Money Is Not Our God; itís a new single and weíre doing it with the H-Gun. Thatís the guys who did the Burning Inside video for Ministry and they were involved in all of that tour."
H-Gun are Chicago-based, sharing a loft in the same building as Atkins bases Invisible Records and Killing Joke functions from. DIY theories from the distant past or vital necessity for the future, Joke are self-managed and run all their own affairs. "Weíre trying to keep a very tight rein on our business activities and monitor everything. Weíre all involved with everything that is going on, which is creatively somewhat destructive," he explained. "But thatís one of the things that went wrong with the band is that there wasnít a deal in the States and they were just ripped off by management.
"I am so dangerous itís not even funny! Not in a physically threatening way, but because Iíve booked tours across the States, we have our own label and we know what weíre doing. Iím sure there are still opportunities for people to fuck with us, but they are becoming less and less. So itís important for us to keep a handle on all that stuff," finished Martin.
"People love it or hate it, there are very few in-betweens," mused Coleman. "If people like anything to do with Killing Joke, theyíll realise the new album is different to all the other albums insofar as the whole band has been through two years of absolute hell just to have the opportunity to record this album. The album captures the insanity and the struggle of the last two years, the litigation, the nervous breakdowns, the doubts, the worries, the strenuous hard work of constant touring to keep our heads above water - we captured it musically and lyrically in this album. In that way, itís like no other Killing Joke album. Itís from the heart and I can say that with all sincerity. Itís from the heart, whether people like it or not."