(From Melody Maker, 15 December 1990)
TOWER OF BABBLE
KILLING JOKE have fought their way back from the depths of despair and recorded a new album in just two days. MAT SMITH meets JAZ COLEMAN and finds out what it's like to be possessed by the devil.
Take a bit of apocalypse: "By the time we play our next concerts I fully expect a thermo-nuclear device to have been exploded in the Middle East." Add a little bit of that old black magic: "Do you know what it's like to be possessed? You can't sleep for more than two hours and you wake up feeling like you're made of glass and about to shatter - my wife couldn't stand the sight or sound of it."
Then garnish with a little informed comment. "The Stone Roses are the scum of the earth and their retrogressive Sixties American accent music is shit. I hate Eldritch too. My support bands could warm up a stage better than he could. He's a poser. In fact, he irritates me. I hope the c***'s reading this." Pop in the odd possible porky: "I'm a much calmer person since I found God." And finally, a little bit of political seasoning to taste: "There was a time when I wanted to rip Margaret Thatcher's intestines out!" And what have you got, as if you haven't guessed by now? Why, now you have JAZ!
Killing Joke have returned and they want their old room back. They're outside hammering on the door and they're not going to go away. They want to evict the likes of Front 242, Ministry, Skinny Puppy, Young Gods and all the other electro-brutalist acolytes who've sprung up in their absence and are set to do it with an LP every bit as overwhelming, terrifying and hideous as its title "Extremities, Dirt And Various Repressed Emotions".
"Extremities..." is so goddamn intense it makes any of the above sound like the Norwegian entry for Eurovision. It's not so much Killing Joke washing their dirty linen in public, rather ramming the blood, sweat and skid mark stains right under your nose and forcing you to breathe deeply. Not since 'What's This For?" and "Revelations" have the band created a cacophony so beautifully ugly. "Extremities..." rages against the financial and consumer gluttony of the "ME" generation and its resulting cultural and artistic bankruptcy then pushes the knife in on itself, gleefully cutting out and holding up the cancer that, for the last two years, has threatened the band's very existence.
It hurts to listen to it. They booked two weeks recording time, but the exorcism only took two bloody and intense days.
"For the last 10 years, we've had the privilege of making an LP every year,' says Jaz. "And then there we were for two years full of legal hassles without that. So when we eventually got in there, it f***ing exploded."
Jaz is a happy boy. He seems so different, as if he's finally shaken off the sins of the past. Then it becomes chillingly clear just what he has shaken off. While not exactly a shadow of his former self, these days Jaz has the becalmed, resigned air of someone who's been that little bit too close to the flame.
When I last saw him he'd been working two particularly dangerous rituals. He'd purposely sought out a couple of extremely rare manuals, his interest in Crowley was at its peak and he'd even gone so far as to begin recording the then new Joke LP, "Outside The Gate", using a numerology system - The Gematria. To put it simply, he was calling in favours from the other side. The atmosphere in the studio was fierce and unhinged, almost dirty even. You half expected your head to swivel 180 degrees every time you walked in.
Indeed, Jaz was in the first throes of what someone later confirmed to be possession. Here was surely the logical result of what Killing Joke meant, and it truly frightened the hell out of everybody .Way before the LP's completion, drummer Big Paul and bassist Raven were gone, the latter proclaiming, "if you want a hit album you phone up S/A/W, not the devil!" The characteristic glibness of the remark only clouded what, in essence, were bad, bad times for the band"
"I'll never play any of that stuff live because it isn't Killing Joke," says Jaz without a moment's hesitation, "I finished what I set out to do, which was an experiment with melody and complex arrangement, but it wasn't until later that I realised I should have kept all that separate. I mean, the notion that I had to sing in tune with Killing Joke for a start!"
In its transition from gut to brain to Beelzebub, KJ's music lost the awesome power that had blown up so spectacularly in the void left by punk. More importantly, though, Jaz had lost two of his friends. He spiralled down into the vortex of his regular-as-clockwork annual depression. This time, however, things became far worse.
"Everything I touched fell to bits. My life went totally out of control." Jaz had been invoking forces through himself for years and years with the Joke. One day they all came to dinner at once and wouldn't leave. He became convinced that outer forces were on the planet shaping events. At first he couldn't turn on the news without running off in tears, then, as the horror progressed, he sought sanctuary Brian Wilson-style and wouldn't get out of bed.
"There is an atmosphere around the band. There always has been. People have said that what we do and what we are as people is essentially evil. But l don't believe in that at all. Any damage that has been done has been done to ourselves." Jaz enlarges at length on this. These days, Jaz has derived a green cross code for working with the band.
"It is a deep music. So now, after I've worked with Killing Joke, I meditate, I chant and then I shower, right? Cos the vibe from the music can stay on you and it can drive you round the f***ing bend, so I've had to learn how to deal with it."
While he was convalescing, literally crawling back from hell, new drummer Martin Atkins was making the calls.
"He phoned up Elektra in the States cos he had friends there from the PiL days. Their reaction on the phone was, 'We don't want anything ever to do with them, don't ever ring us up here again and talk to us about Killing Joke'. It wasn't a case of 'No, we're not interested'. Lt was a case of 'Don't come anywhere near us!"'
Meanwhile, in the month following the split, Raven, always one to fall on his feet, resurfaced with a new band, The Hellfire Club, and started some serious press bickering. He and Jaz were at each other's throats - more to the point, Raven had been publicly threatening to tread on Jaz's if the singer came anywhere near him.
"The funniest thing he said about me was that I was only as good as the last book I read. Well I'm reading the Koran at the moment, so everybody better be careful. But we began bumping into each other in the pub and, after a while, became friends again. Gradually the sense of humour began to take over and we could laugh about it. Back then, I took it all so seriously."
Indeed, the humour on the new LP is one of the most welcome returns to form. Jaz's Mr Punch is back with familiar told-you-so-delight. Gleefully fiddling while the entire planet burns. Just when you'd think this bunch of 30-year-old men would be happy settling into semi-retirement, here they are once again sticking their heads in refuse sacks.
"The most disturbing thing is if you look at the universities, no one's reading philosophy. They're all doing business studies. It's the end of a civilisation, everybody wants to be a millionaire - feather the nest and f*** the rest."
Again and again the LP returns to the theme - not least in "Age Of Greed" which releases an onslaught of critical bile, undermining all that the developed world in general and America in particular holds dear.
"It's the third world financing the gluttony of the first. I still hate America, though I'm not now gonna let a stupid prejudice hold me back from taking their money .I don't like the place; it frightens me. If you took all the food out of the shops and dropped the number of cops, they'd all start blowing each other's heads off and eating each other. Whereas in a country like England or even France, though I hate the bloody French as well, at least there's a social cohesion; they pull together. Over there, they just attack."
So now we get to the part of the interview where we have to begrudgingly admit that Jaz was perhaps right all along. The end of the world is nigh. What's he got to say abuut it now?
"I think we're looking at an ecological catastrophe, and what are we doing about it. One point: five per cent of the population are using lead free petrol in their cars, that's all! We should be talking about draconian measures. We should be talking about no cars.
Jaz is moving the European side of his life to Holland - he already has a place in New Zealand.
"I'm moving to the other side of the planet so I can bring my daughter up with the things I enjoyed as a kid. It's depressing, but it's necessary. I don't believe in the end of the world, but in keeping with the last 10 years of my ranting and raving I think there is going to be massive destruction. On an ecological level there will massive parts of the globe that are uninhabitable and that will cause serious tension with other nations as they all struggle to get their living space. But Killing Joke always have an important role to play in times of world tension."
Jaz sees America's current involvement in the Middle East as an attempt to get a monopoly on the oil fields.
"If I didn't have a wife and daughter to think about I'd like to be in the Middle East when it all happens. I'd like to score it all up."
While weaker men would have gone down from the troubles of the last two years, the calamitous events and repercussions have forced Jaz to take a philosophical view. His commitment to the band and the ideal remains steadfast. He's lost a personal fortune keeping it going when people were telling him he was mad to do so. But to Jaz, there was no way he was gonna turn his back on a third of his life. Call it blind allegiance if you will, but not before you check out the lyrics to "Struggle" on the LP.
"Oh, I believe in hell. I've been there. I believe you create the hell for yourself. I began to see the result of my own actions. I've done some pretty evil things and I had to pay for that. I had no concept of morality at all - right or wrong. See, that's all a lie. I don't believe in that. I didn't believe that the last time I spoke to you. Everything was permitted, restriction was sin. Now I don't believe that. I don't think any of us do now, do we?"