INsider (a Chicago-based mag aimed at the college/university crowd which bills itself as covering "Careers, Issues & Entertainment For The Next Generation." This is from Vol. XI, No. 4, April 1994)
Killing Joke: Unleashing Pandemonium and Having The Last Laugh
by Jason Roth
Behind the celebratory veneer of the word "comeback" lies an ominous connotation. Those performers that do attempt a "comeback" have managed to submerge themselves far enough into obscurity to warrant one. For this reason, you gotta hand it to Killing Joke. Because of notorious turbulence within the group's ranks for the last 15 years, as well as significant tinkering with its sound, most of its releases in the last decade have been heralded as a comeback. Reuniting their original 70s lineup, Killing Joke's latest release, Pandemonium, carries more of the comeback implications than any other prior work.
The band first emerged in 1979, upping the stakes on punk rage with penetrating metal licks, stormtrooper disco stomps and the apocalyptic ranting of inimitable frontman/madman Jaz Coleman. Pre-dating the metal/dance-fused industrial revolution by a decade, Killing Joke's music had a good beat and you could slaughter cattle to it.
After three challenging and acrimonious full-length albums, Coleman fled to Iceland in a paranoid panic, weathering a full-tilt mental breakdown upon his arrival. Guitarist Geordie Walker followed Coleman's trail and helped him back to coherence and the U.K. Upon their return, bassist Youth left the band due to his chemical dependencies.
A reportedly tumultuous regrouping with new bassist Raven and original drummer Paul Perguso [sic] wielded the more tuneful, but still chaotic, Birds Of A Feather/Sun Goes Down 12-inch. Birds paved the way for two more outstanding and confrontational albums, as well as a live 10-inch. After a two-year hiatus and a rumoured disbanding, Killing Joke re-emerged with the gothic-tempered and synth-heavy Brighter Than A Thousand Suns. Following some misguided direction from their label and Coleman's bloated studio indulgence, the band trimmed down to Coleman and Walker. Releasing the dreadful Outside The Gate in 1988, the duo tested the loyalty of even the most ardent fans.
|"Outside The Gate was Jaz Coleman put in the studio to demo new tracks,"
recalls Walker. "I had a few riffs and he had loads of stuff which I didn't
really like. Then he put it all down with the drum machines and getting on with
it and I came in and put down the (guitar) track in one take. And as soon as the
guitars were on it, it was a master (recording) . . . And it all went that way,
12 tracks of fucking keyboards. It cost $680,000 and I hated it. Because I knew
when it was going off instinctually that this is fucking cheesey shit, man. But
I went along with it because it was a real release for Jaz."
The heavy metal spiked Extremities, Dirt And Various Repressed Emotions, released two years later, was in incredibly polar reaction to the band's previous, watered-down route. The return of Raven and the addition of ex-PiL drummer Martin Atkins gave Killing Joke a much-needed shot of brute force. Extremities captured the band's nightmarish, ferocious promise from the early days and prompted renewed enthusiasm from fans who had been left skeptical. But, like many other small KJ victories, this too was fleeting, and the result was yet another breakup.
"You could go on about details, but I think it was the best thing that could have fucking happened," says Walker. "It had to be drawn to a halt with the characters involved. It was willed that way. But Martin Atkins was the best man at my wedding. It was involved."
When the smoke from the Extremities disintegration cleared, two camps remained: Jaz Coleman and everyone else (Walker, Raven, Atkins and contributing keyboardist John Bechdel). The latter members recruited Chris Connelly (Ministry, Revolting Cocks) for vocal duties, resulting in the short-lived Murder, Inc. and the most promising declaration of KJ's demise.
During this break-up, the classically trained Coleman composed well-regarded symphonies. Youth, however, continued his career as a ground-breaking producer of dance music, working with British ambient luminaries like the Orb and Brilliant [!], among others. Walker divided his time between writing new material and raising his son. But as always, time healed the wounds and brought the three back together as Killing Joke.
"We just needed time off," says Walker. "Our lawyer put it as a lovers' tiff," he adds, laughing. "We were strangling Killing Joke. . . I'll tell you what, it's Siamese twins between me and him (Coleman). It's like we just can't get away from each other, but it's nice having Youth between us, if you catch my drift."
Pandemonium, the first release which has featured the founding trio [sic] since 1982, is a dramatic return for Killing Joke in substance and style. Back again are Walker's jagged riffs, Coleman's growling, dark spirituality and fascination with Middle Eastern scaling. But it is Youth's tenure as dance-maestro which provides the most compelling changes. Though he contributes capable bass playing, it is his complex production which adds an imposing new dimension. The group has always flirted with dance rhythms in primordial tracks like "Wardance" and "Follow The Leaders," but Pandemonium strikes a superior balance of upgrading KJ to contemporary technical standards without adulterating their gut-churning intensity.
|"We just sat in the studio, got the engineer to build like an ambient techno
loop that we all agreed on. Point A: are we all happy? Yes, we're all happy. And
that's how we did it. And then we threw on the guitar, yes, bass, yes,
keyboards, yes. Drummers, are you ready? You play this. . . roll tape. And just
did the album and all the backing tracks like that in two weeks. . . but we came
back to London and spent the next eight weeks doing the fucking vocals," says
Walker, his voice trailing off into laughter.
With that, Killing Joke's last laugh resonates once again.