(This article originally appeared in Losing Today, "The Indie Music Magazine", August 2003.).
It must have been around the turn of the 70’s that I first became aware of
the festering dimly lit melodic pain that was Killing Joke. Huddled around a
wireless listening as the honourable Mr. Peel played his magic bag of records,
sounds that were so precious and yet so far removed from Radio’s daytime dietary
intake of meaningless powder pop that it seemed to make you feel as if you were
within the inner sanctum of something illicit, secretive and above all, special.
The distinctive chopping guitars were to be a trademark sound for Killing Joke,
aligned to their obsession with the apocalypse and the occult: ‘Psyche’,
‘Wardance’ and ‘Requiem’ where all consumed with dark malignant overtones,
heavily buried amid a seething anger and sense of retribution to come, but
possessing an untamed mindset that none of their peers could come close to, a
warring collective, singer Jaz Coleman always looking for all intents and
purpose like a man ravaged by personal demons and about to tip over the edge at
any moment. Live wise, an awesome band, ferocious and scary, intense and
barbaric, Coleman’s facial war paint a cross between the savagery of ‘Lord of
the Flies’ and the survival kit of ‘Apocalypse Now’.
So why then, you might reasonably ask, mention this particular period of a band whose history and legacy stretches far wider in the ensuing 20 years. The answer is simply this. ‘Killing Joke’ is the sum total of the fractured parts of the band throughout the years, maintaining the spirit of their carnival of menace encapsulated by the awesome ‘Pandemonium’ it is a defined and refined distillation of their sound, their creativity, their power and above all their aggression. It is a monumental return to form from a band often found flickering but never burning with the consistent intensity that fleeting moments always promised.
For ‘Killing Joke’ Coleman, Youth, Geordie and Raven are aided and abetted on the skins by Dave Grohl which in some respects completes the circle initiated by Cobain when borrowing liberally from ‘Eighties’ for the ‘Nevermind’ offspring ‘Come as you are’. Gang of Four’s Andy Gill dutifully gets the production credits as well as going some way to focusing the KJ spirit and untamed aggression.
As for the album, try disturbing, unrelenting and bludgeoning there’s more to come but maybe these three particular words give a flavour, from the opening volley of the skull splitting abuse of ‘The Death and Resurrection Show’ the Joke rarely let up, Geordie’s guitar work throughout grinds and glides like a shadowy harbinger of doom laden misery, unmercifully cutting cranium incisions at every juncture. The lyrical agitation overall venting it’s condemnation of man’s apathy, capitalism and the west in general are held up as the devil incarnate, Coleman’s obsession with the old ways being threatened and decaying in the face of the consumerist new order are to the forefront as is the disbelief of human nature’s undignified dispassion for his own and creation in general. A seething and pained cry that is matched blow for blow by the rampaging ferocity of the curdling industrial melodies within. This album is not for the feint hearted, neither is it an easy ride as the Joke set you on a roller coaster ride having taken out all the safety bolts. ‘Killing Joke’ glories in menace and disillusionment, every track whips up an aural assault bar the blissfully anthemic ‘You’ll never get to me’ which is the nearest to the pop precision of ‘Love like blood’ that your likely to get here, aside that the ethic seems to be one of scorched earth policy. ‘Loose canon’ the current trailer single is almost self parody given the band have been legendary for their internal wrangles and impromptu escape routes to Iceland in resolute belief the end of civilisation was upon mankind. ‘Implant’ is particularly tense and demonic, a cacophony of fuelled aggression and festering hatred that scars as well as stings. ‘Blood on your hands’ rekindles the searing futility of Nirvana’s ‘In Utero’ the chopping melodies rampage in search of targets on which to exact their revenge, an exhaustive and abrasive charge to oblivion. ‘The House that pain built’ just fucks with your head, a bloodthirsty tour de force.
Then come the albums three defining and contrasting moments. ‘You’ll never get to me’ enlists a euphoric calling to arms gloss to the proceedings, easily the most tamed cut on the album, underpinned by a seriously snaking bass line and supplanted by waves of heavenly sounding gliding guitars, one of those purist ‘fuck you’ moments in times of personal adversity. ‘Seeing red’ on the other hand is a ticking bomb, the Joke at their most unswervingly focused, a tunnel vision white hot knuckle ride to the very precipice of hell and back, a blistering rocker that literally pisses on their peers from exalted heights. ‘Dark forces’ on the other hand is replete with conspiracy thinking while being underscored by ominous orchestrated backdrops with Coleman doing his best Exorcist impersonations endowing the whole thing with a sense of erstwhile happy doom.
Agitation never sounded so good.