(This article originally appeared on the Telegraph, London daily newspaper, 21 August 2003).
with tales from the abyss
Andrew Perry reviews Killing Joke at Camden Underworld
The old punk-rockers were out in force, but here was something that even the most die-hard among them never thought they'd see again: Jaz Coleman hooded in a druid cape, his face painted like some hideous offspring of Coco the Clown and Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, grinning like a maniac being taken off to the funny farm, but in fact leading on-stage a semi-original line-up of Killing Joke.
They started with Requiem, and the noise generated within this most subterranean of venues seemed to shake the earth to its very core. "In 2004," Coleman told his people with evident relish, "it's only going to get worse - more wars!" Cheers, mate, nice to have you back.
Only ever a peripheral presence chart-wise, Killing Joke were punk's lunatic fringe. Their provocative imagery (one T-shirt depicted Pope John Paul II walking through a tunnel of saluting Nazi soldiers) and apocalyptic blasts of music were simply too extreme for mass consumption. They petered out slowly through the 1980s alongside goth, but their influence lived on. Nirvana, for instance, appropriated one of their basslines on Come As You Are.
While bassist Youth's pop career has flourished (he produced, among many other things, the Verve's Urban Hymns), Jaz was believed lost to the world of classical composition, in which field one reviewer deemed him to be, somewhat incredibly, "our new Mahler". However, after one regrettable, techno-heavy reunion album in 1994, the band recently reformed again for a self-titled and brilliantly modernised splatter-fest - with Dave Grohl (once in Nirvana, of course) on drums.
Nobody gave a fig that neither Grohl nor Youth were present. This was surely the tiniest venue the band had played in since 1978, and they delivered a sequence of the desired goods from their seminal first two albums, including Wardance, The Fall of Because, Change and Tension.
These were interspersed with new tracks, and the combination proved only how far ahead of its time the old stuff was, especially Geordie's guitar-playing, without which, for better or worse, there would be no nu metal.
The star, though, was Coleman, alternately cackling to himself and fixing you with his terrified, eek-behind-you stare. No more convincing scaremonger has emerged in his absence. Look at Marilyn Manson, say, and you see a very clever man getting rich by poking at society's sores. Look into Jaz Coleman's eyes, and you see the abyss. Be very afraid.