(From the Times, London, 28 February 2005.)
Killing Joke. Shepherds Bush Empire, W12 ***
AFTER their latest hiatus in a 25-year career,
Killing Joke returned with a show of daunting extremes. Their business affairs
may be in permanent flux, but they remain masters of a miscreant strand of
apocalyptic rock'n'roll that has influenced artists from Nirvana to Slipknot.
Radiating an air of ageless malevolence, they took to the stage on Thursday with a typical flourish. While the guitarist Geordie, bass player Raven and drummer Ben Calvert hammered out the thunderous, martial rhythm of Communion, the singer Jaz Coleman arrived bearing a huge cross on a pole. Dressed in a black boiler suit, his face painted blood red, and with his bulging eyes peering out from great welts of charcoal make-up, he roared the chorus -"All who die" -as if exhorting an army of the damned into some last great mythical battle.
Ramping up both tempo and volume, they launched into Wardance. As Geordie carved great wodges of sound out of his big, hollow-bodied guitar and Calvert slammed his tom-toms with frenzied movements, it became clear that the veneer of co operation between the musicians masked a violent power struggle.
With the demagogic Coleman ranting and foaming, his body quivering as if in the grip of a seizure, the battle to see who could make the most impact was joined on all fronts, including the sound engineer, whose efforts to balance all the instruments seemed to lead, with each successive number, to more of everything.
For a while they maintained an unbelievable pitch of intensity that peaked with a sequence at the end of Frenzy, when Coleman, illuminated by a flashing strobe, seemed about to shake himself apart, while the musical sequence accelerated to a speed that surely approached the limits of what is humanly possible.
But having reached this moment of supreme existential agony, they had also arrived at the point of no return. With the volume now well over the pain threshold, and the lighting engineer joining in with a visual cacophony of blinding flashes and chaotic, swirling spots, the contours of the show became increasingly blurred and melodrama gradually gave way to monotony.
Coleman delivered a brief, troubled monologue about killing sparrows before Bloodsport and outlined the group's plan to record their next album in various war zones. But if their energy was not entirely spent by the time they navigated a rambling sequence of encores, including Sun Goes Down, Are You Receiving? and Pandemonium, your reviewer's enthusiasm most certainly was.