Saturday, 6 July 2013

Killing Joke - A Rough Guide

So, what the hell is the point of this? Think of it as a rough guide to bands you should have been listening to for years. If you have been, then well done. You're one step ahead of the heaving, cursing masses. You may still get something out of these pieces – nostalgia, insight, the warm satisfaction of helping me achieve sexual release through the raw erotic pleasure I get from my hit counter notching up one more peon.

The format? 10 songs, drawn from as many different albums as possible. Linked through via the magic of YouTube, Spotify and other such wonders. Some hastily constructed words about them and the band themselves. Without any further ado, then.

Killing Joke. Post-punk chameleons hailing from the arse-end of 1970s London, they have been ridiculously influential on a frankly ludicrous number of musicians from a lurching cacophony of genres. Over the last 35 (FUCKING THIRTY-FIVE) years they have morphed into a number of shapes, most of which have managed to both leave their mark on a sound and maintain their trademark feverish post-apocalyptic tribal fury.

The first track is picked straight off their first EP, 'Turn To Red'. As well as being draped with their early imagery courtesy of graphic artist Mike Coles – a mixture of stark colours, clippings from propaganda, high-rise tenements and contorted harlequin faces – it sets out their stall with a relentless percussive beat, Jaz Coleman's snarling denouncements of modern society and a distant echoing sensation that conjures up the notion that it is being beamed straight into your cortex from a subverted spy satellite.

Killing Joke – 'Turn To Red' – 1979 - “Are You Receiving?”

The debut eponymous album followed within a year, and augmented the uncomfortable punk throb with a predilection for the melodic guitars and howls of the nascent modern metal scene. This cut is a standout from a surprisingly cogent and mature first album that, in a UK shimmering with the youthful glow of the second worldwide wave of punk, manages to feed on that energy while laying the groundworks for what would later become industrial rock and metal. In the north of England, Throbbing Gristle were busy contorting noise into music. Down in London, Killing Joke were utilising similar principles to contort music into noise.

Killing Joke – 'Killing Joke' – 1980 - “Requiem”

The title of 1981's second album, 'What's THIS For...!', is an apt demonstration of the principles of early Killing Joke - a non-sequitur lending purpose to futility. The sound remained largely similar to their debut, albeit with the improved production that tamed many a punk band instead lending a feeling of discordant discomfort that suited their wide-eyed unholy prophecy down to the ground. A more markedly tribal percussion from Big Paul Ferguson lent credence to their ongoing crusade, an intellectually violent wardance against the growing urban wasteland around them. The album as a whole is stunningly confident, crawling with an unclean madness that delivers you straight into the heart of Jaz Coleman's lyrics. Not entirely a pleasant place to be. This cut is also notable for having an obscure band named after it, that later delivered to the world the likes of Godflesh and Napalm Death.

Killing Joke – 'What's THIS For...!' - 1981 - “The Fall Of Because”

The following two albums ('Revelations' and 'Fire Dances') showed an increasing use of occult imagery, running parallel with an increasing sense of paranoia that led to most of the band relocating to Iceland in 1982 to avoid the oncoming apocalypse. Once this failed to appear, it isn't too much of a stretch to assume that the (presumably) sheepish return to their home shores helped to fuel the mellowing of their sound. This shift reached its apex with 1985's 'Night Time', which utilised their already established infectious rhythms to slot comfortably (as comfortable as Killing Joke could ever be said to be) into the burgeoning New Wave scene. While they haven't really held onto this position in the minds of the general populace in the intervening years, their quasi-pop sound was dark and unsettling enough to have lodged itself firmly into goth subculture. Nearly 30 years later, “Love Like Blood” is still a firm eyeliner-and-lace floorfiller. It's also worth noting that another track from this record, “Eighties”, contained a bassline so similar to Nirvana's “Come As You Are” that it inspired a court case that was only dropped when Kurt Cobain chowed down on the end of a shotgun.

Killing Joke – 'Night Time' – 1985 - “Love Like Blood”

Alongside the pulsing bass of Raven and the stabbing murder-pop guitars of Geordie, new influences started to bubble to the top of the steeped Killing Joke cauldron. 1986's underrated 'Brighter Than A Thousand Suns' felt no shame whatsoever in incorporating elements of prog and funk into a bubbling '80s conflict of sounds that functions surprisingly competently given the necessarily mercurial nature of the end result. This conflict played out both in public and behind the scenes, as fans decried their newer sound as being more commercial (which it undoubtedly was) and members of the band themselves began to feel uncomfortable with their direction. While still fundamentally Killing Joke and, I would argue, still breaking precious new ground, it was a long way indeed from the almost-frothing madness of their immediate post-punk work. Oddly, their increasing use of electronics was touted as a limiting factor – even though they had been enthusiastic users of electronics in both sampling and keyboards since their earliest recordings.

Killing Joke – 'Brighter Than A Thousand Suns' – 1986 - “Victory”

Inevitably, this mass breakdown of forward motion led to a collapse of the band with just Coleman and Geordie remaining afterwards. The final straw that led to this seems to have been the release of 1988's 'Outside The Gate', written and performed by said duo and the only Killing Joke album I cannot in all good faith recommend. Indulgent and faintly ludicrous with no seeming quality control whatsoever, it stands out as the only real turd in their long career. Moving on swiftly, Coleman and Geordie found themselves in desperate need of other people to actually complete the band. Eventually they managed to bring previous bassist Raven back on board, and recruited Martin Atkins on drums. The resulting industrial superstorm led to a renewal of their filthy creative juices which initially resulted in the barely restrained furious spasm that is 1990's 'Extremities, Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions'. Far more turbulent and unpleasant than anything they had produced since their early years, it is the classic example of a band reclaiming their own heritage by going back to their roots and finding the passion again. In the case of Killing Joke, this is of course the passion of a scrabrous street-corner prophet denouncing the habits of the great and good as he quotes Crowley and Malthus in equal measure.

Killing Joke – 'Extremities, Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions' – 1990 - “Money Is Not Our God”

However, this refreshed sense of purpose was almost slaughtered in the cradle when Jaz Coleman, quite predictably, chose to relocate himself to a remote Pacific island. Presumably to avoid another oncoming apocalypse. During the development of 'Laugh? I Nearly Bought One!', an anthology spanning a good deal of their career to date, the first Killing Joke bassist Youth managed to persuade Coleman away from his paranoia and back into the studio for a reformed band that jammed together various folk from all over the history of the band. The first product of this was 1994's 'Pandemonium', which managed to pick up the reigns of industrial rock from where Killing Joke left them hanging back in the early 1980s. With Middle Eastern sonic touches and unafraid to fully embrace their historic love for electronics, it is undoubtedly one of their records that can be said to be truly definitive. A raw, melodic howl into a void of half-remembered snippets from Victorian occult texts and semi-glimpsed fractal nightmares.

Killing Joke – 'Pandemonium' – 1994 - “Mathematics Of Chaos”

This lineup produced a follow-up in 1996's 'Democracy', a record which is fondly thought of by every Killing Joke fan except myself. It does most of the things 'Pandemonium' does, only calmer and with more optimism. I prefer my wide-eyed demented industrial post-punk frenzy with a bit more unbridled rage, thanks. The band hopped onto the extended hiatus train after that for their biggest fallow period to date. It would be seven years before we would hear from them again, but it was worth the wait. Returning in 2003 with their second eponymous album, the naming decision itself adequately summarised what they had done. A rebirth that put all those who had aped them over the intervening years to shame, the record was a wildly screaming kick to the chest that helped to restart the failing heart of the industrial metal scene. Without a doubt their heaviest album so far, it treads a beautiful line between accessible riffage and borderline certifiable supernaturally-tinged conspiracy theory. Perhaps surprisingly given their antagonistic history with Nirvana, Dave Grohl was brought on board to perform drums – he is of course absolutely spot-on, and blends perfectly with the shivering whole.

Killing Joke – 'Killing Joke' – 2003 - “Asteroid”

2006's 'Hosannas From The Basement Of Hell' was like an evil chimera of all their previous sounds at once – with urban industrial horror, racing punk bloodstreams and catapult-pitched melodic swansong all combining into a whole that just about manages to carry it off. It is essentially the noise passing through the head of a reborn 21st century Jack The Ripper. While not their finest ever, it certainly cemented the clarity that even this late into their career Killing Joke could produce an album that sounded vital, fresh and – crucially – exactly like Killing Joke. Throughout the closing section of the standout title track, Coleman wretchedly roars “I'm not a murderer yet.” The sense of foreboding throughout is palpable.

Killing Joke – 'Hosannas From The Basement Of Hell' – 2006 - “Hosannas From The Basement Of Hell”

Raven's death in 2007 led to a more reflective record with 2010's 'Absolute Dissent'. Perhaps their most varied album to date, and doing an excellent job of stripping back their 21st century sound to an experience that manages to be calmer – dare I say it, mature – while retaining a turbulent heart that carries the same essential message of social revolt and pessimistic despair for our species. 2012's 'MMXII' followed a similar pattern, albeit with a lesser degree of success. Over the long years Killing Joke have proved themselves a fascinating band, seemingly unable to rest on their laurels for long with an unshakeable sense of identity. My primary reason for hoping the end of mankind never arrives is that if it does, this band will have performed their function to completion and will therefore cease to be.

Killing Joke – 'Absolute Dissent' – 2010 - “In Excelsis”

Listen To Whole Load Of Killing Joke On Spotify HERE

Essential Records: Killing Joke (1980), What's THIS For...!, Night Time, Brighter Than A Thousand Suns, Pandemonium, Killing Joke (2003), Absolute Dissent

Feel A Burgeoning Need To Listen To Them Repeatedly? Please Acquire Them With Cold Hard Cash. Downloading Isn't Theft, But It Does Make You A Bit Of A Twat If You Try Then Don't Buy. 

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