Album 13 finds Killing Joke at their distressingly original best.
John Doran 2010-09-21
It’s quite astounding to note that despite recently celebrating the 30th anniversary of their self-titled debut, no one has bothered writing the Killing Joke biography. As rock stories go it takes some beating. Formed in west London at the end of the 1970s and using the forge of punk to meld strands of goth, dub, metal and industrial into a new whole, they were to become one of the most influential rock bands of the last three decades. And one of the most vilified. The chaotic and turbulent affairs of the group’s first incarnation excited people as much as the revolutionary tribal music that they vomited into existence. Like Norwegian black metal outfit Mayhem, they were one of the few extreme groups who actually lived up to their name.
In a self-inflicted haze of occultism and LSD mania, the band celebrated the release of their second album (What’s THIS For...!, 1981) by declaring that Armageddon was imminent before moving to Iceland to sit it out. This was the end of the line for KJ mark one, and temporarily for their bass player Youth, who was sectioned to a psychiatric hospital. Well, it was the end of the line until recently. In 2007 the four original members met at the funeral of long-term Killing Joke bassist Paul Raven and decided to record together again.
To be fair, the band already had a very solid platform to build Absolute Dissent, their 13th album, on. The KJ renaissance began in earnest with their second self-titled album of 2003 (featuring Dave Grohl on drums), and this continues the trend. The trademarks of their sound, the striking vocals of Jaz Coleman and the simultaneously serrated and danceable guitar riffs of Geordie are here, but these are supplemented by the dubbed-out, aqueous bass wobble of Youth and the metronomic drumming of Paul Ferguson. All of which have gelled excitingly and convincingly on some of the most anthemic tracks that they have written, In Excelsis a particular standout.
Coleman especially has never sounded in better form. His voice is an organic monument of terror on the strident Depth Charge, yet sedate and touching on an elegiac The Raven King. Youth, an avowed studio experimenter, has introduced the band to Auto-Tune, which is befitting given their earlier experiments with disco, house and techno. They easily manage to step out from the long shadow cast by their own first two albums on this close-to-genius release. And even though there is a hint of the 1980s (Here Comes the Singularity) here and a touch of Pssyche (Fresh Fever from the Skies) there, this is KJ at their distressingly original best.
- - -