More like a post-punk warrior cult than a band, Killing Joke have been casting potent musical spells for nearly four decades. Pylon, the veteran quartet’s 16th album, is vintage Joke with its jagged guitar riffs, tribal drums and fiery prophecies of impending global disaster.
But as their hyper-intense frontman Jaz Coleman explains, these cathartic doom anthems have been his salvation.
“Without the therapeutic quality of Killing Joke for personalities like ours, we could have easily become criminals or murderers,” says the 55-year-old shamanic street preacher. “Killing Joke is an effective surrogate for the war impulse, especially in young males. Ultimately I think it’s a force for good, and that’s what’s kept me going over the years. I really do believe in the therapeutic benefits of violent art forms.”
Killing Joke’s classic late-70s line-up of Coleman, bassist Youth, guitarist ‘Geordie’ Walker and drummer Paul Ferguson reunited in 2008 and are still together seven years later. The old gang, with all the same tensions.
“When people disagree in Killing Joke,” says Coleman, “they are vitriolic, as usual. I guess that’s what makes the chemistry, the clash of personalities. But generally speaking we are a lot more understanding with each other than we were in our twenties. We get on pretty well on the tour bus.”
Coleman famously fled to Iceland in 1982, fearing imminent atomic global catastrophe, before making his home on an island off nuclear-free New Zealand. He continues to shun mobile phones and the internet for fear of being sucked into the Matrix. He is not on Facebook or Twitter. “I attract my fair share of psychos already,” he explains. “What’s left of my private life I guard passionately.”
Pylon is loaded with dystopian imagery of surveillance, plague, war and social collapse. Coleman has been predicting the end times in his lyrics for decades. Surely he’s disappointed that the apocalypse seems to be running late?
“No, I’m delighted,” he says, laughing. “I really don’t want it to happen! But there is a pattern forming, and we mention it on the new album in the song New Cold War. We are back in the Cold War now, with Obama and Putin putting troops in Syria. I’m continually reminded of our first album, funnily enough; the oppressive atmosphere then, when we thought we probably didn’t have long to live so let’s live really hard. It’s like being back in that era, but without the partying.”
Speaking of partying, Coleman gave up alcohol eight years ago and insists it saved his life.
“My cholesterol was off the fucking graph,” he says. “Apart from that I scared the fucking living daylights out of everyone. I had three very nasty fights with Geordie in the last year of my drinking. Things have been pretty peaceful since then. I used to think it would be terrible without booze – you’re never going to party again. Of course it’s bullshit. You can party even better, you just don’t talk as much shit.”
A globetrotting musical Renaissance man, Coleman maintains a “schizoid existence” nowadays. In his long-standing sideline as a classical composer and conductor, he has adapted the music of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and The Doors into orchestral symphonies. He recently did the same for Nirvana, one of many bands strongly influenced by Killing Joke. The Nirvana Dialogues is a “mass requiem for Kurt Cobain”. It’s due for release next spring. “That and Pylon were the two transcendental moments of my year,” Coleman says. He is now planning another mass based on Killing Joke’s music.
Meanwhile, the four hoarse men of the post-punk apocalypse continue on their relentless forward gallop, with around 200 dates lined up for the year ahead and new album sessions already planned for next year.
“I know we can outdo Pylon,” Coleman insists. “We are committed to being as prolific as we were when we first started. It’s not a comeback for me. We never went away.”