Since their formation in 1979 London's post-punk pioneers Killing Joke have established themselves as one of the finest cult acts this country has ever produced.
They’ve evolved from their early gritty punk and dub mash up, to touch on industrial metal, goth melodrama, slick new wave pop and much, much more over their time together, in the process inspiring everyone from Metallica to Nirvana to LCD Soundsystem.
It’s been a wild ride - to our knowledge, no other band fled to Iceland during the '80s in the hope of escaping the apocalypse - but, the band's current line-up is the same as the 'classic' line-up they began with, namely Geordie Walker on guitar, Youth on bass, 'Big' Paul Ferguson on drums and Jaz Coleman on vocals. And remarkably, perhaps uniquely, they sound as fearsome now as they did 40 years ago.
Here's Killing Joke's back catalogue re-reviewed, rated and ranked.
15. Outside The Gate (1988)
The only Killing Joke album that doesn’t really sound like Killing Joke, Outside the Gate is the kind of album that could be seen as a nostalgic little time capsule of the kind of slick '80s pop that conjures up images of neon lights and rolled up sleeve jackets if it had been released by anyone else.
But Killing Joke have so much material that has aged brilliantly, so many albums that stand up to scrutiny today, that the OTT, overly emoting synth pop on display here is lacking in comparison. Outside the Gate isn’t terrible, it’s just a bit odd, thin, cheesy and throwaway in such a fantastic back catalogue.
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14. Brighter Than A Thousand Suns (1986)
Certainly not as glaring a 'WTF?' as Outside the Gate, Brighter Than A Thousand Suns is arguably an even less interesting artefact in the Killing Joke vaults just by being, you know, a little bit dull.
This album avoids taking the wooden spoon purely thanks to the inclusion of the excellent Wintergardens, which really shows up how uninspired Killing Joke sound throughout the rest of the record. The more melodic era of the band, which produced some classic material, plateaued here.
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13. Fire Dances (1983)
Killing Joke would quite drastically change their sound in the aftermath of this, their fourth album, and listening to Fire Dances it feels like a necessary change. You can tell here that the formula they had been leaning on heavily in the early part of the career was starting to creek a bit.
Opener The Gathering has become iconic, and the strut of Dominator is cool, but Paul Raven's first album with the band is a very one-dimensional record from a group who are capable of so much better.
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12. Hosannas from the Basement of Hell (2006)
Within two years of the release of Killing Joke’s 12th studio album, the original line-up of the band would be back together. The passing of bassist Paul Raven in 2007 would inspire the reunion, and it’s a shame that the last album he played on would be such an average affair.
Hosannas... is without doubt one of the heaviest KJ albums, and opening song This Tribal Antidote is a brilliantly crushing way to start a record, but it soon becomes exhausting, largely due to it being fairly one paced.
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11. MMXII (2012)
Two years’ prior, the reunited original line-up of Killing Joke had released one of their finest albums. They couldn’t follow it up with anything as essential though.
MMXII is thematically heavy, with Jaz Coleman musing on the paranoia inspired by the prospect of the end of the world, and opener Pole Shift is an 8-minute plus epic that ranges from deep synth dub to raucous thrash riffing. But, overall, the songs that made Absolute Dissent such a success were replaced with a fair bit of bluster, and nothing truly memorable or dynamic enough to live up to its predecessor.
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10. Revelations (1982)
This is where it starts getting difficult. Revelations is placed this low not because it is a bad record, but more due to the fact that the rest of Killing Joke’s albums are all very good indeed, and the quartet's third long-player is ultimately more of the same as we’d had before.
There are a few absolute ragers here in the shape of the singles Empire Song and Chop Chop, surely one of their weirdest ever singles, and nothing present is bad. But it was starting to feel like Killing Joke had nailed their sound and were becoming slightly too comfortable with it.
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9. Democracy (1996)
Slated at the time, Democracy really deserves to be re-evaluated. It’s an odd album, and certainly, considering the UK was at the height of its Brit-pop obsession, its dense, weird, warped grooves were totally out of step with the zeitgeist of the time.
But even though it wouldn’t be considered one of Killing Joke’s finest moments, the stomping opener Savage Freedom, the eight-minute death disco of Aeon and the psychedelic chaos of Prozac People all sound unique, and uniquely excellent, all these years later.
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8. Extremities, Dirt and Various Repressed Emotions (1990)
With former PiL/Ministry drummer Martin Atkins powering the group from the back, Extremities, Dirt and Various Repressed Emotions is an incredibly important album in the Killing Joke discography that rarely gets the credit it deserves.
Yes, it's rather low on this list, but it may well be one of the band's most important releases, as they ditched the lightweight synth pop sound of the late '80’s and adopted the apocalyptically angry sound of industrial metal. You can hear the influence of Ministry on songs such as the scathing Money is Not Our God and Intravenous, and they sound great.
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7. What’s THIS For...! (1981)
Having to follow a truly classic debut album is a challenge for any band. And while What’s THIS For...! undeniably falls short of Killing Joke's startling debut, there are some incredible post-punk songs here. For proof, just check out the opening one-two of The Fall of Because, with its tag-teaming guitar and drum attack, and Tension, which, with its marching drum beat and popping dub bass, would be in the very highest echelons of a list of the band's greatest ever songs.
Not everything here scales the same heights, but the likes of Follow The Leaders and Butcher play their part in making this a worthy follow-up to a great debut.
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6. Pylon (2015)
The most recent Killing Joke album, Pylon got far closer to recapturing former glories than 2012’s MMXII did. There is all manner of harsh, white noise all over Pylon, but the hooks that make Killing Joke soar were back in spades.
Opener Autonomous Zone is a pounding, driving banger, New Cold War is packed full of evil, grinding dread, Euphoria is a beautiful, dreamy pop song covered in filth and Big Buzz is as close to an arena rock song as they have ever managed. This deep into their career, for Killing Joke to release a record this good is a phenomenal achievement.
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5. Killing Joke (2003)
The Dave Grohl one. After 7 years of inactivity, Killing Joke returned with everyone’s favourite Foo Fighter, a long-time fan, plonking his bottom onto their drum stool. The result is one of the most urgent-sounding albums of the band's career, with Grohl’s instantly identifiable style driving the riffs of Geordie Walker in a thrilling way. Just listen to the garage squeal of Blood on Your Hands for evidence.
The inclusion of songwriting credits from Gang of Four’s Andy Gill, alongside Grohl’s contribution, make this the most singular sounding Killing Joke record. The two men helped nudge the Londoners into garage rock territory, which is something you never knew you needed, but you really do. A true one off.
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4. Pandemonium (1994)
At a time where Ministry, Fear Factory and Nine Inch Nails were considered the cutting edge of heavy music, Killing Joke proved that they were more than capable of keeping up with the industrial metal heavyweights.
Pandemonium is a very, very, '90’s sounding album, but you cannot argue with the grinding, pounding beats that the band produce here, and the fantastically deranged performance by Jaz Coleman, who barks and coughs his way through Exorcism, delivers a shamanic warble on the excellent Black Moon and even adds some much-needed melody to the haunting Pleasures of the Flesh.
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3. Night Time (1985)
The one featuring the biggest hit of their career, the fantastically swooping Love Like Blood, but there is plenty more thrills to discover on Night Time. The juddering title track has an evil Depeche Mode vibe to it, the sleazy glam goth of Kings and Queens is instantly danceable, and the riff to Eighties is so good that it ended up being stolen by Nirvana for Come As You Are.
The main reason that Night Time sits so high in this list is that it is the first time Killing Joke really managed to tame their sound enough to fill it with real pop nous, without losing any of the existential dread that defines them.
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2. Absolute Dissent (2010)
The band's first album with the original line up for 28 years is an incredible return to form. Killing Joke had been on decent form before the return of Youth, but the bassist's return seemed to revitalise everyone involved in the band, leading to this superb record.
The title track is as heavy as anything they had ever done, but the amazingly catchy synth throb of lead single European Super State and the beautiful dub lament of Ghost of Ladbrook Grove show that Killing Joke had remembered that their greatest strength lies in the depth and dexterity of their music. One of rock's finest comebacks.
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1. Killing Joke (1980)
Not just Killing Joke’s best album, one of the best debut albums ever made, and one of the most definitively British records of all time.
The smoggy, industrialised, Thatcherite United Kingdom is perfectly captured in sonic form here; angry, claustrophobic, raw and uncomfortable, Killing Joke seemed to ingest the restless feeling of the working class and turn it into a new and threatening musical style.
Thanks to Metallica, The Wait might be the most famous song on the album (although their version pale in comparison to the original), but every track on Killing Joke throbs and seethes in a wonderful way. Change, Wardance, Requiem, Bloodsport, all are essential listening for any fan of thought provoking, heavy alternative sounds.
An undeniable classic.
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