Killing Joke: Absolute Dissent

Man the battlements, the original post-punk agitators are back. And they’re still inflamed...

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It’s an inescapable fact of life that nothing reunites people quite like a tragedy. In Killing Joke’s case it took the funeral of bassist Paul Raven – who died of a heart attack in October 2007 – to reconcile frontman Jaz Coleman with drummer Paul Ferguson for the first time in two decades.

With guitarist Geordie Walker and bassist/go-to-producer Martin ‘Youth’ Glover aboard, the result was a full-scale pow-wow of the band’s original line-up. It all went so swimmingly they ended up doing a world tour. Better still, there was not-so-hushed talk of a new studio album.

You could forgive Absolute Dissent for being a little shaky, perhaps tentative, in parts. This incarnation of Killing Joke, lest we forget, hasn’t made an album together since 1982’s Revelations. But one listen is enough to blow away any lingering doubts. Age and time, if anything, have sharpened their zeal rather than blunted it. Quaking rhythms shudder forth from the speakers, driven on by vast balls of hi-density noise and, as on Fresh Fever From The Skies and This World Hell, vocals that are best barked rather than merely sung.

There’s little doubt too where their sympathies still lie. The album serves as a poisonous commentary on political corruption, greed and disempowerment. ‘Liberty is there to protect/The glorious pursuit of happiness’ roars Coleman on the semi-ironic, two-chords-and-the-truth chug of In Excelsis. At times, it’s almost as if the band are intent on curing the world’s ills by simply pounding them into submission. Or, as with _End Game _(with its distant echo of 1983’s Wilful Days), at least have a right-old shindig before the apocalypse gets here.

It’s not just a blitzkrieg though. As with all great Killing Jokery, there’s craft and canniness too. The meditative The Raven King acts not just as requiem for their bassist, but as a re-entrenchment of their common beliefs: ‘Let flags of black and red unfurl/Echoes of distant laughter/Confederation of the dispossessed/ Fearing neither God nor master’. All for one, all for all.

And while this band aren’t readily prone to wistful nostalgia, a rare concession is Ghosts Of Ladbroke Grove, Youth’s dubby bass and Ferguson’s skanky beat the closest they come to the post-punk reggae party of their early days. It’s a genuinely moving moment as they bemoan the loss of their once free-spirited old haunt to corporate bankers and wankers. 30-plus years on, to hear a band this vital, this inflamed, is food for mind and soul.

Rob Hughes

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2008, and sister title Prog since its inception in 2009. Regular contributor to Uncut magazine for over 20 years. Other clients include Word magazine, Record Collector, The Guardian, Sunday Times, The Telegraph and When Saturday Comes. Alongside Marc Riley, co-presenter of long-running A-Z Of David Bowie podcast. Also appears twice a week on Riley’s BBC6 radio show, rifling through old copies of the NME and Melody Maker in the Parallel Universe slot. Designed Aston Villa’s kit during a previous life as a sportswear designer. Geezer Butler told him he loved the all-black away strip.