Killing Joke: MMXII

It’s the end of the world as we know it. But what a way to go...

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“I can’t see the point contemplating extreme life extinction. It’s nihilism in the absolute even considering it.’’ For a worrying moment – Jaz Coleman’s quote appearing in the PR bumf accompanying Killing Joke’s 14th album – it appears that the apocalypse-enamoured, occult-drenched visionary has (at least relatively) mellowed. Fear not.

A third of the way through epic opener Pole Shift, Coleman steps up from his soft, hypnotic lull to the full-throated, white-eyed howl with such rapidity and aggression the net effect is one of deep unease. However many times the feat is repeated, it always catches you off-guard. It’s a phenomenon that similarly applies to the band at large.

Thirty odd years deep into a remarkable career, one of the most influential yet almost equally maligned bands of the post-punk era find themselves in the form of their lives. The re-formed original line-up (Coleman, Youth, Geordie, Paul Ferguson) now four years in, though always thriving on antagonism and friction, seem more comfortable, more locked-in, building on 2010’s Absolute Dissent with an even more cohesive and polished performance.

All of the band’s key hallmarks seem magnified. The cliff-shearing riffs on Fema Camp (‘‘About the concentration camps they have been building in America’’) coupled with quasi-eastern minor-key guitar figures bring to mind the majesty of 1994’s Pandemonium crossed with the bastard son of Kashmir. In Cythera holds a black mirror up to 80s synth pop and Trance starts all tribal before jumping feet-first into a particularly fierce goose stepping march.

The deceptively simple precision of the rhythm section can’t be overstated enough, driving everything forward with a relentless energy perhaps best heard on Colony Collapse – a loping anthem with guitar-like sequencers, catchy and melodic yet distressed and abrasive: Killing Joke’s essence distilled. Another standout (in an album chock-full) is Rapture – surprisingly enough not about the heaven-bound evangelicals – a metallic mantra referencing (read influencing) Rammstein, Nine Inch Nails and Ministry.

Coleman’s ministrations on political malfeasance, the Age of Aquarius and societal breakdown all filtered through a zealous eco-spirituality may appear business as usual, but even a cursory scan of the news suggests his dark visions have come full circle, and are, like the music, perfectly synced with the times. Thank God it’s Doomsday.

Tim Batcup

Tim Batcup is a writer for Classic Rock magazine and Prog magazine. He's also the owner of Cover To Cover, Swansea's only independent bookshop, and a director of Storyopolis, a free children’s literacy project based at the Volcano Theatre, Swansea. He likes music, books and Crass.