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Killing Joke: MMXII

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

“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.