The definitive soundtrack to the end of the world
I’ve been a follower of Killing Joke’s music for many years and consider myself a fan of the U.K. outfit but, while I’ve enjoyed a great many of their albums, not everything the band has emerged with in their 30 plus years together has been first class. Although regarded as highly influential and the founding fathers of the industrial and post-punk movement, Killing Joke’s vast body of recorded work (which amounts to 14 studio albums) has at times been inspired and the work of pure genius – and at other times patchy, downright confused and inconsistent.
One album from the group’s more recent output that failed to live up to my expectations was the band’s last full-length release Absolute Dissent from 2010. I couldn’t help but feel most of the album’s high praise was merely because it marked the return of the original line-up in 27 years (or in other words, since 1983’s Fire Dances). Although the album was O.K., I personally thought 2006’s Hosannas from the Basements of Hell was a far stronger and more consistent album – even without the original line-up of the band.
Two years after the release of Absolute Dissent, Killing Joke (vocalist/keyboardist Jaz Coleman, guitarist Kevin ‘Geordie’ Walker, bassist/keyboardist Martin ‘Youth’ Glover and drummer Paul Ferguson) are back with a rather quick follow-up with MMXII and, as far as I’m concerned, this album marks the real return of the original Killing Joke.
Killing Joke open up their new opus with Pole Shift, which is a surprisingly low key start to proceedings with Coleman’s dark and brooding atmospherics on the keyboards and his melodic clean vocals giving the impression that the band had taken a step back in time when keyboards were a dominant factor in the band’s sound (around the time of 1985’s Night Time and 1986’s Brighter Than a Thousand Suns). But soon enough, the song makes way for a thunderous chorus that has the band seamlessly blending Walker’s trademark cascading wall of guitar sound work with Coleman’s equally dense keyboard sound, and Coleman utilising his aggressive screams to emphasise the extremity of power Killing Joke can unleash when they put their mind to it. The ebb and flow of the haunting melodic passages and all out raging moments are masterfully executed, and highlight a confidence within the band that was absent on their last release.
The slow burning riffs and subtle tribal percussion of the follow-on track Fema Camp recalls the band’s glorious Pandemonium (1994) era with its raw sound and its menacing tempo, while Rapture is an intense mix of churning riffs, pulsating keyboards and simplistic choruses that combine to make the band’s trademark industrialised sound and brings to mind former Killing Joke classics such as Communion (From Pandemonium) and Asteroid (2003’s Killing Joke).
Colony Collapse, much like Rapture, is a catchy and an immediately identifiable industrialised Killing Joke effort with its heavy keyboard presence and great vocal performances from Coleman, while the album’s first single In Cythera is a deliberate throwback to the band’s dark alternative/pop direction and sound of the past (I’m thinking Adorations from 1986’s Brighter Than a Thousand Suns).
Corporate Elect reveals a bit of a punk edge with its upfront raw guitar heaviness and energetic chorus, while Glitch could have easily slotted onto Hosannas From The Basements Of Hell with its impenetrable thick wall of sound and Coleman proclaiming the impending collapse of the world as we know it.
Trance is a bit of an oddity on the album with its heavy bass driven sound (but not completely left of field for Killing Joke as there’s more than a nod to their Pssyche, the b-side to their 1980 single Wardance), but a solid track nonetheless, while Primobile is classic Killing Joke with its underpinning darker vibes, superb move from lighter/heavier passages and infectious chorus.
Finishing up the album is On All Hallow’s Eve, which is one of the few optimistic and introspective numbers on the album (Despite its melancholic mood and feel), and a fitting way to finish the album.
After a lengthy period apart, the original line-up of Killing Joke finally came back together, and recorded Absolute Dissent. While the album had its fair share of good moments, it sounded more like a transitional album at best, and not the full-fledged return of the original Killing Joke that most claimed it to be. But with MMXII, Killing Joke appear to be on the same page, with the album sounding more focused, thought out and more importantly, although still varied over its ten tracks, all of the songs on MMXII seem to tie in with each other in terms of sound and structure – which gives the album a consistency and unity that was sorely lacking on their former release.
I’m not about to say that MMXII is Killing Joke’s finest moment on record, but I will go as far as to say that it easily ranks amongst some of the band’s most critically acclaimed efforts – and that it will stand as one of the best albums to emerge from 2012.
(Spinefarm Records/Universal Music Australia)