December 9, 2013 KILLING JOKE – MMXII (Album Review)
They’ve influenced everybody from Napalm Death to Metallica, and Nine Inch Nails to the Foo Fighters. They’ve been called synth-pop, danceable doom, quasi-metal, and alternative rock. Killing Joke formed in the late ‘70’s in Notting Hill, London, England at the behest of founding members Jeremy “Jaz” Coleman and guitarist Kevin “Geordie” Walker. The great Lemmy Kilmister once sang, “We’re the ones you heard of but you never heard.” Although he was referring to his own Motorhead, the same idea could be applied to Killing Joke. Seldom enjoying commercial support or airplay, their industrial post punk stomp has nevertheless shaped a generation of multi-platinum musicians.
An artistic expression of society’s decay, their music is punctuated by Coleman’s unforgettable vocals. His robust bellow, like the drone of a falling neutron bomb, is an instrument in its own right. Far from one dimensional, Coleman can sing as well as scream, and often does so to wondrous effect. There really is no other band like Killing Joke. Their current line-up is an echo of their early days, with bassist Martin “Youth” Glover and drummer Paul Ferguson joining Coleman and Walker like it was 1978 all over again. Keyboardist Reza Uhdin, a part of Killing Joke since 2005, rounds things out.
The aptly titled MMXII, released on Spinefarm Records last year, is Killing Joke’s 15th studio album. Between 1996 and 2003, the band released no new material, but each release since then has seen them becoming more energized, invigorated, and scathingly edgy. MMXII continues the plot line. The album’s ten tracks are fraught with dystopian angst, their themes of paranoia and systemic collapse reflected in the grim album art adorning the sleeve. Opener “Pole Shift” starts out with one high-pitched synth note, a lower note pulsing behind it, immediately raising the tension. The song begins slowly, remaining deceptively pleasant, as Coleman serenades us with tales of transcendence through disaster. He assures us it’s all happened before and will happen again. At 2:30 the bottom drops out and the track speeds off, taking us helplessly along with it. “FEMA Camp” paints a grim portrait of life after collapse to a slow looping riff and echoing, haunting vocals. “Rapture”, an industrial stomper and an album highlight, speaks of casting off material constraints and rising to the next level of existence; but doing so not with the delusion of man-made religions. Rather, Coleman extols the “rapture” one might get from experiencing music in the live setting. The front man’s one-word chorus is masterfully done on this track. “Colony Collapse” is a mid-paced rocker with great hooks, warning us of the danger posed by nano-technology and the unfettered viral advances of artificial intelligence. “Corporate Elect” speeds things up again, the punk in KJ’s post-punk oeuvre coming right to the front like an up-thrust sign at a protest, or a fist in the face of the system. The chorus “it’s an A.D.D. generation, everyone accepts – the reintroduction of slavery, by corporate elect” arguably contains the most succinct, relevant lyrics sung on any album of the past two years. “In Cythera” switches the gears once more, taking us on a new-wave trajectory reminiscent of Killing Joke’s mid-eighties period. Harking back to French classical painter Antoine Watteau’s masterwork “Pilgrimage to Cythera”, the song injects a personal note to the album. Coleman uses the utopian setting of the painting to thank those who have helped him through the dark times in his life. “Primobile” keeps things calm and wistful, before “Glitch” punches us in the face, its build-up riffs and grating vocals reminding us that the sun we love so much could at any moment belch forth ionic super storms and completely destroy our way of life. Not too comforting, but with synth swells and a killer beat, this album highlight is sure to please. “Trance (In The Fields of Light)” features a danceable beat with great bass work, our feet moving while we contemplate our existential origins. Lastly, “On All Hallow’s Eve” brings affairs to a close in an almost ambient fashion, a slower romp speaking of rebirth and transcendence, showing us there may just be a glimmer of hope beyond the gray petrol clouds of humanity’s demise. MMXII is a triumph, melding intellect and music into a compelling burst of raw energy and sublime emotion. CrypticRock gives this album 5 out of 5 stars.
Written by Nicholas Franco