Killing Joke: Brighter Than A Thousand Suns US CD 
- Twilight Of The Mortal
- Love Of The Masses
- A Southern Sky
- Goodbye To The Village
I first encountered Killing Joke in print, in the pages of Trouser Press. They were described as “punk funk” which I could only guess what that meant as I never heard the band playing in any case. It remained until 1984, when, somehow, the video for the single “Eighties” managed to sneak on MTV in the margins. Wow! This was just the kind of aggressive, yet intelligent, guitar-driven rock that I was needing in my musical diet with the passing of Bauhaus from the scene the year earlier. Though I was smitten, to this day have never seen the single in the bins. Ever.
<flash forward two years>
By 1986, MTV had established the 120 Minutes ghetto for music I liked now that the dinosaurs like Bruce Springsteen had taken over MTV proper [at great cost]. I once again met up with Killing Joke when their video for “Sanity” got substantial airplay on 120 Minutes. It was a grower; more subtle. Nowhere as immediate as “Eighties” had been, but after a few plays, it began to work its way under my skin. By that time, I had also made the transition to the CD format the year earlier, so I saw import CDs by Killing Joke though this new album had been domestically released, so I picked it up to see what the story was.
“Adorations” was the opener, and a single that I had seen in the import bins. It had a minor key chord progression hook, but the song flipped polarity to have a major key chorus. Jaz Coleman’s vocals were dignified and melodic here. More accommodating than the snarling “Eighties” had been. The song was carried on the backs of a thunderous rhythm section that was the high end of the mid-80s “big music” brigade. This could, sonically, sit cheek by jowel with a group like Big Country.
The difference here was that while the music had a low-level bombast and was built upon a foundation of European classicism, the emotional tone of Killing Joke was steeped in the kind of European melancholy that spoke to me. The overall tone of the music seemed to be lamentation and disappointment with society. “Sanity” could almost have been a song from U2’s “War” album by the way it sounded, but it reflected a pessimism foreign to the Irish band.
It was when the third song began playing that I knew I had gotten in on the right side of a good thing. “Chessboards” is to this day one of my favorite Killing Joke tracks. Built on a fevered motorik drumbeat, built with widescreen guitars and throbbing bass to gallop over the still smoking ruins of civilization. “Love Of The Masses” was constructed on a foundation of the sort of bass lines that I had depended on Derek Forbes to provide me, but he was gone by 1986. Paul Raven would do more than adequately in that regard.
Amid all of this bluster, “A Southern Sky” gave the album a breather to indulge in some quieter, keyboard-led moments of crystalline beauty. Next came the first of the bonus tracks on the CD version of the album. “Victory” played like a dubfunk buildup that took its sweet time to coalesce into a monster groove of a song. Guitarist Geordie building up repetitive funk riffs until I began to see the “punk funk” discussed years earlier. That a song of this strength was left off of the album proper astounded me then as now.
“Wintergardens” began with almost abstractly bluesy guitar probing alone in the dark before the loping drumbeats and bassfunk brought it back into the familiar fold of the album. Then the coup de grace was delivered. “Rubicon” once again built on motorik drum patterns that built up, and up, and up without release until the song’s cold, albeit, reverberant climax. Then two more bonus tracks added the denouement that capped the album at a healthy 61 minutes.
Killing Joke certainly sounded at their best when they were not rushed. The better songs here were all over the five minute mark, possibly an indication of the role of Krautrock in their influence and development. Clues to the emotional tone of the band were found in the CD booklet, where an Aleister Crowley quote was helpfully reprinted, though the lyrics, referring to “golden dawns” and matters of mortality needed no such embellishment. But this was far less the hippy affectations of early Bowie or the simple decadence of Jimmy Page. This was a band who had a lead singer who freaked out a few years earlier and abandoned Killing Joke for a stint in Iceland, awaiting the apocalypse. What make Killing Joke interesting to me is that they seem to be built on the premise that the ultimate breakdown of civilization may have irrevocably begun and the death throes of society are now already occurring. They posit questions as to how we can possibly survive this with our dignity intact, if nevertheless battered. And you can dance to it.
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