Record Review: Killing Joke

EG Records | US | CD | 1986 | EGCD 57

Killing Joke: Killing Joke US CD [1986]

  1. Requiem
  2. Wardance
  3. Tomorrow’s World
  4. Bloodsport
  5. The Wait
  6. Complications
  7. Change
  8. S.O. 36
  9. Primitive

I joined the Killing Joke party already in progress. Oh, I’d heard of them fairly early on. The December 1981 issue of Trouser Press had a short article on the then new-ish band, describing them a “punk funk” band. That didn’t push any buttons with me, and it remained until seeing the video for “Eighties” until I actually heard their particular sound, which I’d typify as “industrial Kraut-dub” if I had to. I started buying their albums with “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns” and it was on the occasion of a concert by Killing Joke in Orlando, Florida in 1989 that I took it upon myself to buy a few Joke albums that were pre-1984 to “bone up” as it were for the upcoming show. I already had “Night Time,” so I got their 1980 debut and “Fire Dances.”

“Requiem” immediately roped me in with its pulsating synthesizer intro. I learned immediately, that their debut album was all about the rhythm. The methodical and relentless pacing of the song immediately hooked itself into my cranium and the intro has been known to echo in my brain for hours at a time with little to no provocation.

In case the opening track didn’t make it expressly clear, the next song, “Wardance” absolutely did. This was a band that was bending the rigid metal framework of Krautrock in some new and darker directions. Those pounding, martial, yet motorik drums of Paul Ferguson were straight from the Klaus Dinger playbook. You may be aware that we melt before the urgency of Krautrock rhythms here at PPM. But Jaz Coleman’s vocals on the biting “Wardance” were run through a ring modulator, making it sound like a Dalek-led version of Neu! It took a strong vision to imagine this abrasive song as a single, yet it ultimately was.

“Tomorrow’s World” was a bitterly ironic play on the upbeat futurist BBC science program of the late 70s as it was mated to a slow tempo water-torture beat that was more apt for a death march. There might be upbeat energy levels with this band, but their worldview was certainly nothing but downbeat. Things got as upbeat as they dared venture on “Bloodsport.” It’s the closest that KJ come to a night at the disco on this album, as the factory-whistle synth hook of the intro yields to a cod-Moroder synthpulse vibe over the bass and drums. The instrumental then ventured into Glitter-stomp territory by it’s middle eight as a sustained, yet modulated two-chord industrial grinding brought the song to its terminus.

“The Wait” was an immediately urgent flashpoint on side two of the album. The motorik rhythms were right there with those on Ultravox’s “All Stood Still” as it matched the fast tempo of that other band’s apocalyptic song. The Krautrock rush of energy was largely down to the bass and drums here, with Geirdie’s guitar merely supplying more guitar of the grinding wheel variety when it wasn’t doubling on the rhythm.

For many of these songs, Jaz Coleman’s vocals were just another part of the mix. Often treated in dub, but like on “Requiem,” his turn on “Complications” was able to take the center stage for a time again, even as it was treated with touches of dub on the rare medium tempo song here.

The US CD that I have mirrored the US LP of this album in that it included the “Requiem” B-side “Change,” on it. Why a song that strong was relegated to B-side status is one for greater minds than ours to ponder. The track was an exciting dub/rock hybrid that really did sound like another track had been dubbed in the studio to achieve this result. The powerful trance rhythms and the still powerful vocals of Coleman [even though he was usually in dubspace here] really mark this number as being single-worth material. It fell to the rave era when Youth/Spiral Tribe remixes of this song eventually became A-sides.

The ponderous, leaden paced “S.O. 36” was the longest track here. It built up an impenetrable edifice over its nearly seven minute running time, but by the same token, it would have felt right at home on a copy of “Empires + Dance.” It had the same methodical trance DNA.

Killing Joke’s first album was a keeper. It’s a tight 39 minutes, even with “Change” added and there’s no filler as it explores a damaged, apocalyptic worldview of the sort that Ultravox! had been investigating three years earlier on “Ha! Ha! Ha!” In fact, in my mind’s eye, I can see the teenaged Coleman hunkering down with a copy of “Fear In The Western World” playing on his headphones and some magic mushrooms and a few Crowley tomes as he began building his dark worldview in earnest. But what was an outlier for John Foxx became the central thesis for Killing Joke. Has there ever been a band that has consistently accentuated the negative aspects of this fallen world? It says volumes that they got it all sewed up effectively on their very first album in 1980. It’s the kind of album that can play on repeat very effectively when listened to even 37 years later. It’s got nothing to be embarrassed about.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

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6 Responses to Record Review: Killing Joke

  1. Echorich says:

    Killing Joke is one of those album that changes your idea of where music can go to. It certainly had that affect on me. It proved Post Punk didn’t HAVE to be “arty,” or “clever,” but could throw it’s message right up against your face and let you absorb what it has to offer.
    It is the best synthesis of Punk and Krautrock I can think of and it manages to create a new niche by mangling the two in its hybrid results.
    PiL would venture near the edges of this niche with Metal Box/Second Edition, but there is a bit more self indulgent experimentalism that keeps the album from fully committing. Killing Joke is FULLY committed.
    If pressed I come up with The Wait and Change as the two songs on Killing Joke that stand out the most for me. But Requiem, Tommorow’s World and Wardance are really right up there as well. It’s an album that deserves being heard in its entirety.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Bingo! So true on the PiL comment. Killing Joke are committed first and experimental afterward. It makes their message all the more believable.


      • Echorich says:

        Monk – I never put any stock into the whole Rock + Roll-Alistair Crowley connection, mostly because it came from the mind of Jimmy “yawn” Page. But the directness and the apocalyptical message of KJ resonated with this young music obsessed High School student. Coleman didn’t just use Crowley as an affectation or a writing crutch as Page did (you can only right so many Tolkien based Hard Rock songs), he took much of it to heart and related it to his growing obsession over nuclear holocaust, the military/industrial complex and the evils of the First and Second Estates. Obsession and even madness can be the spring of some great creativity Jaz Coleman’s career is a great example.


        • postpunkmonk says:

          Echorich – Well, the liner notes to “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns” feature a Crowley quote. I figured it was there for a good reason.
          crowley quote
          I did think your curt dismissal of Jimmy Page was hilarious, though!


  2. Crowley was also a major influence on young David Bowie, as well, so let’s not dismiss him too hastily. In another weird connection, Page played guitar on a very early (1966) Bowie single!


    • postpunkmonk says:

      The Chasbah – What didn’t Jimmy Page play guitar on in the 60s?! Also, his arcane influence on David Bowie ten years later couldn’t be discounted!! As I recall, Bowie was convinced that Page was trying to destroy him via occult means!


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