Monday, September 21, 2009

September 21: Killing Joke, "Killing Joke"

Artist: Killing Joke
Album: Killing Joke
Year: 1980
Label: EG

Across a number of genres, the number of bands that employ a certain sound as become so common, that is is cliché. However, even within these genres, there was a point when the sound was new, and one must take these early albums as truly groundbreaking, even though they may not seem as significant in the modern light. Though placing startling vocals over bleak soundscapes had already been toyed with by bands like Joy Division, there was nobody who had yet made music that sounded quite like that of U.K. post-punk pioneers, Killing Joke. Using sharp, distorted synthesizer rhythms with rich, open instrumentations, the sound of Killing Joke has influenced countless bands who came in their wake, from Type O Negative to Faith No More to Nine Inch Nails. The fact that, even with this wide reaching influence, the band remains relatively unknown is largely due to the fact that the music is so unique that it really cannot be classified into any already existing genre. Part experimental noise-rock, part post-punk minimalism, part heavy metal, and all glossed over with what can only be called a strange pop sensibility, there is truly no other band ever that sounds quite like Killing Joke. Pulling off one of the most difficult tasks and releasing an amazingly original debut record without a bad note anywhere, Killing Joke's 1980 self-titled album is by far one of the most extraordinary recordings ever made, and every music fan is sure to find some aspect of the album that quickly makes it a favorite.

Truth be told, it is very difficult to find ANY band that plays any form of louder/heavier music after their debut that did not, in some way, borrow from their sound. The songs found on Killing Joke range from the heavy metal-esque sounds of "The Wait" to more pop-inspired, strangely danceable tunes like "Primitive." The group also dives into deep, dark, lulling numbers such as "Tomorrow's World," that clearly set the stage for what would become the "goth" genre. It is due to this diversity in sound that makes Killing Joke such an amazing album, and the talent within the band is undeniable, as they perfectly execute every sound and style. The wide range of influence that Killing Joke has had across the musical spectrum can be seen in two extremely notably covers that have occurred over the years. If one finds a copy of the 1997 Foo Fighters single for "Everlong," the b-side is, in fact, the Foo's version of "Requiem." (Note: there are two different versions of the "Everlong" single, the other has a cover of the Vanity6 song, "Drive Me Wild" as the b-side.) A decade earlier, in 1987, Metallica covered the song, "The Wait" on their own The $5.98 E.P.: Garage Days Re-Revisited and it also appeared on the 1988 re-release of the EP, Garage, Inc. While these are two of the most obvious tributes paid by later artists, after experiencing Killing Joke, one can hear their influence throughout a countless number of other bands that followed their time. The work of every band member is nothing short of perfect, and the way in which they interact with one another is the true brilliance of the band.

The music found throughout Killing Joke is consistently as enjoyable as it is original. Though the band has gone through a number of lineup changes over the years, this is the musical grouping that shows the finest combination of the band that ever existed. As one of the original members of the band, and one of two who have been in every lineup, the playing of guitarist Kevin "Geordie" Walker is easily one of the most amazing aspects on the record. Playing with a style and distortion that is often almost hypnotic, Walker manages to find a strange balance between making his guitar sound extremely aggressive, yet it simultaneously has a captivating lull. Easily one of the greatest bassist of his generation, Martin "Youth" Glover may be better known for his work with Paul McCartney as part of the experimental electronic group, The Firemen. However, Glover's playing on Killing Joke is absolutely phenomenal, as he brings a groove and funk feeling that is noticeably missing from the rest of the groups' catalog. Glover's presence is perhaps no more clear than on the song, "Change," which was not included on U.K. release of the album. Drummer Paul Ferguson is similarly as stunning as his bandmates, and his perfectly spaced, often lightning fast beats often almost sound as if it is a drum machine playing. His ability to shine, regardless of the song texture is one of the key aspects that makes Killing Joke so extraordinary, and also provides the often unsettling sense of urgency within the songs. The lineup of Killing Joke found on their self-titled debut is unquestionably the best the band ever was, and after more than twenty-five years apart, this grouping re-assembled for a number of shows in 2008.

Rounding out the group, and providing keyboard playing as well as a majority of vocal duties is band founder, and the other member who has been in every lineup, Jeremy "Jaz" Coleman. Easily one of the most unique and recognizable voices in music history, Coleman perfected the "detached and dejected" sound long before the term "goth" was ever related to music. Singing with a desperate, yet completely captivating sound, there has never been another singer with the stunning sound and style of Coleman. Though they are often caught up in, if not slightly lost within the musical mastery around them, the lyrics that Coleman presents are just as fantastic as the manner in which they are delivered. From the dark, somber anti-war cries of "Wardance" to the deep questioning "Change" to the almost apocalyptic feel of "The Wait," Killing Joke presents a thematic range that was truly unrivaled in its day. Aside from his work within Killing Joke, Coleman is also known for his orchestral arrangements, and was the force behind two very successful collaborations with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The two releases, Us and Them: Symphonic Pink Floyd and Kashmir: Symphonic Led Zeppelin were both arranged by Coleman, and he also devotes a great deal of time to working with young orchestral musicians all over the world. Standing today as one of the most influential and overall talented frontmen in the history of music, Jaz Coleman continues to push the envelope on what can be done musically, and his unparalleled voice continues to make him one of the most distinctive singers in the world.

Pulsing keyboards, crunching guitars, and a rich, open sound make the sound of Killing Joke appeal to a wide range of musical audiences. However, when one examines the album within its own time frame, it is truly stunning as there was little else that had even come close to the albums' sound. The brilliant rhythms created by bassist Martin Glover and drummer Paul Ferguson are punctuated by the keyboard playing of frontman Jaz Coleman, and the overall sound created is nothing short of phenomenal. The overlain guitar of Geordie Walker presents the perfect contrast, and the overall sound of Killing Joke is one of the greatest musical forms ever captured. Finding the balance between their dark, somber, often haunting tones and a strangely-pop appeal, the music of Killing Joke can be seen as a massive influence on bands like The Misfits and nearly every "prog rock" band from Helmet to Ministry. At times sounding like a wild combination of Public Image Ltd., The Fall, and The Birthday Party, there has truly never been another band with a sound quite like Killing Joke, yet they remain tragically under-credited bands in the entire history of music. There is not a bad note anywhere on the album, and the wide range of styles presented ensures that every music fan will find something they enjoy within the forty minutes that is Killing Joke's monumental and magnificent 1980 self-titled debut record.

Standout tracks: "Requiem," "Wardance," and "The Wait."

1 comment:

addy said...

Surprised you did not mention democracy.. Politically charged mindfuck of noise/distortion and tempo that is unlike any other song I have EVER heard...