Album: Night Time
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Though there are many, there are few things more difficult in music than to be truly ahead of your time. While an overwhelming majority of artists alter their sound in some way to be more appealing to the current music scene, those performers that stick to their sound, regardless of the reaction, are almost always those that become legends. In the case of "being ahead of your time," it is something that can take decades to be fully realized, and even at that later point, some bands still do not receive all of the credit that they deserve. This is exactly the case when one considers the entire career of hardcore-post punk-new wave-heavy metal pioneers, Killing Joke. Quite simply, it is impossible to categorize their sound under any single genre, and one can hear their influence quite clearly across the following decades of popular music. The way in which the band was able to fuse together a heavier, more aggressive musical approach with a dark mood, yet unquestionably danceable sound makes them amazingly unique, and there are few records that are on par with their monumental 1980 self-titled debut. Yet if one wants to clearly understand just how influential they were as a band, it is all over their 1985 album, Night Time, and few songs are as musically brilliant or obviously crucial to the development of music than Killing Joke's, "Eighties."
From the moment that "Eighties" begins, a number of things become instantly clear, yet the most obvious may be the bassline being played by Paul Raven. The combination of sonic distortion and the aggressive feeling here sets the perfect stage for the song, and yet most listeners will immediately hear the progression to a later, chart-topping hit. Once one hears "Eighties," it is impossible to deny that Nirvana did anything but completely steal this progression note for note on their song, "Come As You Are," and simply slow it down, making it less musically appealing. This in itself is the direct link from Killing Joke's sound to the so-called "grunge" movement, and yet after hearing "Eighties," it is quite clear that Killing Joke did it both first, as well as better. The bassline is complimented by the stiff, dry drumming from Paul Ferguson, as well as a slightly higher, more distorted guitar from Kevin "Geordie" Walker. Adding in synthesizer work from Jaz Coleman, and "Eighties" simply sounds like nothing else ever recorded, as the music is unquestionably aggressive, and yet one cannot deny the oddly danceable mood created by the band. It is this unique ability to bridge these two sounds that makes Killing Joke so significant, and the way in which the songs retain an almost punk feel, yet are more musically full and complex than their peers in those fields is what pushes them into a category all their own.
Providing the perfect finishing touch to the song, it is on "Eighties" that one can hear Jaz Coleman making his final transition from the more scream-based vocal approach of their early records to the more formal singing that he would display from this point forward. Retaining the powerful and heavily emotive approach that defined the band throughout their career, Coleman is absolutely mesmerizing on "Eighties," as the song takes on a chanting feel that seems to beg for the listener to join in with an almost "call and response" style. Though he is just as angst-ridden and critical as ever, there is something strangely accessible about Coleman's performance here, and it is this aspect that shows another way in which Killing Joke were able to find a way to make more aggressive music more appealing to a wider range of music fans. Leaving little to the imagination, throughout "Eighties," Coleman is on an all out attack against the society in which he feels trapped, and this is most clear when he sings, "...eighties, I have to push, I have to struggle...eighties, get out of my way, I'm not for sale no more..." The way in which the song is positioned in complete opposition to what was becoming a quickly accepted "life of excess" approach embodies the bands' punk roots, and it would be this sound and stance that would fuel the rise of "alternative rock" as the 1980's began to come to an end.
For a large number of reasons, one can easily make the case that Killing Joke were one of the most important bands of the entire music scene of the 1980's. However, they are rarely given such credit, and yet once one hears songs like "Eighties," it is almost impossible to argue otherwise. The way in which they were able to take the angst-ridden, stripped down sound of punk rock and hardcore, and inject into it a distinctive sonic beauty is truly like nothing else ever recorded. Furthermore, the fact that the music retains a groove and beat that is danceable in its own way places them far apart from any of their peers. Adding in the final element of the sharp, often insightful and revealing lyrics, and there are few other bands from any point in history that have been able to boast as complete a musical package. The way in which one can hear the bands' progression as musicians over their first few records is also an amazing experience, and one can easily see their 1985 album, Night Time, as the culmination of their efforts. To put it simply, if one takes a song like "Eighties," slows it down, pulls out the synthesizer, and turns the vocals to screaming, what one is left with is in fact the entire "grunge" sound that was seen as "new" throughout the early 1990's. It is this fact that serves as the final evidence in the massive influence and importance that Killing Joke played on nearly every style that formed in their wake, and one can hear how brilliant a band they were in their superb 1985 single, "Eighties."