Sunday, April 3, 2022

REVIEW - Killing Joke: Lord of Chaos

Surely, I'm not the only one who's noticed that the growing sense of dread currently felt in certain parts of the world coincides with the release of new Killing Joke music.

Although Killing Joke has been far from prolific in the 30-plus years since its first comeback via 1990’s Extremities, Dirt And Various Repressed Emotions, the band always seems to reappear just as the world takes another bleak turn towards oblivion. Extremities landed mere months into the Gulf War, while 2003’s eponymous album – released after a seven-year hiatus for the group – arrived during the early months of the Iraq War.

Killing Joke is always a cathartic and life-affirming experience. This writer will never forget seeing the band live in Boston less than a week after the Marathon bombings. “We want to be part of your healing!” announced singer Jaz Coleman from the stage during the most blistering Killing Joke set I’ve ever seen. I’m pretty confident that everyone in the club felt the band’s notorious “white heat” that evening. In a city still suffering the aftermath of unfathomable loss, Killing Joke was there – right on time as always – to be a beacon of light amidst the madness.

Now, at a time when people are struggling to exist amidst everything from economic decline to an invisible mass killer, the band’s original quartet – Coleman, guitarist Geordie Walker, bassist Martin “Youth” Glover and drummer Big Paul Ferguson – gift us with its first new music in seven years.

When Killing Joke last appeared on record with 2015’s absolutely molten Pylon, the decades-old band effortlessly shattered any notion that time had diminished its notorious fire. Now, 43 years after the outfit's debut EP, that same unmistakable Killing Joke rage is felt on Lord Of Chaos, a four-song release featuring two new studio tracks and two remixes of past material (and once again packaged in evocative artwork courtesy of longtime collaborator Mike Coles).

At his angriest and most incendiary, Coleman can be a venomous monster at the mic – an unhinged, face-painted opera phantom spewing proclamations of doom with a throaty growl. While he delivers plenty of pre-apocalyptic bile this time around, his greatest moments on the EP come when he showcases the softer feel he first mastered on 1985’s Night Time and 1986’s Brighter Than A Thousand Suns. Musically speaking, the title track finds Killing Joke continuing the overall sonic direction of Pylon – certainly one of the heaviest albums in the band’s discography in spots – while embracing touches of the band’s more melodic moments. (Think Night Time’s “Darkness Before Dawn” meets “Corporate Elect” off 2012’s MMXII.)

This duality is also felt on the EP’s strongest moment, “Total.” Everyone (particularly Geordie, forever Killing Joke not-so-secret weapon) is firing on all cylinders, resulting in the finest four and a half minutes Killing Joke has put on disc since the original lineup reformed in 2008.

The word “remix” often indicates a groan-inducing mixed bag for me. In my long (and, to be honest, often reluctant) experience with the medium, results have ranged from awe-inspiring when the task of reimagining another artist’s song is placed in the right hands (the work of Justin Broadrick and Jim Thirlwell immediately comes to mind) to dead-weight filler when clearly dumped on a release to drag out its runtime. (Let’s think back to most remix EPs released by major Alt-Industrial acts in the ’90s, slap ourselves awake and swiftly move on, shall we?) The dancey “Motorcade Mix” of the Pylon track “Big Buzz” won’t set the world on fire but is fine enough (mainly because the original track’s melody is go damn great), while Youth wraps up the Lord Of Chaos EP with a seven minute-plus Dub interpretation of the Pylon number “Delete.” Look, Youth is Youth – a lovely chap and a master at what he does – and this track is certainly Youth-y. That said, Dub mixes have never really been my bag despite my deep respect for the man’s many talents in this and many other departments. (I probably just need to take in the tune over a good spliff!)

Al Jourgensen of Ministry once joked that his band always makes its best music whenever a Republican is the leader of the free world. Killing Joke always generates its most striking sounds of exorcism and healing whenever mankind descends into darkness. Considering that conflict and struggle are forever intertwined with the human experience, don’t expect these lads to stop showing us a way forward any time soon.