Thursday, January 6, 2011

Killing Joke - Killing Joke

Killing Joke (1980) ***1/2

Killing Joke's debut dishes out some by then standard post-punk elements for a psycho-technological horror show that intersects the junctures of punk, metal, industrial, and goth.  Bassist "Youth" (not his real name) clearly attended the Jean-Jacques Burnel/Peter Hook academy of Stranglers/Joy Division doomy bass lines invading the subconscious.  Guitarist "Geordie" (not his real name) worships at the altar of Tony Iommi, grinding away thick, heavy, keep-it-simple-stupid riffage.  Paul Ferguson tribalistically pounds the skins as if he just get fired from Adam & the Ants or Bow Wow Wow.  Singer Jaz Coleman sounds like....well, a hoarse, pissed-off yob, nothing unique there; he also lays down some texturish synth lines for gloomy technicolor.  Killing Joke's sound is based on extreme repetition, like Sabbath or Kraftwerk (you want a description of this LP in two nutshell influences, there you go), centering around a relentless rhythmic drive, churning robotic metal riffs, shouted yobbo vocals, and a dour, gloom-goth post-punk atmosphere (think The Scream era Siouxsie, and we're through influence-dropping).  It's a pretty great formula, but the album stumbles a bit because it is, indeed, a formula - not much variety here, some slow ones ("Requiem"), some "Symptom of the Universe"-level faster ones ("The Wait"), but the guitar tones and overall band dynamics stay the same.  Which wouldn't be that much of a problem if the songwriting was more consistent: there are only nine songs, and at least a third of'em don't do much for me - the thudding funk of "Change," is way too repetitive with no forward motion;  "$0.36" is a spoken word piece (in German, which I guess is supposed to be Nazi-creepy); "Tomorrow's World" is just a slow drag.  Such inconsistency is par for the course of any Killing Joke album, and they're not exactly a singles outfit tailored for a greatest hits comp, so this is nevertheless probably the best beginning point if you're interested in these harbingers of late-industrial civilizational collapse.  See the cover?  It sums up the cold, grey overtones of this album fairly well:  the crushing inhuman power of technology, danceable bass boogie underneath layers of icy metallized guitar seemingly played by a soul-free robot, with cold wave synthesizers lurking in the shadows.  The songs (when they're good) are certainly anthemic, and even (dare I say it) a tad poppy, too.  Quite influential on later metal and post-punk and industrial bands (the ones that use guitars, at least); too bad the band never made another album quite like this one.

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