Monday, July 12, 2010

Killing Joke: Cruisin' for a Bruisin' (1994)

(As published in the Illinois Entertainer ... )

All right, Generation X-ers, it's like this: way back when Helmet and Tool were giving their grade-school teachers fits and Ministry was just a synth-pop duo, England's Killing Joke was already laboring mightily in the service of the apocalypse with a massive, clanging clamor that reverberated like the screams of the damned inside Lucifer's skull.

Never mind that in 1983 a scribe at Britain's Record Mirror called them "[d]ull, dreary, drab, droning, dowdy dullards."

He was wrong.

Actually, he was part right. Killing Joke were "droning." But dull, dreary, and dowdy? Them's fightin' words, mate! Just ask Jaz Coleman, the Joke's thirty-four-year-old lead singer, lyricist, and all-'round Sinister Presence.

"We're fucking great!" he barks. "You should see us. We kicked people's backsides yesterday hard, until they were bruised."

Coleman, ensconced in an Amsterdam hotel room like the big star he is--especially in Europe--is referring to a seventy-five-minute set Killing Joke recently played outdoors before forty thousand frenzied Belgians. The quartet breathed fire into tracks from their new Zoo album, Pandemonium and, as proof of their stature, were joined on the bill by no less than Elvis Costello and Iggy Pop.

Oh, and INXS.

"But,” says Coleman, “everybody left when they came on."

"We played a blinding concert," he continues. "It went down a storm. The place was just rocking. So we're happy. I'm in my Amsterdam hotel room with Geordie and Youth and friends, and we're having a fucking ball. We've made our mark. We've influenced generations. Who can deny it? Now we're just enjoying it. What are you doing?"

He has a point. Killing Joke has influenced generations, and nowhere is that influence more apparent than on Pandemonium. It‘s the group's tenth album and its first in a dozen years to feature the original lineup: Coleman, the aforementioned Geordie and Youth (on guitar and bass respectively), and Big Paul Ferguson on drums. Far from dreary, drab, and dull, Pandemonium foams at the jowls with state-of-the-art punk-metal throbbings, making it the logical next purchase for those who consider Ministry's Psalm 69 the last word in bedlam.

"It feels like the first album," Coleman says. "It's just the beginning, mate. It's our debut album. You'd better fucking believe it!"

But what, exactly, is it the beginning of?

"It's the beginning of mastery,” says Coleman, “a high level of articulacy. We are going to explode with this particular time in history. This is ours for the fucking taking, mate. I can smell it. The band smells blood."

To get some idea of how Coleman sounds as he's making these pronouncements, imagine the World Wrestling Federation's Undertaker with a British accent. To get some idea of how Coleman sounds when he throws his head back and sings these days, imagine Monstro the Whale after too much chili sauce--a condiment, incidentally, that just might be the one thing Coleman would just as soon praise as his band.

"I'm a bit of a connoisseour of the old fried chili pepper," he digresses. "So is Geordie. There's this mind-blowingly good chili sauce you get in New Zealand"--Coleman's adopted country--"called Kai Taia Fire. It has little flames on the front, like a tabasco sauce bottle, but it shits over tabasco.

“Don't you like refinement in life, the refinement of taste buds, of literature, of music, of everything? I do. I don't feel guilty about any of that shit. I order the most expensive wines, and I never travel economy."

Where were we?

Oh yeah, Pandemonium. The word itself means "demons everywhere," and sure enough, the album's ten songs feature doomy musings like "Extinction seems to be a plausible risk" (“Millennium”), "Globalism and the U.N. neutralized by ethnic cleansing" ("Mathematics of Chaos"), and "Try getting me out / in a transient phase / at the end of an age / running through this maze" ("Labyrinth").

The highlights, however, are the rip-roaring shout-fest "Whiteout" and "Exorcism," the vocal of which not only qualifies as Coleman's most throat-clearingly intense of the album but was also recorded in the King's Chamber of the Great Pyramid in Egypt.

"Bribes," admits Coleman when asked how they booked the session. "We made some connections, and we got away with it. Can you imagine having the whole of the Great Pyramid to yourself, walking up into the King's Chamber through this massive corridor?

“You think about the people who originally built that place and the things that've happened there--it was a mind-blowing experience, a strange, wonderful experience. I just ran free without any written lyrics. The whole thing was like some huge release. We did it there to ritualize that moment in our lives. It was an explosive album. It was just absolute collisions. Pandemonium was the right name for the album. Absolute chaos. Gorgeous chaos."

And throughout it all blasts Coleman's voice.

"My range is a tone higher than it used to be," he declares. "I feel a lot more fucking power in it. Fuck! I can let rip in this room and everybody would put their fingers in their ears. I've got a loud voice, and it's got a nice, high edge to it now. I can let rip, man! Just hammer it hard as fuck."

All of which translates into good news for Killing Joke--and for anyone who’d like to know how it feels to be on the receiving end of a lethal punch line.

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