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Killing Joke

Absolute Dissent

Review by Bruce Stringer

This CD actually made me do some really involved research. Not for this review, but for my own understanding of what the Killing Joke of 2010 are actually on about. Some stuff I already had some knowledge of (i.e. food additives, dangers of immunization, chem-trails, etc) but there were other things that I simply didn’t know about (the Black Isis, Baboeuf and Saint-Just). Therefore, it’s no wonder this band has a way of getting into your head! Although much of the album could fall into a lighter metal territory there is still a smack of punk and pounding tribal rock running through its veins. As always, Jaz Coleman’s lyrics are cutting edge and way ahead of their time, and Geordie Walker maintains the original anti-hero guitarist status – for which his exquisite guitar playing has earned the respect of fans and technicians worldwide. After the sudden passing of bass player Paul Vincent Raven in 2007, the band have re-shuffled to realize a reunion of sorts and have included (once more) the talents of Youth on bass and Big Paul Ferguson on drums, returning after one of the band’s atypical confrontations. Although Killing Joke may not be as famous for their cover artwork as their recorded material many of the band’s sleeves include highly conceptualized ideas and seem to go unnoticed by the general public. Absolute Dissent has managed to encapsulate a number of Christiandom’s modern heresies, in particular the fatalistic attitude behind the indifference of the current (and future) depopulation of the world, the enabling of the utilization of religious iconography for financial and material gains, and the self-parody within modern acceptances of taste.  It’s heavy stuff, I know!

There is something almost primal and tribal about Killing Joke’s output and this is no different – at times disturbing and anarchic, yet familiar on an instinctual level. There are some very unsettling concepts and themes in the words and it is a more mature release than the average rock album. There is a distinctive Britishness that runs through, which is easy to relate to as it tends to shy away from obviousness and gimmickry.  Killing Joke’s trademark use of themes is all over this album. With all there is to compare from decades of the band’s unique creative output it is extremely difficult to pigeonhole this album, but I would tentatively place it between the heaviness of Pandemonium and the forward-thinking production of  Night Time. Then, again…It’s got a totally different sound to any of the band’s previous work and there seems to be an invigorating energy running underneath. Interestingly, the album was primarily recorded at Britannia Row Studios, which, of course, was where Pink Floyd’s The Wall was recorded. The un-credited artwork and sleeve design is both haunting and doom-laden, taking a stab at the conventions of modern Christianity and delivering the ubiquitous metaphorical gallows that technology has made us blind to. There is a reference to the Tree Of Life and dark, cloudy skies over what could possibly be Blake’s New Jerusalem in England’s fair burning fields. And don’t forget the Wicker Man!

The album is a wake up call to the masses and, sadly, will probably be too intellectual for the audience so deserving of its message. The upside is that the inherent “truths” to be found on the CD will inevitably flow virally or through osmosis, because Killing Joke’s influence on generations of musicians will surely make it so. It would be easy to say that this is an amazing return to form but the reality is that they were never off form. These guys make many heavy bands look like posers and are so disarming in their genuine absolute aggression that it’s easy, as a musician, to feel impotent against such enormous talent. The album is equal parts disturbing and enlightening and my favorite CD release of 2010.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2010  Volume 6 at

Track by Track Review
Absolute Dissent

The immediate sound has a boldness and temperament, which is like a mallet hit to the back of the skull. The production is superb, with a particular roomy depth in the drum mix and Geordie Walker’s guitar is, ironically, heavily overdriven and, yet, crystal clear. His playing is perfectly tight, as ever. Youth sets out to deliver a bollocking on the lower spectrum, passenger of Big Paul Ferguson’s driving skin rhythms. The subject matter is multi-layered and continues the Gnostic “religion of man” philosophies, highlighting how the power brokers and bleeding hearts are enabling the poisoning of our very breed, rotting humanity to its very core. This, being true absolute dissent, is foundation for much of the lyrical works on the CD.  It’s a great energetic opener!

The Great Cull
Again, the music is hard and riff-driven – Walker’s axe work is tightly woven between the threads of low-end bass guitar and hard-forced drums. The music has hooks and Coleman’s vocals are almost death metal (but production work reveals some interesting backward tracks and synth backing to sustain the disturbing quality of the twisted vocal strains).

The lyrics of this number re-introduce the theories of economist Thomas Malthus (1766 – 1834), who debated thus: population increases faster than the supply of goods available for survival and this, in effect, lowers the standard of living to bare sustenance. If population exceeds a sustainable level population growth is stunted by famine, disease and war. Although the arguments for and against his work have been utilized to varying outcomes – and for, at times, dubious purposes – his theories have influenced evolutionist, Charles Darwin, and are not too many steps away from Eugenics, when viewed in practice. Malthus was appointed professor at the college of the East India Company and history has shown what troubles this British company delivered to China in the form of the opium wars, theft and marketing of Chinese teas without recompense, and numerous other evils.

With references to “the food code,” vocalist Coleman opens our eyes to the meddling of nature’s gifts and how depopulation is at the heart of such manipulation. With higher mortality rates in the civilized world, we are encountering an era of sickness, the development of viruses and marketing of cures by greedy pharmaceutical companies. It may smack of conspiracy theory but – with our current media monopoly – would any of us really be able to tell fact from fiction? “The Great Cull” is the song to expose Codex Alimentarius and should spark some fierce public debate.

Fresh Fever From The Skies
With repetition and build-up of the guitar, drums and bass, the heavy conceptual end-of-world hinting weaves lyrical coils about the trunk of this retro, rock number. In some ways this might appear like something from Rush’s Vapor Trails, in a rhythmic sense but it has a genuine British sensibility to it. The lyrics (like others throughout) lend themselves to a kind of fairy story atmosphere but with surprising hardcore realism and fatalism. It’s hard and tight and I have often imagined how the drums were set-up during the recordings, as the production is nothing short of excellent. Clocking in at 3:23, it’s short, sharp and shock value at work.
In Excelsis
Trust Killing Joke to come up with a great sing-a-long featuring Latin chorus! It celebrates the strength of humanity, our liberties and freedoms, our obligation to “smash the cabals that control this world.”

These guys might appear on the surface to be rabid anarchists but they are much closer to being the world’s (sometimes) morbid protectors – like a comic hero mix somewhere between Guy Fawkes and Marvin the Martian; their catchphrase: “Stamping out mediocrity wherever it rears its ugly head! Three decades and counting…”

Coleman’s lyrics are strong as ever and he’s not afraid to give us a performance pushing the boundaries of vocal technique and over-confident professionalism in favor of raw-throated emotion and true, lived-in angst. Here is another great, radio-friendly, heavy number.

European Super State
With homage to the analog synthesizer sequencing of Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk, this great track has a really cool rhythmic device, a la 80s synth-pop. The song describes the future of the “Continent” and its super-state status as continued discussion from the track “Europe” (famously of the Joke’s iconic 1985 Night Time LP). Driven by a “Judeo-Christian morality with a Greco-Roman intellect,” the track acts as a vehicle for serious discussion on the future of all nations involved. In this world to come, does this new realm really require NATO or the restraints of the past to deny itself sovereignty? With multi-layered, lush pads and spacious, disco-like beats, the song is a potential hit single with a heavy, hypnotic pulse and is probably one of the best tracks on the album, along with the title track.
This World Hell
Very heavy stuff here; indeed, it is delivered in a way more accessible to metal fans than their punk revolutionary past. Staccato stabs on bass and guitar aligned with dampened cymbal splashes lay out the mat for some reverse vocal strains – and strained they are, indeed. As Jaz Coleman chokes with disgust at the state of world population controls and food manipulation, the heavily compressed bass and guitar riffs pound along at half-time before returning to a smack-down. The image is of a dark world to come, filled with gripping claws of pollution strangling the black-blood-curdled throats of a future humanity.
Sounding a bit more like Marilyn Manson with its heavy boogie rhythm with dissonance and, vocally, an homage to Lemmy of Motorhead, these guys are trying to scare a ‘martial law state’ shudder into the listener and open a few eyes along the way. “Endgame” features lyrical content that might upset some of the more delicate listeners, especially in the States, but it is with a fresh European mind from which this perspective comes. The hallmarks are all here for a solid, crunching number that continues the conceptual points ingrained so far.
The Raven King
I personally admit to being shocked and saddened by the death of Paul Vincent Raven. When I read the news, I knew that it would become a moment that I wouldn’t soon forget. As homage to the memory of previous long-standing bassist, Raven, the lyrics hide levels of meaning that only Coleman and the group (with their deep philosophical roots) could truly decode for the listener. Hidden layers are sometimes evident in the choice of words, like one might expect from initiated Rosicrucian or Mason. The music is less intense and has an ambience of mood and thoughtfulness. The choruses grow heavy yet never outweigh the meaning of the delivery. Raven’s spirit is all over this, with musical references to his involvement in the lighter KJ catalogue material and the hard-plucked bass riff work by Youth. Overall, the sound is like something you might expect him to be on. He was no mere friend or band member – he was a brother and is sadly missed by all, and this tribute is fitting and well deserved.
Honour The Fire
“Honour…” is a late night style rocker, with a nod to Night Time, and subtly confirms that this CD is very much a concept album with its humanitarian stance (making the populations aware of the evil government practices) and deep philosophical leanings. The mix, as with the album in total, is excellent and there are some great passages that stand out, like Walker’s quieter chordal moments and the syncopated 4/4 parts. There is a lot more dynamic in this number because it begins lighter and reverts back to something heavier and back again like some musical chameleon. This stands up well after multiple listens.
This is definitely an album track and it merges between metal and something hinting of an Arabic rock sound which might be found on an album like Night Time, or even Pandemonium – but it is a hint, so don’t expect Kashmir unplugged! Invoking the Indian God of destruction, the imagery is contradictory, perplexing and not altogether un-disturbing. Its brutish vocals hang off a meat hook while the cool, calmness of the KJ brotherhood draw the unwary in with the mantra-like cyclic riffs and rhythms. The hint of electronica might disarm before Coleman screams torment down the tortured microphone diaphragm. As elusive and perpetually knotted emotions twist and turn like a stomach’s crawl the ending is sudden depth!
Here Comes The Singularity
With Walker’s trademark cleaner guitar sound, this could well be a rocked up version of a New Order song or something in the vein of indie pop. But all the signatures of Killing Joke are there to bring it back from something disposable or distant in its electronica (for which there is none of on this song). Vocally, there’s a more relaxed approach and the song pumps along like some of the group’s commercial works of the 1980s. It’s a nice way to lead out the album with its eleventh hour winding down from ultra-heavy (for punk standards, anyway) to a cleaner arc movement. There are some trashy moments, though, but the pop sensibility remains. This is another radio-potential piece that continues the previously laid concepts, it seems that the band’s message is going to be more widely heard than if this CD retained a single sound atmosphere.
Ghosts Of Ladbroke Grove
With soft pad-like synthesizers and phased drums, there is an almost reggae-like feel that permeates. Particularly, the bass work is reminiscent of some of the better British Beat bands of the late 70s / early 80s that incorporated reggae and other styles into a workable format. There are other elements that make this interesting, like the “Hey” backing vocals and whispered moments that underlay Coleman’s strained, white-knuckle delivery. There is a stark distance to this track that is both haunting and, yet, ironically beautiful and the lyrics provoke a sense of searching and discovery. There are effects at the beginning and end and there is a sense of completion when the song reaches its climax.
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