As your heroes enter their Indian summers, and the recent deaths of the likes of Lemmy still fresh in the memory, there is an urge among some to see said heroes as often as possible. Sadly, it can often be the case that they're a let down nowadays, strolling through numbers that once were a tour de force of sonic warfare.
But that can't be said about Killing Joke. I can't pretend to be impartial when it comes to Killing Joke.
November 1978 is not regarded as a particularly memorable period in history. Peter Sutcliffe's mother died (halting his murder spree for nearly six months), the British Army revealed their belief that the Provisional IRA would not be defeated militarily, and releases from Siouxsie and the Banshees, Tubeway Army and X Ray Spex were helping to usher in post punk to the charts.
Slightly less documented is the first meeting between Jaz Coleman and Paul Ferguson. Coming to London to form a band, Coleman found himself signing on the dole one day. In the queue was an Indian fellow called Carlos, and him and Jaz became acquainted. When Jaz revealed his intent on starting a band, Carlos replied "I know. And I'm going to introduce you to the drummer who lives in my house."
That one encounter would lead to the formation of Killing Joke. Amazing how little moments in time can drastically open or close paths to anyone.
Initially maligned by an uneducated music press, Killing Joke have produced a body of work which stand as the greatest pieces of music recorded by anyone.
Based around the casually apocalyptic sound of Geordie Walker’s guitar, Coleman’s vocals (which alternate between riot inciting, sneering and heartbreaking) as well as a rhythm section dedicated to getting you to dance while they tear out your internal organs through the low end, this band have been a fixture in the musical consciousness for the past forty years.
John Peel once described The Fall as "the band which all others must be measured up against" and that sums up my thoughts on Killing Joke. Mixing dub, disco, punk, post punk, new wave, goth, metal, electronica and industrial into their sound, they produce the greatest music ever written by anyone.
And, since regrouping in 2003, they've released a steady stream of critically acclaimed albums which has seen their standing grow from post punk pariahs to dignified elder statesmen of alternative rock, crossing over into metal.
So, in recognition of their fortieth anniversary, a mini tour was sorted. One night in Wolverhampton, one night in London and one in Dublin.
I've broken this travelogue into differing sections. I'll let you piece it together.
'Tomorrow's World', on the face of it, is a somewhat odd opener. It's spacious, dub influenced landscape is a moody, atmospheric piece but not one that you would imagine would get the blood pumping on the live front. However, it is these precise qualities that make it such a great beginning as it establishes the barren land that Killing Joke often portray in song, and eases the audience in before the mayhem begins.
'Wardance' is a perpetual favourite which never fails to deliver. Tense, staccato and driving, the implications of violence throughout the music compliment the barked vocals, proclaiming a world gone wrong in the most horrendous fashion.
Played live for the first time since 2003, the apocalyptic 'Seeing Red' is utterly mighty live, with Coleman contrasting his every day thoughts with the impending four minute warning. Geordie's riffing compliments the lyrics perfectly, tethering between controlled tension and all out war.
'Autonomous Zone' which has a little hint of 'Exciter' by Judas Priest in the drumming. Listen to how tight the band are with each chug from Geordie, before Youth throws in a bass lick to denote the oncoming onslaught. Lyrically, Coleman touches upon how freedom from modern living and society produces an ecstasy unlike any other. A cleanser.
Same applies with 'In Excelsis.' A stirring, evocative and passionate defence of freedom of speech and liberty, the music soars into anthemic territory and the contrast between the delivery of the verse and chorus discloses an underlying tension between these ideas.
'Exorcism' is a punishing number due to the relentless riffing and Coleman's shamanic, ritualistic persona coming to the fore as he encourages the audience to discover their inner primal self, allow it to rise to conscience level and then wash it away.
KK's Steel Mill, Wolverhampton (09/08/19)
And it was, kind of.
Despite playing for nearly two hours, sound and monitor issues plagued the band throughout their set. With them being unable to hear themselves, this meant that some songs went in strange directions (Jaz noticeably would come in late, while Geordie and Youth would be all over the place at times). Because of these issues, there was no encore.
A shame, as the sound from where I was standing (barrier, centre front) was enormous. Geordie's guitar overpowered the rest of the band but I wasn't complaining. His sound can be difficult to properly capture on-stage, but tonight it was one of the best I'd heard from him.
Subterania, London (11/08/19)
Located under the infamous Westway (mythologised by The Clash), Subterania is a 600 capacity club located at the top of Portobello Road (not far from the band's original home of Ladbroke Grove). The surrounding area sees a continental food market, an unappealing block of flats (with Grenfell, poignantly, visible in the skyline) and a busy mosque. A metropolitan place at street level.
From walking into the club, I knew it would be a hot one. The air was light on oxygen and heavy on heat. Within two songs, it was obvious that the band were struggling with the heat and Jaz even collapsed halfway through the set. As a result, at least six songs were dropped, but we did get a one song encore with 'Pandemonium.'
Sound and vision wise, the smaller stage brought out a rawer, intimate and human performance. The crowd were very much ready to participate in the ritual, and were they rewarded. Afterwards, whenever I walked out of the venue, my clothes stuck to me and only the fresh, cold air and a long walk to Notting Hill remedied the situation.
The Academy, Dublin (14/08/19)
Off O'Connell St, the Academy can be easy to miss were it not for the marquee style front 'welcoming' whoever is playing on a particular night. Opening in 2008, it has proven to be a welcome addition to Dublin's nightlife culture, especially for us Belfastards who can get the Aircoach back home straight after the gig.
This was the best show of the tour, owing to a few factors:
➧the immense sound.
➧a slightly altered setlist which allowed for two songs in the encore.
➧an enthusiastic Irish crowd who get the band.
Aside from the obvious fact that there isn't a band on earth who can touch Killing Joke on record or in the live arena, what's also obvious is that this incarnation of the band have hit their peak.
Roll on the new album.
⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.