Killing Joke MMXII Album Review
Killing Joke is that rare band that seems to get better as they age. They never seem complacent and still have energy and vigor to spare, unlike many artists who tend to phone it in after losing their focus and initial success. Their unique sonic stew, a mix of punk, metal, dub and industrial, has inspired bands as disparate as Nirvana, Faith No More, and Soundgarden, as well as 2 bands I’ve recently reviewed: Ministry and Prong.
So after 2009’s critically acclaimed ‘Absolute Dissent’ how does ‘MMXII’ stack up?
Well 1st impressions are that it’s just as good, if not better.
The roman numerals MMXII translate to 2012. The year where the Mayan’s predict our end to arrive on Dec 21st. Singer Jaz Coleman’s been warning about various theories of the earth’s apocalypse since the bands inception, stemming from either natural or manmade forces, so it makes perfect sense for the band to resurface on this year given its unsettling potential.
They make music for the paranoid soul, rife with conspiracy theories and condemnation of rampant greed and warfare, always reminding us how technology and corporate culture have uprooted us from out innate connection to nature and compassion for our fellow-man.
Coleman has stated that he doesn’t necessarily believe that 2012 is when we’ll collapse, but he does say there’ll be a fundamental shift in our future (He elaborates on this in an interview with Under The Radar). ‘MMXII’ plays on all these different possibilities and scenarios, any of which could bring massive upheaval or our own destruction.
The album kicks off with “Pole Shift” which begins with multi-layered keyboards, similar in tone to Vangelis’s work on the ‘Blade Runner’ soundtrack.
From there we go into a down tempo beat, with cascading arpeggios from guitarist Geordie Walker. With his trademark micro delayed stuttering tone, he maintains one of the most distinctive sounds in all of rock. Coleman’s vocals offer foreboding warnings of a change in the Earth’s magnetic fields, and other elements of the Mayan Prophecy. When the crashing, roaring chorus kicks in, it has the same jack hammer thrust of “Blood On Your Hands” from their excellent 2003 self titled album. Drummer Big John Ferguson and bassist Youth’s thunderous rhythm section help ratchet up the intensity.
“Fema Camp” comes next, and it’s the highpoint of the album, with its hypnotic tribal beat, and ‘Pandemonium’-esque guitar riff. Espousing on theories of prison camps being erected in America it sets a grim mood, but still ends up on a defiant note, as Coleman croaks in the chorus “we’re never going to end up in the furnace of a FEMA camp”! Whether you buy into the theory is one thing, but the song is undeniably awesome.
“Rapture” follows and it has the classic one-two punch of heavy riff/ jittery dance beat of vintage KJ, with lyrics drawing parallels between the power of religious ceremony and the transformative effect of their concert performances.
‘Colony Collapse’ espouses the dangers of nano-technology, a potential future scenario (with real scientific implications) where humans will physically morph with machines, thereby increasing health & longevity. But Coleman worries it’s at the price of our souls; “Rapid inhuman advance of nano computer technologies, changing our emotional development for the lure of immortality.” It has a crunchy, anthemic chorus that is chilling and majestic.
“Corporate Elect” is next, with a pulverizing riff from Geordie Walker very similar to their classic “The Wait”. It slams start to finish. Coleman perfectly nails home why we’ve dug ourselves into a hole economically and culturally: “It’s an ADD generation….everyone accepts… the reintroduction of slavery by a corporate elect”.
“In Cythera” on the other hand is very melodic and upbeat, all about the interpersonal connections one gains and loses while traveling the world. This is Coleman at his most serene and poetic, and the gliding guitars and synths compliment him perfectly.
‘Primobile” starts off with sinister gothic keyboards, with Coleman’s melancholy take on aging and destiny. It’s wonderfully atmospheric.
“Glitch” gets things back on heavier footing, with its muscular riff ( shades of the “Great Cull” and “The Death and Resurrection Show”). The crushing groove perfectly anchors a song about our crippling dependence of technology and how a natural catastrophe (i.e. solar storm) would make us helpless in the blink of an eye.
“Trance” is another throwback to the early 80’s with an awesome disco stomp and New Wave bass line, akin to “European Super State”.
“On All Hallow’s Eve” is a fine closer. Another gentler tune, with a buoyant baseline and shuffle beat, it speaks of nostalgia and lost friends and family. Somber yet uplifting, it’s a nice companion piece to their earlier homage to deceased bassist Paul Raven (“The Raven King”).
Throughout the album Coleman displays amazing vocal dexterity. The fact that he can still go from a gentle croon to his guttural raging bleats after all these year is impressive, and his band mates support him well, as powerfully intact as a unit as they were when they first formed in the late 70’s. And Walker remains one of my favorite guitarists, truly unique in style and sound.
It’s hard to find anything negative to say about the ‘MMXII’ album, but it does suffer at times from the same type of muddy production as “Absolute Dissent” and “Hosannas From The Basement of Hell”, and just doesn’t have the same clarity of prior albums like their 2003 self-titled release and 1994’s “Pandemonium”.
*Their has been no official release date for ‘MMXII’ in North America, but I have the link for the import on Amazon below. For those fans in Europe, you can find it on Amazon or iTunes. They’re playing with The Mission U.K. and The Cult on a European tour this fall (Sigh, why can’t they come to the states?)