Killing Joke occupy that interstitial space between order and chaos, between sanity and madness, between the temporal and the spiritual, between darkness and light…that moment just before the apocalypse consumes us all. On occasion the band have teetered over onto on side or another, producing a series of albums in the 1980s which were relatively (and relatively is an important word here) safe and commercial. On the other hand there have been times when they have been consumed by the impending rapture and fallen into the darkness that lays beyond.
When this has happened Jaz Coleman and Geordie Walker, in particular, seem to have pulled themselves back with a series of albums in the 1990s and 2000s which appeared like oases of relative sanity before disappearing again into an abyss of paranoia and non-/rational investigation. But this is just not Jaz and Walker’s band, because when the much loved Killing Joke and Ministry bassist, Paul Raven, died in 2007 the four original members: Coleman, Walker, Martin ‘Youth’ Glover and Paul Ferguson got together again and, after some triumphant live shows began recording: the result being 2010’s ‘Absolute Dissent’. It was Killing Joke’s thirteenth album, and the fourth under this original line-up. It represented, with due apologies and deference to those who worked with the ever-present Coleman and Walker in the interim, a return to form that was unusual for a band already in its fourth decade. What has followed, however, is something that is surely unique in rock, because I can think of no band that have delivered so consistently in its original form so late into its existence with ‘MMXII’ upping the odds once again with its ferocity and passion.
Now comes the release of ‘Pylon’, the final instalment of the band’s ‘tryptic’ of albums which just might have topped the lot. This is an album that sees Killing Joke blossom as never before. The scope of this album is huge and, more than ever, it has struck me how important the individual members’ other activities are important in the way that the band’s music is constructed. There is Jaz’s classical music training (he has written several symphonies and is an established conductor), Youth’s production work for countless bands and artists, Walker’s uniquely disturbing guitar style, and Ferguson’s work as an artist and sculptor; all of which play a huge role in the development of this album.
‘Pylon’ at times has the immense scope of a orchestral piece, especially on the middle tracks ‘New Cold War’, ‘Euphoria’, ‘New Jerusalem’ and ‘War On Freedom’ which are in turn a frightening assault of the senses and beautifully pastoral and melodic. Then there is the guitar work, which drives the album and takes it out of itself onto another plane from the huge pile driver that is ‘Dawn of the Hive’, to the closing tracks on the regular album: the apocalyptic ‘Delete’, the massively angry ‘I Am The Virus’ and the uncertain future of ‘Into The Unknown’.
This is not just a regular guitar album though. The influence of Youth is evident throughout with bass licks, set out early on ‘Autonomous Zone’ which take Killing Joke out of any genre that you might like to place it in. ‘Pylon’ also has a funk and groove to it that give it character and make it much more than just a rock/ post punk/ whatever you want to call it…album. For me, however, what gives this set its impact is Ferguson’s drumming. Sure it is hard and heavy, and with Youth’s bass it cements the tracks. But it also gives the album an edge, because not only are the drums heavy, they are precise and intricate. Here Ferguson’s creativity and attention to detail as an artist is evident.
Like all Killing Joke’s good work ‘Pylon’ stands on this edge: of orchestration, groove and melody on the one hand; and the confusion and decay of siren guitar and tribal drumming on the other. The album only works, however, because it is matched by a worldview that is similarly positioned, and it seems that that position is increasingly converging with reality. As the band’s long-time warnings of impending social and cultural collapse find flesh as our human rights are challenged; and paranoia is on the rise, from both the political right and left; the majority of the populous seem immune (or have been immunised) from the reality of the situation. This is Killing Joke’s worldview, it might well be our worldview soon too. This dystopia and the ensuing apocalypse seem closer than ever before. Yet there is hope here too…a way out of all this…but there will also be pain and hurt if we are to reach the state of affairs that seductively emerges from the savagery of this album, ‘Euphoria’ being the best example here.
Killing Joke collectively are alchemists who come together to share their separate learning to produce a worldview that is unique in its breadth and depth. It is an outlook that informs both the music and philosophy of ‘Pylon’ and, for me, is the most complete realisation of the band’s vision so far. Only time will tell whether it is Coleman, Walker, Glover and Ferguson’s collective masterpiece. At this point, however, the signs are good.