Killing Joke – MMXXII
Posted by Terrible Certainty Zine
The new Killing Joke hits American shores a scant seven months after its European debut via Spinefarm. Word on the street (and by that I mean on the internet—c’mon, not like people go out and actually interact anymore) is that the band has promised to somehow make up for the fact that American fans have had to wait so long for a domestic release, but specifics have gone unnamed. Thing is, Killing Joke fans aren’t the kind that will wait half a year to get their greedy mitts on the latest record from this legendary, one of a kind band. Chances are this “advance review” will be largely superfluous, but I just can’t help myself, so here it goes…
After the untimely loss of bassman Paul Raven in 2007 Killing Joke’s Jaz Coleman and Geordie circled the wagons and decided to go, to borrow from “Empire Song,” back to square one, reuniting with original members Youth and Big Paul Ferguson. The group’s first effort, 2010’s Absolute Dissent, collected boatloads of praise, but left me cold. MMXXII arrives just two years later, a quick turnaround for the Joke, and serves as a logical follow up to Absolute Dissent, but surpasses it as a more varied yet cohesive album.
Killing Joke kicked off its comeback with 2003’s self-titled album, a modern, snarling, and crushingly heavy album. But their work began to celebrate the rich Killing Joke history on its next effort, Hosannas from the Basements of Hell. Hosannas remains the Joke’s high watermark in their modern era, thanks to not only phenomenal songwriting but also the skillful, true integration of the band’s many styles during its nearly 35 year career. The different chemistry of the reunited lineup has continued to blend the styles in the Killing Joke repertoire, but the end result has been a product that’s more narrow in scope and rarely as compelling.
Thankfully, MMXXII improves upon Absolute Dissent considerably, but on balance can’t quite keep pace with the band’s standard of quality. Generally speaking this album most recalls the eras of Night Time (1985), Pandemonium (1994) and Killing Joke (2003). Sometimes these voices are blended, but just as often songs come off as direct descendants. Lead single “In Cythera” is pure 80’s gloomy synthpop, painfully dated but no less effective. The second single “Rapture,” on the other hand, recalls the venom and snarl of KJ’03. It’s modern Killing Joke at its most deadly and it’s an album high point. Unfortunately, “Glitch” is cut from the same cloth but struggles to impress. “Fema Camp” and “Pole Shift” revisit the band’s mid-90’s work, alternating between lush layers of blissfulness and intensity. Jaz’ fiery but melodic delivery over Youth’s thumping 80’s bass groove make “Trance” vintage Killing Joke, and Geordie shines on “Corporate Elect,” erupting in bouts of driving riffs and his inimitable wall of guitar. “Corporate Elect” is a beast; a raucous, sneering rant that in stretches recalls the band’s best record, Extremities, Dirt, and Other Repressed Emotions.
I wish there was more of that fire. Ultimately, the root of my frustration with MMXXII isn’t that different from my gripes with Absolute Dissent, an album that had, like, no dissent. There’s a disconnect in the way Killing Joke (at least Coleman) talk about and present their music and the tone it sets. Killing Joke at its best wields a defiant, cynical, primal nature. Even when not explicitly explosive there’s been an edge, a danger to their work. That ethos is largely missing on MMXXII and Absolute Dissent, regardless of how the band tries to sell it. MMXXII is certainly a must own for fans, and is a solid, respectable effort, but still falls fairly low on the list of this mercurial band’s usually stellar albums. The band recently announced plans for two new albums in 2013, so we’ll see if the original Joke can continue its forward momentum.