Writing about Killing Joke has always been problematic for me. As a critic you rarely find yourself in the eye of a storm you can’t deal with. Music comes in, you play it, it resonates or it doesn’t, you critique it and then it’s done. So much of music today is confection, ear candy that comes complete with a spiffy package and usually a scene you can proclaim yourself a part of. It’s easy to review bags of potato chips and cans of soda. Then, rarely, you’ll stand before a monolith, a band that’s music has transcended genre and woven itself within the fabric of consciousness. That’s Killing Joke, a band whose importance cannot be overstated and whose musical contributions are endless. They have a new album. It’s titled MMXII (2012). What the fuck do I do now?
I suppose I could start with the subject matter. We’ve all heard the Mayan calendar interpretation that December 21st 2012 will be the end of days for humanity. Though the idea has been fodder for mass hysteria as well as punch lines, the outcome has always been the same. If it happens, the end of the human race will surely follow. Cue Killing Joke and their need to take mass opinions and turn them on their head. In their mind’s eye, 2012 will be a year that signals not the death of our world but a massive change to it. The end of our greed and bloat brought about by a revolution from nature. It will be violent, it will be apocalyptic, but, in Killing Joke’s opinion, it will make for a better world.
Killing Joke aren’t forthcoming in their opinions, they’ve never been that easy to nail down. The opening track “Pole Shift” is, musically, the summation of everything that Killing Joke can do. It begins electronically, a keyboard heavy melancholy groove placing the voice of Jaz Coleman in the limelight. Coleman sings of the “end of the old world” and how the coming shift in the Earth’s magnetic field will signal the beginning of the end. Like this sudden crash, “Pole Shift” moves from the subtle electronica into a post-punk monster riff provided by guitarist Geordie Walker. The two are woven into perfect harmony by the shift in Coleman’s voice. As his ire rises, the dynamics spin giving birth to the sheer power. I must also point out that “Pole Shift” is a nine minute epic, and it starts the album. Love that.
So the poles have shifted, the next obvious song would be the post destruction chaos. The raving madness of human beings as everything they know comes crashing down. Instead of the typical heavy/fast song to translate those feelings, Killing Joke slow the album to a crawl with “Fema Camp”. Geordie’s guitars move in a slow synch with Youth’s bass lines and Paul Ferguson’s methodic drumming. Together they illustrate more the feeling of disillusionment and loss. The downtrodden human psyche in the post apocalypse world. Every so often Geordie lets loose this guitar part the actually elevates the emotion of the album. Coleman’s vocals come off more like a prisoner of war reciting his tale than a man facing the collapse of the world.
“The Rapture” explodes from “Fema Camp” with that same pulsating, guitar driven style that made Killing Joke’s first album and their 2003 self-titled record so strong. Coleman keeps the song mystical. It could be about a mythical religious idea or it could be about humanity facing its new dawn and organizing new religious groups. While the conundrum is yours to figure out, the song itself is as powerful as anything the band has ever written. Like “Communion” or “Asteroid”, “The Rapture” shows that Killing Joke can make simple songs as classic as their more complex structures. “Colony Collapse” follows along the same lines, though it’s more chant or sing along oriented than “The Rapture”.
“Corporate Elect” is the band’s stance against the end of corporate greed. They don’t rally against what it is, rather they reflect on how our indifference at allowing corporations to take over has driven us to the brink of destruction. If we do topple over in the wake of the apocalypse, “Corporate Elect” lets us question how bad that would be. This is a rager, a fast paced all anger burst of guitar insanity that’s rare for Killing Joke. This is the song to get the crowd moving, the show opener if ever there was one.
Then, as they always do, Killing Joke shift into a new cycle of music. “In Cythera”, a tune that could be about late Killing Joke bassist Raven or it could be the thoughts of a survivor recounting all that he/she lost in the collapse and the regrets they have. While the song is a total joyous union of Young’s bass and Paul’s drums, one that will have you up and dancing, Coleman’s vocals bring a gravitas to the song. It’s that “I should have said” moment we can all relate to. “In Cythera” will have you reminiscing over those you’ve lost yourself. It’s what Killing Joke does, they force you to confront your own demons.
“Glitch” returns the band to the post-punk guitar song, while “Trance” gives us the feeling of global rave, a celebration of the new age of mankind after the survivors rebuild. “On All Hallow’s Eve” is the introspective song, the slow and melancholy tribute to all that’s happened in 2012. It’s a glorious and soaring cap to and album that is absolutely flawless. This isn’t any easy album. MMXII is one of the Killing Joke records that you must immerse yourself in. It takes several listens for all the tunes to connect and for you to understand what Killing Joke is trying to accomplish. If Absolute Dissent was a call to arms, then MMXII is a thematic telling of what that lack of dissent could mean for humanity. In a weird way both Absolute Dissent and MMXII are connected, at least in ideology.
What Killing Joke have offered up to us is another slice of their genius. This band doesn’t simply write music, the open their minds and souls and leave it all on the album. Themes that played into the band’s first album are still alive in this record, though they’ve taken another form. Killing Joke is about evolution, about the forward thought and new ways of a mankind we would all be a part of. They see farther than we do, they see the perfect world of nature and man, of love triumphing over greed. Killing Joke is one of the best reflections of what can happen when the mind is open to pure artistic expression. MMXII is not just another Killing Joke album, it’s the next chapter in their story, the next movement in the symphony of their madness. It is bliss. It is joy. It is Killing Joke.