December 09, 2003



A little Maysles Bros. to go with the Heckerling. But first, Geordie Walker's guitar rig.


1983: I was making a tape for the senior dance and I wanted to include "Change," but I was nervous that it might be too weird and rocky and nobody would dance, though it's obviously a dance song and plenty of dance songs were rock songs in 1983. Jaz's freaky, echo-trail yelps seemed like they might drive people into the cafeteria for a smoke. I ended up putting the song on the tape somewhere in the middle of the action, and everybody danced. Resident guitar god Jeff Tischler came over asked me the name of the song. That was a little like Barry Bonds asking me how to bunt.

1983: I argued with Ben Fishman that what's THIS for...! wasn't weird for no reason. Something was going on. He could only dig "Tension" and thought "The Fall of Because" was unlistenable. I knew what he meant but since I played that song more than any other--possibly precisely to figure out how I felt about it--the song seemed listenable by definition.

1985: I am in a band called Bad Timing, my first actual playing-in-front-of-people band. I am 18. The guitarist, Galen Wade, is really good and has lots of effects I don't understand. We both like U2, though I am unsure we can cover any of their songs adequately. We do a good version of The Cure's "A Forest" and a better one of The Velvet Underground's "I'm Waiting For The Man," which allows me to think, for the first time, that I am not a miserably terrible singer. (This is not evidence that I wasn't, but it is the only song people ever said they liked.) The album we agree on 100% is Killing Joke's Night Time. We fool around playing "Eighties" and "Love Like Blood" but never make the mistake of trying to play them live. My originals at this point rank with the worst songs ever written. I remember the lion's share of one called "Back Wave" and it so hideous that I only remember it, silently, when no one can see my tiny, terrible eyes.

2001: For three months after 9/11/, the only popular music that doesn't make me sick is Killing Joke's 1990 album, Extremities, Dirt and Other Repressed Emotions. It is an extremely loud, angry and politically specific record. Except for Andy Hawkins, nobody else I know even knows this record exists. It is a magnificent piece of hard rock. I drive around Connecticut numb and terrified, listening to only this record. Jaz is humane AND angry and that's the companion I want. I don't want bitterness or cynicism. I want rage, as loud and committed as they make it. Anarchist bands are too hard on my tinnitus, and I don't want to hear any hip-hop at all. (In the weeks following 9/11, Hot 97 plays Jadakiss' "We Gon' Make It" over and over, because of the chorus. The verses somewhat undermine the idea that the chorus they want to hear is the chorus Jada had in mind.)


US critics traditionally prefer the “telephone” paradigm: “My pain, my epiphany, my soul, coming atcha, unmediated, via rock.” There is a group of people, the English well-represented among them, who don’t put much stock in this approach. In contra-distinction to the soul fire crew, they believe that the distance introduced by “acting” works pretty well. Call it metaphor, or treat the process physically and call it massage, but it’s a practice free from the conceit of commonalities as necessary entry tickets. If you’re looking for individual catharsis or a one-night stand, the distance between performer and audience helps. Audience and performer look to the same spot in the distance, at the thing to be conjured, the ROCKING. The subject is not so much false as not there yet, and much metal and hard rock creates that subject.

Killing Joke are not unllike AC/DC. They’re not expressive in the messy sonik way--no no no. Their loud is a big clean loud. This is the old high/low split coming in through the power lines. If you are an ARTISTE, you play messy guitar parts that fall out of tune because the feeling has overwhelmed your very soul. If you perfect a huge, hippodrome-sized sound and deliver the goods every time, like Geordie Walker or Angus Young, you’re just a worker. You’re not OBVIOUSLY feeling it. And this spirit vs. labor dichotomy plagues bands like Killing Joke, as does the theater variable. Metal fans and theatergoers are comfortable with the idea that the performer is not actually on fire, or wearing animal skins, but still find the whole idea exciting. American critics don’t like that shit. Metal's combination of silly and powerful suggests Killing Joke are metal, as does the valrization of cleanliness. There's more to the Joke than that, but isn't accurate to say they're entirely NOT metal.


Half their old tunes seem thicker than they are because they’re convinced they’re big. Where they put the lines implies the rest of the building.

The first album is very much part of the dance music community.

Band like Killing Joke feed sounds to the avant indie scene (Hello, Big Black!) the same way their anarcho dread fans do the grunt work for liberal political causes, getting arrested, hosed and sleeping out all night.

Killing Joke are as much a black rock band as they are a metal band. Mosh funk is jst a slowed down, remastered verson of “Change,” which led to the Bad Brains “Re-Ignition" and Slayer's "Angel of Death" and that’s how we got frat metal.


In their 25 years of thankless fire-starting, Killing Joke have been a dub rock band, a goth dance band, political brick-throwers, ridiculous, beautiful, and entirely themselves even when it hurt their bank account. The alpha dogs caught on early. Steve Albini borrowed Geordie Walker’s guitar sound in 1983 and still hasn’t given it back; James Hetfield gave the regal nod to Killing Joke in 1987 when Metallica covered “The Wait”; and Kurt Cobain bit Killing Joke’s “Eighties” for Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” in 1991. Since then, Nine Inch Nails, Helmet and Foo Fighters have all kissed Killing Joke’s ring but the band still couldn’t get into The Canon if they set themselves on fire and wore animal skins.

The fact that singer Jaz Coleman opens their new album by singing about fire and animal skins may have something to do with this. Killing Joke spent the 80s not deciding if they were pagan anarchists, disco rock or industrial sprechstimme, giving away ideas left and right. (You can hear these investigations in draft form on *The Unperverted Pantomime, a demos/live/rarities bootleg that was reissued in legit form earlier this year.) In 1990, when most people thought they didn’t exist, they released *Extremities, Dirt and Other Repressed Emotions, a furious album of political hard rock that defines underrated, which is admittedly a dodgy concept. (Doesn’t somebody somewhere overrate everything?) Vague art school alienation was out and blunt anti-capitalism was in. The title “Money Is Not Our God” gives you a sense of the goings on, and though Jaz Coleman isn’t the go-to guy for Marxist primers, his targets are specific and his anger blows out the fuses. The band is archetypal on *Extremities, impossibly revved.

Joke’s other 90s comebacks were forgettable but the re-re-return uses *Extremities as the template. Jaz and Geordie never go out in public without a great drummer and this time they’ve hired a young man named Dave Grohl. (In the 80s, the default drummer was Chic’s Tony Thompson. It was a good idea, and so is calling Grohl.) The opening track, “The Death and Resurrection Show,” acknowledges the lean years and makes light of the KJ style: “Mark out the points, build the pyre, assemble different drummers, light up the fire, put on your masks and animal skins.” And then track goes up like a Weber grill. If Walker’s sound had a peer in the early 80s, it was the Gang of Four’s Andy Gill. So here he is, as producer and occasional guitar player. (Cue 80s nostalgists passing out.) When the whole pickled cloud of guitar evil gets going, you could guess Gill was there even without the credits. If someone wants to make a better sounding commercial hard rock record, they’d better hustle. (The band has always had a touch of the Viking chest-beating routine, so be warned that this is music for your Man Place.)

The Deftones’ new one, also self-titled, provides some competition. Guitarist Stephen Carpenter is firmly in Geordie territory, though he may have gotten there via My Bloody Valentine or through the gear itself. His sound like an ocean liner that seems to be coming closer and receding at the same time, environmental but impossible to hold. Singer Chino Moreno has come up with his own effective synthesis: the flayed alive scream of speed metal alternating with a drugged lullaby croon copied from various sources. His lyrics are opaque enough that quoting the clear bits would only misrepresent the gestalt at work here. It’s an immersion thing. Like much nu metal, the Deftones have reduced hardcore’s combination of morality and personal pique (“I thought you were my friend/but now it has to end!” was the shorthand parody we used in my first band for off-the-rack hardcore lyrics) to a kind of furious whine, a loop of betrayed hurt. This is kinda thin soup for those not feeling all Dave Gahan, but the Deftones are on a sonic trip and you can plug in whatever ails you once their medicine hits. The band was unhinged and fierce at their Summer Sanitarium appearance, and *Deftones is their second great record in a row, following the slightly better *White Pony. I prefer Killing Joke dissing Bush, but the Deftones’ pillow of noise is a perfectly good place to put your head if you just don’t know why you need to.

Posted by Sasha at December 9, 2003 10:41 AM | TrackBack