Depending to whom you speak, England's Killing Joke should be either exclaimed from the rooftops as an impressive musical influence of the last 30 years, or vilified as obnoxious gadflies for that same madcap inventive eclecticism. It appears, from the long list of those bands they impressed (or conned, if you hold the latter opinion), that revisionist musical history has smiled upon Killing Joke. For me, while maintaining three decades of casual interest, I can't think of one KJ album I would need if stuck upon a deserted island. Perhaps, however, their 13th album Absolute Dissent (and first in 28 years with the original members) could change my mind enough to, at the very least, revisit their back catalogue.
On Absolute Dissent, Killing Joke is still pummeling all things social, political, and religious slapped upon their native Britain (and the EU, for that matter). With their confounding innovation, it's the punk that made them famous in the early Eighties. Early in Absolute Dissent it's rather mild stuff sounding like The Alarm meets The Clash but then tempered with the annoying and vacuous psuedo-pop of Duran Duran. Absolute Dissent, The Great Cull, In Excelsis are rather soothing anthem-like cutouts of Killing Joke. Where's the anger, angst or, at least, the energy?
If anywhere it's in Jaz Coleman's sometimes raspy, razor delivery. But in the songs it does come mid-course, and a bit later, on European Super State, This World Hell, and Depthcharge. In This World Hell, there's a real rough metal punk savagery to the whole song that, if anything, should bugger a listener's blood pressure. Yet, between Paul Ferguson dangerously precise drumming, Youth's sometimes bumblebee bouncing bass, and Kevin "Geordie" Walker's thick danceable riffs, Killing Joke remains Killing Joke: suspiciously novel, but uniquely the same, and in the case of the latest, seemingly stuck in the Eighties. Ultimately, the tao of Killing Joke's history, innovation, and influence remains decisively intact. As the album's name might suggest, Killing Joke remains settled nonconformists, and we may be the better for it.