Artist Spotlight: Killing Joke (or; How to Compose the Soundtrack to Every Apocalypse) [Part 5 of 7]

Part 1 here. Part 2 here. Part 3 here. Part 4 here.

Laugh? I Nearly Bought One! (1992)

Because there are so many compilations, I’m largely ignoring them, but this one has an important place in the band’s history. Guitarist Geordie Walker called original bassist Martin “Youth” Glover to inquire about artwork for the upcoming compilation. Youth half-jokingly suggested getting back together, and a month later, that joke became reality.

“I felt there was unfinished business,” Youth recalled in 2018. “We hadn’t made the great record we could’ve made… I had a label imprint and the band were on a low, so I suggested signing them to my label and producing.”

The album art created some controversy, of course. The art was actually from a gig poster from 1980, which shows a high-ranking Catholic Cardinal (not the pope, as is often reported) saluting Nazis. The swastikas were changed to the dollar sign, the British pound sign, and the Japanese yen sign. “It’s the ‘killing joke’, the church of goodness blessing the murderers of millions.”

Pandemonium (1994)

“I saw Youth when we were working on Extremities,” vocalist/keyboardist Jaz Coleman said. “It was slightly strange at first, because we hadn’t spoken for 10 years, but we got talking about the band and basically took it from there.”

They had three-fourths of the original lineup, but they wouldn’t quite make it to the full reunion. “Paul [Ferguson] let us down on Pandemonium. He was gonna be on it. Then, two days before we got to the studio, he tried to blackmail me,” Youth said back in 1996. “We’d agreed on everything, then he said, ‘I want double the money or I’m not coming.’ He tried to put us in a position where we couldn’t say no, but I already had a couple of drummers on hand.”

However, Coleman recollects differently. In 2019, Coleman said, “On Pandemonium when Youth came to the band, we made contact with Big Paul but he wasn’t ready by then, to come back to the band. His sister died just before Pandemonium. We had hoped that he’d join us but he wasn’t ready.”

The album was recorded in several different studios, in London, Cairo, and Auckland. For the New Zealand sessions, the band drafted drummer Tom Larkin of Shihad. However, when the band resumed work in Egypt and England, some parts were filled in and others re-recorded by Scottish drummer Geoff Dugmore. Dugmore had recorded prior with Debbie Harry, Brian May, and Tina Turner among many others. So, if you needed to link up Killing Joke with the 60’s R&B and Soul movement, or the CBGB scene, there you go.

Youth and Coleman travelled to Egypt to record vocals in the The King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid for three days. The first day of the sessions was a complete disaster with both of them getting completely shitfaced and unable to work, while seeking the consultation of a “White Witch”. The next two days, they got themselves together and recorded vocals for the songs “Pandemonium”, “Exorcism”, and “Millennium”, which was the lead single from the album. “But not everyone was jazzed on the experiment, as Walker later said, “[They] spent 24-grand for a couple of vocal tracks. That was an expensive holiday.”

The album is post-punk and industrial and Arabic and electronic, but also none of it. The album opens with “Pandemonium”, which was a top 20 single in the UK (“Millennium” was also a top 20 single), its kind of sets the tone for the album. It’s not my favorite on the album, but it does give the listener a little bit of everything that is ahead.

I can remember hearing “Millennium” from CMJ New Music Monthly, it wasn’t what I had expected from this group that had been hailed as industrial godfathers. I ended up ordering the album from good ol’ friend Columbia House. It’s got a very strong middle eastern influence, but still heavy and abrasive. I think “Whiteout” made it onto nearly every mixtape from back in the day.

“We may have been punks when Killing Joke began,” said Youth, “but punk wasn’t ever about dumbing down: I never hid my love of disco and Pink Floyd, and we brought all of that, plus dub reggae, Can and Kraftwerk, into what we did. When it came to Pandemonium, I’d had the intervening time to explore production more, and we wanted all those sounds and more. There was classic rock and industrial, too, and we had the confidence to record Egyptian string sections. I think all that drama, conflict and history that we had were just channeled right.”

In 1995, Killing Joke contributed “Hollywood Babylon” to the soundtrack to Showgirls. I was going to snark on that, but the soundtrack has David Bowie, The Young Gods, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult.

Democracy (1996)

After the successful tour for Pandemonium, Youth, Coleman, and Walker returned to the studio to record their follow up. The band brought back Dugmore for the drum throne for the sessions. “I certainly wouldn’t like four full-time members in Killing Joke now.,” Coleman said. “I have my own personal reasons for that but we’re very comfortable with this particular line-up.”

“On this album I feel we’ve kind of gone away from doing what we did on the Pandemonium album, which was mixing a lot of techno beats and the more atmospheric ideas. This time I’ve gone to the more traditional ideas of using pop song arrangements and full guitar, drum and bass instrumentation, which you know, I haven’t really done since the early days,” Youth recalled in 1996. “Personally, I think Jaz has got a lot of balls to talk about some of the personal things like his experiences with Prozac and stuff like that… I don’t think people really appreciate that within Killing Joke we do talk about ourselves in that way.”

Released in 1996, Democracy plays out like a new age alternative rock album thanks to Coleman’s new found interests in Native American and Maori culture. Even though it’s not my favorite album of theirs by any stretch, it does have some memorable tracks such as “Intellect”, “Democracy”, “Another Bloody Election”, and “Medicine Wheel”.

“We really connected after not being so much around each other for a few years, and we exchanged a lot of ideas and philosophies,” Coleman said. “It’s been the most optimistic album that we’ve ever been a part of. The ideas we have on this album are those of proportional representation, which is the only true democracy and is something we all believe in.”

Sometime during the 90’s, I think it must’ve been about here, Killing Joke almost had a new bass player in Joy Division / New Order member Peter Hook. All that’s ever been said about it was that Coleman said he almost joined in the 90’s, but then never said anything else (in typical Jaz Coleman fashion). The two bands used to play together back when they were starting out, and they actually did record with Hook, but they remain unreleased. Coleman reflected in 2012, “I haven’t seen Peter Hook since the 90’s but we send messages to each other via people. Peter wanted to be in Killing Joke and we ended up recording some songs at [his studio] and it sounded like a real hybrid of Killing Joke and Joy Division… I think he’s frightened of us because he quit drinking. So have I, but I don’t think he knows that!”

The band was preparing to tour, but Youth was unable to participate. The band hired Troy Gregory as a touring replacement. Gregory was Jason Newsted’s replacement in Flotsam & Jetsam, and later was a member of Prong. He came at Walker’s suggestion, as the pair had met backstage at a Murder Inc. show back in 1992. “It was like winning the lottery,” Gregory said. “All you gotta do is go and play Killing Joke every night, with Killing Joke!”

However, Gregory got off to a rocky start with Coleman. Gregory didn’t have Pandemonium or Democracy, so when it came time to rehearse, he was ill prepared. He had been asking Walker for the setlist ahead of time, but Walker kept brushing him off. “I really botched it,” Gregory recalled. “Jaz was looking at me like I’m not even there and saying to Geordie, ‘Why did you bring in this Yank? Fuck him.’ Because I had played in some metal bands, I think he thought I was some dumb metalhead guy. Typical American. It wasn’t a fun day.”

But fear not, dear reader. That night, Gregory got copies of both albums and stayed up all night learning the songs. “[Coleman] was giving me the stink eye. We start playing [‘Millennium’] and I’m nailing it… After that the rehearsals went better.”

The band also contributed “Drug” to the Mortal Kombat: More Kombat album. It’s one of those “songs inspired by” collections, with no direct relationship with the original property. At any rate, it’s a decent compilation, and one oddity here is a new song by G//Z/R (or Geezer), Geezer Butler’s band that isn’t Black Sabbath. Interestingly, drums are provided by Martin Atkins.

After the tour, the band may or may not have broken up, or perhaps just been on hiatus. When they break-up they never admit to breaking up, so I don’t see what difference it makes. Anyway, Coleman worked on a series of those discs that were all the rage back then, the symphonic takes on classic rock bands. He arranged and produced Kashmir: Symphonic Led Zeppelin, Us and Them (Symphonic Pink Floyd), and Symphonic Music of The Rolling Stones with the London Symphony Orchestra, as well as Riders on the Storm: The Doors Concerto.

“The reason why people have never done good arrangements of rock music before is that they don’t care enough,” Coleman said. “It’s just a job to them. I did it with as much passion as I do with any of my own music and more, and it has a lot of my own music in it. You can’t think about getting publishing or this or that.”

Damage Manual – One EP / Damage Manual – Damage Manual (2000)

I already wrote about Damage Manual, so I won’t rehash that, you can read about it in the Ministry Spotlight over here. But I did find a new quote from vocalist Chris Connelly: “The Damage Manual was… complex. I wrote and recorded my contributions to the project pretty much alone, without interacting with the band – which, actually, was similar to Murder Inc. It’s rare that I solicit input regarding my singing, and I never solicit input on lyrics… When the album was recorded, prior to mixing, the band met for the first time. Very disparate characters… to disparate for it work. Although I personally enjoyed myself, the friction was unbearable.”