Artist Spotlight: Killing Joke (or; How to Compose the Soundtrack to Every Apocalypse) [Part 6 of 7]

Part 1 here. Part 2 here. Part 3 here. Part 4 here. Part 5 here.

Killing Joke (2003)

In 2002, guitarist Geordie Walker and vocalist/keyboardist Jaz Coleman came back together to reform Killing Joke once again. Coleman cited the Invasion of Iraq and the War on Terror as major reasons for reforming. The band entered the studio with Gang of Four’s Andy Gill producing, and for bass brought back original bassist Martin “Youth” Glover and his one-time replacement, Paul Raven. In addition, Walker also played some bass on the album, although the majority of it was performed by Youth.

For drums, they enlisted unknown drummer David Dave Grohl. I assume they plucked him out of the crowd at a show Courtney Cox style, like in the video for Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing In the Dark”, because of course Grohl was largely unknown before his work on this album. Anywho… initially, System of a Down’s John Dolmayan had done some demo work, and was going to be on the album along with Tool’s Danny Carey, but when Grohl heard the songs he wanted to do the whole album. Grohl also declined to be paid for his contributions.

“I see this as being the band’s most powerful work to date” Coleman said. “because of the fact that I’m still playing the album. Even though I perform on it, I’m still playing it myself. I’ve never had that before.”

I remember at the time thinking this was pretty great, but I don’t think it’s held up as well. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still pretty good, but it’s not as adventurous and has a deal of repetition. Some songs, like “Asteroid”, just aren’t up to snuff songwriting wise (even if the idea of the planet being wiped out by an asteroid might sometimes be an attractive prospect). “Dark Forces” has that trademark Killing Joke stomp, and Coleman goes from screaming to singing effortlessly. “Blood On Your Hands” (which really should’ve been a single) has great drum work by Grohl and is as close to a “boogie” as Joke get, before opening it up right before the chorus.

The album had some bonus tracks depending on your geography. The US edition had a re-recording of “Wardance” subtitled “(Ultimate Edition)”, which… meh. It’s a great song, but we’ve heard a million times. There was also “Inferno” (UK and Japan), and “Zennon” (Japan only).

When the time came to tour, replacements had to be made. Youth declined to tour, largely because of Coleman’s drinking. “I wouldn’t tour because of the drinking, and Geordie’s. Because then the work becomes meaningless and pointless and it’s not about the work, it’s about the next drink,” Youth said. “It’s avoidance on a grand scale. I’m not interested in that with them, or with anyone else really. So, if they’re not serious about what they’re doing, I’m not really serious about being a part of it.”

Naturally, this brought Paul Raven back to the band full time. After the end of Murder Inc., Raven did a short stint with former Killing Joke drummer Martin Atkins’ Pigface, then spent a few years in Prong, replacing Youth’s replacement on the Democracy tour, Troy Gregory. “I don’t really feel that I even started to take music seriously until I was in Prong, to be honest,” Raven said. “In some ways, Prong was my own exercise, because Killing Joke was never my baby from the get-go. Prong was something that I had to prove to myself.” Before returning to Joke, Raven also played in Canadian bands Raggadeath and Econoline Crush, formed Zilch with Japanese artist Hide and drummer Joey Castillo (who would go on to Danzig and Queens of the Stone Age), and toured as an additional member of Godflesh.

Because Grohl was not going to tour, the band enlisted former Prong (of which he was a founding member), Swans, and Godflesh member Ted Parsons on the recommendation of Raven. “They had been talking about that thing for five years,” Parsons said. “I really wanted to play on that record. I practically begged them to play on that album… They trusted Raven’s judgment, because Geordie thought Prong was crap (laughs)! I tried to play him some Prong, like ‘Did you check this out at all?’ He’d be like, ‘No. It’s bollocks. It’s crap’.”

After the initial tour, Parsons had to bow out after he was diagnosed with brain cancer. While he was initially only given months to live, as of this writing he is still playing drums locally in Norway and is focusing on his art, which he went to school for. He gave an interview about his work with Swans and Prong as recently as June 2019, so I guess he’s still kicking.

In 2005, the band released XXV Gathering: Let Us Prey, a DVD and live album of their 25th anniversary show recorded at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London.

Hosannas From the Basement of Hell (2006)

The band regrouped in Prague to record the follow up to Killing Joke with new drummer Ben Calvert. “My first show was supporting Motley Crue at The Glasgow SECC on 14th June 2005,” Calvert said. “By that time, I had already spent about 4 months living in Prague with the band, rehearsing and recording the Hosannas album… Living above the recording studio and rehearsing in the dark and dingy basement, hence Basement of Hell.”

(For the Motley Crue tour, the band was paid $200,000 for six shows to open for them because Tommy Lee was such a huge fan. They publicly told their fans not to attend.)

The album marks an unusually dark time for the band, in a life full of dark times. Coleman’s and Walker’s drinking was completely out of control, and Raven had sunk deeper into a heroin addiction, which he had flirted with in the past. In one instance, Coleman and Walker were having a dispute on a track, when Coleman got down on all fours and literally bit Walker’s leg, and did not let go until he drew blood. The duo split, and two hours later, Walker came back and said, “Should we go out for a pint?” Coleman replied, “Alright then,” and they just left together to get a drink.

But beyond substance abuse shenanigans, the band drew out the recording process as long as possible on purpose. They had a new record deal, and as long as the recording went on, they would have a place to live. Somehow, beyond all reason, the band was bankrupt again. After the album was completed, Raven quit the band again, and attempted to take touring keyboardist Dave Kovacevic with him, which Coleman was not very happy about.

Hosannas From the Basement of Hell, despite having a great title, is far from my favorite. It’s not that it’s terrible, but it sounds like the band on autopilot and they don’t really know when to reign it in, with most songs topping seven, eight, or even nine minutes. The songs mostly lose their impact and wear out their welcome. I’m in the minority on this, because the reviews were largely good. One track I really did like was “Universe B”, which was the Japan edition bonus track.

Killing Joke attempted a tour to support the album, with a new bass player known only as “Kneil”. The bulk of the tour was cancelled either due to Coleman’s back problems, or a vague reason of “mental health problems”. The shows that did happen, were lackluster at best, and a disaster at worst. A show in Sheffield was particularly awful when the band went on 45 minutes late, and then was plagued with sound problems. Coleman announced to the audience, “You’re fucking depressing, you make me depressed. Fuck off!”

The band went on hiatus yet again, until Paul Raven’s untimely death.