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

Part 1 here. Part 2 here. Part 3 here. Part 4 here. Part 5 here. Part 6 here.

In Excelsis EP (2010) / Absolute Dissent (2010)

After bassist Paul Raven left the band, he joined up with Ministry (he had already toured with them between Killing Joke and Hosannas From the Basement of Hell). He also played with French Industrial band Treponem Pal and L.A.’s 16Volt. He had also started a new group, Mob Research with Warrior Soul front man Kory Clarke and guitarist Mark Gemini Thwaite (The Mission UK, Peter Murphy, Primitive Race) and guitarist Nick Lucero (Queens of the Stone Age).

Unfortunately, while recording in Switzerland, Raven died of an apparent heart attack on October 20, 2007. Raven was found by former drummer Ted Parsons while they were working with Treponem Pal and The Young Gods. “I found Raven asleep in a chair the next morning in [a] living room,” Parsons said. “I thought nothing of it, as Raven would sleep like this on the tour bus in the front lounge all the time. Then I looked closer at him, and he looked very gray. I checked his pulse and there was none. I yelled for the other guys in the band. We immediately did some CPR and called for an ambulance. Medics arrived quickly, but after an hour of trying to get his heartbeat back, they could not save him. They said he died in his sleep… Words can’t describe how I feel right now. I’m devastated. He will be missed by many.”

Raven’s funeral became the genesis for the reunion of the original lineup. As drummer Paul Ferguson says, “In 2007, my dear friend and colleague Paul Raven died suddenly, and to my surprise, it was upon attending his funeral that I reconnected with Jaz and we made amends. The hatchet had been buried, so to speak, and the idea planted to reform the original lineup.”

“It was always in the cards that the original lineup would get back together. And it has great meaning now. This is a golden era for Killing Joke,” vocalist/keyboardist Jaz Coleman said. “It’s taken a long time for people to wake up to our band’s significance. We also have no peer group. We have no people from our period that are together or even alive. So, we’ve been forced to accept that we are now part of the establishment in certain respects (laughs).”

The band entered Martin “Youth” Glover’s studio in Granada, Spain, it was the first time all four of the original members had been in the same room since 1982. The group recorded a live in studio set of early favorites called Duende: The Spanish Sessions, and it’s pretty scarce. Coleman says in the liner notes that “the original line up bears no comparison to later line ups, neither socially or musically.” In the notes he also said, “New album in January if we’re all still alive,” so there’s that.

The band started rehearsing for two different sets for their upcoming reunion tour, but also working on new music at the same time. “We did over twenty songs and then we’ve been arguing over which ones go on the fucking record for the last six months!” Coleman said.

Initially the band released a taste of the new music in the form of the In Excelsis EP. All the songs turned up on the full length except for “Ghosts of Ladbroke Grove [Dub]” and “Kali Yuga”. This “Kali Yuga” is not the same as the “Kaliyuga” from Extremities, Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions.

Absolute Dissent was released in September of 2010, is a blend of metal, post-punk, and industrial dance. “Endgame” and “European Super State” recall the early Killing Joke groove, while “This World Hell” and “The Great Cull” (my favorite) are pummeling and heavy. Meanwhile, “Depth Charge” recalls Pandemonium style industrial, and “The Raven King” is the emotional high point of the album.

Youth wrote on the band’s MySpace page:

We have survived equipment being hi-jacked, tapes being withheld, nervous breakdowns, family bereavements, blood lettings, and a host of other challenges of Biblical proportions, But we are now at the final ascent, and I have to say it’s one of the greatest albums I have ever had the privilege to be involved with… EVER! I have been living and breathing it for over four months now, and I’m still jaw-droppingly amazed at its power & beauty.

MMXII (2012)

I mean who else is going to be going on about the world ending in 2012? Or, what better soundtrack to the world ending in 2012? I mean, in theory, of course.

“When you do two albums back to back there’s a potential danger that the album that follows doesn’t match. In my career I’m thinking of the time from Pandemonium into Democracy. Actually, Dave Grohl says Democracy is one of his favorite albums but I don’t think it’s as strong as our other work. I think that’s because it was done straight after writing and promoting and performing Pandemonium. You learn from your mistakes,” Coleman said. “So, with 2012 I made sure we did the writing process in sections. Part of it was [guitarist] Geordie [Walker] and myself. Part of it was Big Paul, Youth and myself. Finally, we agreed on the best ideas and put it all down live in one day. It was written in Prague and Spain and the drums were put down in the U.K.”

MMXII is continuing the great work of the original lineup reunion. I wouldn’t say it’s bad, but the band kind of loses his impact after Absolute Dissent. Still, there are the heavy moments and some more accessible moments, like the haunting “In Cythera”.

The band was set to do a short 5 date UK tour with The Cult and The Mission UK. But that wouldn’t happen. Coleman posted on the band’s Facebook page that they were not going to do the tour. “It gives me great pleasure to announce the cancellation of the upcoming gigs with the Cult and the Mission,” Coleman wrote. “Frankly, playing at a gig with the Cult never appealed to me in the first place. The only reason we allowed ourselves to be talked into it was to blow both bands off the stage and to steal their respective audiences … Also, all their songs suck! They clearly have no integrity.”

The band was very unhappy about this. They took down Coleman’s post and replaced it with: “It was agreed by all of the band that we would do these shows, but Jaz is now AWOL and has not contacted any of his bandmates … We are doing everything we can to make this tour happen and locate our missing singer.”

Coleman was eventually found in the Western Sahara and claimed that someone was out there impersonating him.

I have to say, I love the music of Killing Joke, it means a lot to me. Obviously, since I wrote about them. But I find Coleman’s actions completely irresponsible. I think it’s safe to say he has mental illness issues, yet refuses to do anything about it. Not only does it cause him to let down his fans, it causes him to let down his own band.

Pylon (2015)

As is the cycle with these things, the band began work on their next album.

“Last September we started the process. The four of us spent a week together and we ended up with one song that ended up on the album,” Coleman said. “Then it went down to the nucleus of Geordie and me with Youth popping in every few weeks. We worked from September, and all of the tracks and drums were done by the following mid-February. We always lock ourselves into a studio in Prague, which is sort of Killing Joke central: spires and beautiful dark architecture seem to work with our ambience. I must have done 80 back-to-back days with Geordie. It was intense but it was good. We wrote 16 songs and fell in love with 15 of them, which are on the extended record.”

“I think we took a bit more time writing this one,” Youth said. “With the previous two, we had to write and record in two-three weeks; it was boom, boom, boom. With this one, we kind of did it in Prague, which we could afford because the studio time was cheap… It’s a funny process with Killing Joke; it’s never rational or logical, but it does come out the way it kind of should. I don’t really argue with it or question it too much… Absolute Dissent was more of a regrouping and a self-reflection of our entire career, it felt a little bit like a compilation album, almost. MMXII was definitely more of an album-album, but more synth-oriented and a little bit more progressive in that sense… And then this one’s a bit more guitar and – I don’t really want to say it – but more metal-influenced in some ways.”

Because there’s also some sort of weird tag, Youth put out a coloring book at this time as well. “Last year or so, a few people had suggested strongly that I consider doing my drawings as a coloring book,” Youth explained. “I started to do some specifically for that, and collated and adapted some older ones that I thought might work well.” The book was titled The Anarchist Colouring Book, which is a pretty brilliant title. Then, because it went up on Bandcamp, he had to have an accompanying album. “Two days before we went live to publish [the book], I realized I didn’t have a soundtrack for it… If you don’t have the album, it’s hard to put it up. I suddenly thought, ‘Shit, I’ve got to get an album.’ I went through some archive ambient stuff and outtakes of films and various bits that ended up nowhere and collaged some of those together and did a couple of new ones.”

On October 23, 2015, Killing Joke released Pylon in a regular and limited edition with a bonus disc with five extra tracks. The vinyl edition included “Snakedance” which was exclusive to the vinyl only, though the bonus disc had a dub version on it.

Pylon is an incredible album. Every band has a few clunkers, but any band that releases an album this great in their (at that time) 36-year career, has a lot to be proud of. The album continues down the same themes musically and lyrically as the prior to records, but the songs are laser focused to precision, it never sounds like it’s phoned in or scatterbrained in the least. “I Am the Virus” and “Plague” (from the special edition are a little too prescient 6 years later, but what are you going to do? “New Cold War” should’ve been the anthem for the last few years, and “Big Buzz” is the hidden pop gem in the mix.

Following the release, Killing Joke was going to do a full tour of North America, which would be their first full tour since 1994. All other tours were cancelled partially through, or just cancelled outright. The icing on the cake, they were playing an hour from my home… on my 40th birthday!

But guess what? The tour was cancelled. It was rescheduled, but of the new dates, the closest was four hours away. I can’t be mad about it though. I actually was diagnosed with a heart condition, which would’ve made it impossible for me to go anyway, so I got a refund. They had a real reason for cancelling, anyway. Ferguson had broken his arm, and his replacement, Jimmy Copley (who played on Outside the Gate) was diagnosed with Leukemia. The disease would eventually end up killing him on May 13, 2017.

Assorted Activities

Everyone has been laying low since the conclusion of the tour for Pylon, except for Coleman.

In 2016, Coleman appeared on the single for The Levee Walkers, which is the project of bassist Duff McKagan (Guns N’ Roses), guitarist Mike McCready (Pearl Jam, Mad Season), and drummer Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees, Mad Season, Skin Yard, REM). McKagan explains the concept, “To become a Levee Walker you must have at least 25 years of musical experience, survived battles with the forces of darkness, and perhaps even kissed death on the cheek. More importantly, there must exist a deep reverence for the music of your comrades, and the commitment they made to this hardest of paths.”

I love McKagan, but that just sounds contrived.

The group released the single “Freedom Song” with the B-side “Tears For the West”. The first song is pretty OK, the B-side not so much. But really, a supergroup with members of GNR and Killing Joke? I would’ve never seen that coming.

In 2019, Coleman teamed up with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra and recorded (deep breath) Magna Invocatio (A Gnostic Mass For Choir And Orchestra Inspired By The Sublime Music Of Killing Joke). Also, Coleman is very humble.

“People have been asking me for 25 years now ‘will you ever orchestrate Killing Joke?’ I never saw this as a possibility because of demographics and budget. I had this dirty manager who’s fortunately gone now. He said ‘Let’s do this Pledge[Music] thing’,” Coleman said. “[He] didn’t do any budgetary forecasts or anything. He said we’ll take money off the top and give it to you, but I never got a penny in fact. Nothing, zero. Nothing to do anything with. They didn’t even come up with one third of the budget…

And that’s when the magic happened… Everything went right. It went so right that I had the first dream I’ve had in 25 years. That’s right, I haven’t dreamt in 25 years. And I had this super-dazzling high definition dream of being in the czar’s palace with this incredible orchestra. Everything was floodlit and I was in a three-piece suit looking like a penguin. And the ceiling was the night sky. And then I heard Magna Invocatio. I heard it performed in dream state. And two days later after this dream I had the budget and I was off to Russia.”

Then, in 2020, Coleman released a single with Czech didgeridoo player Ondrej Smeykal called “The Day the Earth Went Mad.” Although the single is credited to Coleman and Smeykal, apparently the project is called Black & Red.

“The Black & Red project was born in Australia in 2010 when I set out to find the greatest virtuoso of the didgeridoo only to find the maestro of the instrument resided in Prague where I lived,” explained Coleman. “Upon my return to the Czech Republic, I was introduced to Ondrej Smeykal. We ended up not just developing an ancient instrument but recording the Black & Red project (adding only Indian Harmonium) and an explosive duo was formed which could recreate the recording live perfectly. The funny thing is Black and Red only made sense after lockdown.”

So, there it is, dark and light, the conclusion of my spotlight on Killing Joke. Hope you enjoyed it, and tune in next week for… I don’t know, something else, I guess.