By Kane Power (@ElHeavio)
Maintaining relevance in music over a long period of time is a bit like trying to bail out a sinking ship. At first it’s simple, you are young and fit; easily able to keep up with the tide, and even when you do get a bit tired, there’s a load of crew members to help keep you afloat. However, as your journey progresses into decades, your trusty bucket gets holes and your crew desert like rats. Your once fine enterprise has aged, paint peeling, clinging to a long lost heyday as it slowly but surely sinks into oblivion. How many times have you seen some old codger dragging their corpse around a stage they should have vacated 20 years ago? More so in recent years, the promise of big money from a generation of fans too young to have seen classic bands in their prime is enough to lure even the most thoroughly retired out of their armchairs.
And then there is Killing Joke, who have not only managed to keep their ship afloat, but seem to have built something even greater. A hugely influential, genre defying (and at times genre defining) band that found success in the early 80’s, seem to be experiencing a second wind after a string of well received releases. Staring down the barrel of 40 years since their formation in 1978 and nearly 30 releases, Killing Joke have just released a stunning, modern rock album; their 15th studio effort, Pylon.
I rarely put on a record and am so immediately impressed. Pylon is much more relevant than I expected. It could be that their style has swung back around into fashion again (and I don’t mean just the slightly nostalgic synths), but I think anyone would be hard pressed to differentiate Pylon from many newer, currently trendy bands attempting a classic sound; except to say it’s largely better than anything else out there at the moment. Killing Joke can actually claim authenticity for their 80’s sound and it’s this experience that immediately sets them above the new wave.
The benefit of decades gives Killing Joke a weight that younger bands lack, pulling you into their orbit, sucking at your reality through the distractions and the constant bombardment of information, drawing out the human beneath the toughened husk we’ve come to accept as normal. The primal aspect to songs like ‘New Cold War’; the pulsing drums, the noise of the pick on guitar strings, makes Pylon somehow more…real. This is music made by people with an understanding of connectivity that extends beyond an internet connection.
Pylon has a focus on steady, driving rhythm. There’s a hypnotic, trance-like quality to riffs that extend through sections, only changing for brief moments before repetition. ‘Dawn Of The Hive’ resists changing down a gear in the chorus, which is a huge temptation. Where many bands falter, Killing Joke keep tempo, nurturing constant movement. Combined with the hymn-like vocals, it’s a very psychedelic experience.
Jaz Coleman’s voice, with its droning, driven precision, sets the dynamic for each song, altering the more upbeat riffs to skew the mood towards introspection. There’s a doom aspect that he achieves without aggression, a gravity without the need to scream. His voice drifts with the synths, becoming an instrument rather than a focal point and creating a cinematic atmosphere; an epic overtone to everything they do.
Killing Joke aren’t slogging away at the same old trade after 38 years, this is a band making modern music with the minds of experienced craftsmen, still relevant, still exciting, still good. Killing Joke are showing the new generation how to make a great rock record.