It is safe to say that 16 full-lengths into their long career, Killing Joke can be considered an institution. One doesn’t compare their new albums to releases by similar bands; instead, they are only judged against their own back catalogue.
For those new to the band, Killing Joke‘s sound is an amalgam of gritty postpunk and early industrial, these days leaning more toward the former. They formed in 1978, but the latest phase of the band began with 2006’s Hosannas From The Basements Of Hell. That album saw them regain the urgency of their earlier work, with a production and lyrical slant suited for modern times.
Pylon (get it from Amazon) picks up where 2012’s MMXII left off. Songs such as the opening “Autonomous Zone,” “New Cold War,” and “Big Buzz” all feature the band’s default, driving postpunk urgency, while others, like “New Jerusalem,” have a more dirge-like quality. Particularly exciting is the second track, “Dawn of the Hive.” This song showcases Killing Joke‘s “tribal” sound, a pounding, ritualistic mode that was more common on their earlier records. The final trio of tunes—”Delete,” “I Am the Virus,” and “Into the Unknown”—showcase a more metallic, guitar-driven sound. At this point in their career, Killing Joke doesn’t seem to be lacking for energy or creative variety, all while remaining 100% themselves.
If there is one consistent element throughout the album, if not in fact the band’s entire history, it’s Jaz Coleman‘s vocals and charismatic role as the frontman. He employs both harsh and clean vocals, smoothly transitioning from one to the other effortlessly. More important, his lyrics read like a sermon delivered by a secular but simultaneously fire-and-brimstone style preacher, narrating the apocalypse as it unfolds right before our eyes. Coleman often appears to be the heart and soul of the band, at least from the public point of view.
If one criticism can be made, it’s that with consistency comes a bit of predictability. Killing Joke continues to pump out great album after great album, but with only minor variation from one to the next. Pylon displays a bit more energy than MMXII, while Hosannas From The Basements Of Hell might be the darkest of the band’s 21st Century releases, but overall, the listener knows what to expect. Still, we are thankful for it, and reliant upon Jaz Coleman to give expression to that post-millennial tension bearing down on the entire globe right now. Armageddon might just be upon us, or so Killing Joke would have us believe, but thankfully, they will be making records right up to the end.