Killing Joke - Biography
Killing Joke almost singlehandedly created a new sound that would come to be expanded upon, borrowed from, and shamelessly copied for years. The first couple of Killing Joke albums were stepping stones toward industrial rock, a genre that would become more commercially viable in the hands of Trent Reznor, and to a lesser degree, Ministry. The band's metal leanings inspired rock bands as well, and Metallica would cover “The Wait” on their album, Garage Inc. By the mid-80's, Killing Joke's ambitions were unfortunately getting the better of them, resulting in a few albums that didn't do justice to their great beginnings, including their biggest slump, Outside the Gate. Fifteen years later, as unlikely as it was, the band released Killing Joke, an assault of heavy guitars and menacing vocals that actually rivaled the band's first album of the same name.
“Big” Paul Ferguson was drumming for the Matt Stagger Band at the time that he met Jaz Coleman. Shortly after Coleman had signed on as a member of the Matt Stagger Band, he and Ferguson quit the group to form a new one toward the end of '78. A bass player named Martin Glover Youth, who had played in the Rage and simply went by the name “Youth,” was recruited by the duo, as was Kevin Walker, a guitarist who preferred to be called Geordie. After Coleman's then-girlfriend loaned the band some money, they went into a studio and recorded their debut, an EP called Almost Red (1979, Malicious Damage).
The EP earned Killing Joke something that had done wonders for bands before Killing Joke, and would for many bands to come: a vote of confidence from legendary disc jockey John Peel. Killing Joke's performance on Peel's BBC show in '79 became one of the most popular shows that he broadcast that year. Before the new decade arrived, Killing Joke had a record contract with Island. Their contract gave them permission to start up an imprint of their own, which they called Malicious Damage. “Wardance,” the band's debut single on Malicious Damage, was released in February, 1980. Killing Joke then took their label and moved to EG, putting out their self-titled debut that same year. Killing Joke was a strong announcement of a new band and a new sound. Even though the power of this sound would become lessened over the years thanks to its many bandwagon jumpers, it's hard to believe an LP as visceral and genre-bending as this came out in 1980. As far as many fans are concerned, Killing Joke never got any better than this.
After playing several gigs throughout England, the band's controversial reputation began to precede them at their shows. The greatest culprit was undoubtedly the artwork they used to promote themselves, which always included scandalous images that were aimed to offend the sensibilities of just about everyone. For example, who wouldn't take issue with pictures of the Pope granting his blessings to rows of saluting Nazis? That particular poster got the group's show in Glasgow canceled, but would reappear as the album cover of the compilation Laugh? I Nearly Bought One (1992, Caroline).
Drastic and unwarranted envelope-pushing aside, the band's cult status was growing, as devout punks were attending the same shows as people who just wanted to dance. A song like “Wardance” satiated the tastes of both groups. What's THIS For...! (EG), the group's second LP, was released in 1981. A continuation of the experimental thrashing of the first album, the new disc widened Killing Joke's audience even more as the danceable “Follow the Leaders” caught on considerably in the US.
In 1982, the band was already back with a third album, Revelations. Recorded in Berlin, the album misses the mark, probably due to producer Konrad Plank's confusion about how to handle the band's strange sound. Not necessarily a bad album, it did not match up to its two predecessors. After its release, Coleman and Geordie left England for Iceland, where they hoped to avoid an apocalypse that Coleman had learned, through his devotion to occultism, was imminent. The pair of refugees continued to work on music while in their new home, and collaborated with many bands, including Theyr, certain members of which would later team up with a then-unknown Bjork and become the Sugarcubes .
Youth, recognizing that their trip would probably last at least until the apocalypse, decided to give in and join his bandmates in Iceland. The move proved only temporary for Youth however, as he moved back to England after a few months and started a new band with Ferguson called Brilliant. Unfortunately for Youth, Ferguson was just starting to feel the Iceland bug himself, and he left for the island nation shortly after Brilliant formed. Accompanying him on the journey was Paul Raven, the man who would become Killing Joke's new bassist. While Youth remained in England, playing with Brilliant, Killing Joke got to work in Iceland, writing new songs for a period that lasted about a year. When the band finally came back to England for good, they got started on their third album right away. Fire Dances (EG), a tribal album with a communal lyrical spirit, was released in 1983.
The rest of the 80's saw more releases by Killing Joke, and although some of them were solid, the audience the band once commanded had dwindled considerably. 1985 saw the release of Night Time (EG). This is the album that contains the song “Eighties,” a track that would be aped by Kurt Cobain for the Nirvana song “Come As You Are,” causing a mild controversy. The next year, they released Brighter Than a Thousand Suns (EG), an effort that paled in comparison to their early 80's brilliance, but still managed to crack the Billboard 200 in the US.
After the release of Outside the Gate (1988), they broke up. The LP proved to be an embarrassment. It was never intended to be a proper Killing Joke album, but a solo effort from Coleman featuring guitar work from Geordie. However, the record label put the Killing Joke name on the cover, officially tying in the other two members (who promptly quit the group) with what's now considered the worst Killing Joke album. Two years later they were back on with a new drummer and a new album to boot. Martin Atkins, formerly the drummer of Public Image Ltd, was on-hand to help the band recapture their early 80's fire. It sort of worked, as Extremities, Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions (1990, Noise) was at least heads and shoulders above Outside the Gate.
A four-year break followed the album's release. In 1994, the band was reduced to a trio, featuring Geordie, Coleman, and Youth, who would now return the favor to Raven by replacing him. Pandemonium (1994, Zoo), featuring the assistance of many different guest drummers, was their darkest, heaviest album yet. Album number ten, Democracy (1996, Zoo), proved to be their best in as many years. After another absence, this time lasting seven years, the band was back again with another self-titled album (2003, Zuma Recordings Ltd.). Finally, Killing Joke had released a set of songs that stacked up against their most thrilling recordings. The inclusion of Dave Grohl as a drummer didn't hurt matters either.
In 2004, Killing Joke went on tour, supporting Motley Crue in the UK. A live disc, XXV Gathering! (Cooking Vinyl) came out in 2005. Afterward, they journeyed to Prague to record their next album, 2006's Hosannas from the Basement of Hell, yet another step in the right direction for this unique band. And for Killing Joke, a step in the right direction can only mean a step towards the bewildering punk/metal/dance fusion they created almost 30 years ago. In 2010 the band released a double CD for Record Store Day called Absolute Dissent. Killing Joke's latest release is titled MMX11 (2012).