Killing Joke have been around for a long while and influenced everyone from Nirvana to Nine Inch Nails, so it should come as no surprise that the central topic they decide to address on MMXII, their 15th studio full-length, is—as the roman numerals suggest—2012: the supposed end of the world, according to the Mayan calendar. It’s a topic that plays well to their dark industrial sensibilities. Gloom complements doom, and so on and so forth. Killing Joke fully capitalize on that aspect once again, creating towering songs that veer between varying dark atmospheres, never once letting light slip through the cracks. MMXII is not a celebration of the destruction that comes with the impending apocalypse; instead, it’s a scared preparation, which makes it easier to relate to and a lot easier to be terrified by. In trading out excess for introspection, they manage to hit a very human vein quite effectively.
However, the most impressive aspect of MMXII is how well Killing Joke still function as a band. This is the original reformed Killing Joke lineup and, much like Dinosaur Jr., it sounds like they’ve been revitalized since their reformation a few years ago, focusing on those qualities that made them such an influential presence around the time of their early releases. There’s often a chemistry that can’t be revived when bands come back together after a long separation, yet Killing Joke never seem to have that problem. While they’re still prone to some miscues (This bouncy funk bass trend really needs to disappear), they still create fascinating pieces as a whole. Most importantly, though, none of these songs sound weary or aged.
While there are a few songs scattered throughout MMXII that feel dangerously close to new wave pop, they still retain a certain dark edge that’s proved to be a difficult sound for many lesser bands to cultivate. Despite a few glaring exceptions, MMXII also contains songs that stand out incredibly well, and the lesser moments are all but erased by the end of closing track “On All Hallow’s Eve”. A few tracks on MMXII could very well be career highlights for Killing Joke—a fact which, 15 strong albums in, is extremely impressive. Among those highlights is the nearly nine-minute opener, “Pole Shift”, which showcases Killing Joke in its finest form while admirably running their genre gamut. There’s not a weak moment in the song despite all the stylistic shifts.
How well MMXII holds together actually comes as a surprise, even in the aftermath of “Pole Shift”. Each of the ten tracks represented here all play off each other that MMXII feels more complete than most contemporary concept albums. By sticking to their aesthetic and expanding upon it, they’ve tapped into an unfailing formula at an appropriate time. However, since that aspect works so well on the great songs, it makes the merely good ones just a little more frustrating than they should be, resulting in a slightly uneven but enjoyable listen. It also serves as a very strong reminder of Killing Joke’s power, prowess, and influence. Overall, it’s a very worthy addition to their legendary catalog—and that should say enough.