Let us take a moment and ponder, our mouths agape and our eyes glassy with wonder, the formidable career of Killing Joke. Their self-titled debut album released in 1980 sounded like nothing that came before it. Killing Joke set the prevailing rules of punk on a giant pyre and set it ablaze; we have been dancing concentrically in the light of that mighty fire for 35 years now. Songs like “Wardance” and “Bloodsport” sound as menacing and apocalyptic today as they did back then. Since that time, Killing Joke have never stopped challenging their listeners and stoking that ominous sonic bonfire of theirs.
This is not, however, a celebration of past triumphs. What is truly staggering is that in the year 2015 Killing Joke have released an album as riveting and malevolent as Pylon. How many bands or artists retain their vision and creativity over multiple decades? Tom Waits’ new stuff is as good as anything he did in the past. Swans, who are certainly fellow travelers of Killing Joke’s, continue to release shockingly good records. Thomas Gabriel Fischer, aka Tom G. Warrior, is still at the top of his game throughout his various projects. Not very many others come to mind though, and in spite of their countless imitators, Pylon reminds us that no one can make a soundtrack for the apocalypse quite like Killing Joke.
There is something about Jazz Colemen’s unholy bellow that just makes you want to tear your clothes off and start burning things. Coleman’s vocals often sound like the voice of some post-apocalyptic street preacher slowly cruising past your house in the back of a pickup truck shouting tidings of societal collapse through a megaphone. His vocals are mostly sung on Pylon, but Coleman is quite capable of some serious screaming when the mood takes him; such moments are all the more bloodcurdling on Pylon because they are relatively few.
As minacious and filled with foreboding as Pylon is, it is also melodic, catchy, and downright fun. Kevin “Geordie” Walker still writes catchy riffs and hot melodies without ever sacrificing the overall aura of danger. Many of these tracks, like the driving “Cold War” and “Big Buzz” are totally danceable. If they knew what was good for them, goth and industrial clubs around the world would toss their Nine Inch Nails records and crappy third-rate Skinny Puppy imitators and just play Pylon on repeat for the indefinite future.
We all know it in our hearts. We feel it bubbling in our amygdalas while we watch the evening news and while writing cryptic, paranoid text messages to our friends late at night: the end of civilization will soon be upon us. When that fateful day finally comes there will be a certain sense of relief. When we find ourselves loping through some squalid backstreet at 3am in the morning with a looted bottle of cough syrup in one hand and a crowbar in the other wearing only underwear and pair of safety goggles, it will seem natural and inevitable. We will also be totally unsurprised when many of the other post-apocalyptic looters who cross our paths are blasting Killing Joke out of boom boxes carried on their shoulders. The night will be lit only by fire and Jazz Colemen’s ferocious howl will echo throughout towns and cities. We will know that it was always going to be like this.