If you’ve listened to LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge,” you’ve already heard Killing Joke’s music without realizing it. “Losing My Edge” takes its drumbeat and bass line from Killing Joke’s “Change,” which is pretty ironic given the fact that “Losing My Edge” is a pissing contest about being original and relevant. But if you’re going to claim that you hung out with Captain Beefheart so early in his career that nobody noticed you were there, who’s going to notice if you rip off the entire b-side of a single from the 1980s?
Known more for being a large and pervasive influence on others than for their own music, the band introduced its harsh and gritty sound in their self-titled debut in 1980 that later became the foundation for all varieties of industrial and heavy music. Where Joy Division inspired future musicians to become minimally melancholic, Killing Joke inspired them to be harsh and angry.
Killing Joke was part of the late 1970s post-punk explosion that produced bands like The Fall, Wire and The Cure. Defying break-ups, reunions and lineup changes, these bands are still going strong after 30 years, and are on their 29th, 12th and 13th studio albums, respectively. Killing Joke is no exception: Though they never officially broke up, the band went on hiatus in 1996, reformed under a different lineup in 2002, disappeared again and reformed under their original lineup in 2008.
Despite this, the band was able to release three albums along the way, making MMXII their 15th studio album. But even after 30 years, the band continues to put the post back in post-punk by adopting a more industrial rock-, metal-influenced sound without forfeiting their origins. As abrasive as ever, the songs are more structured and controlled than the chaotic all-over-the-place roughness of their early work.
Killing Joke hardly leaves behind the social and political commentary that defined their peers like This Heat and The Pop Group. From the montage of mushroom clouds on This Heat’s Deceit to The Pop Group’s For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? to Killing Joke’s “Follow the Leaders,” all three bands silhouettes an apocalyptic vision of impending destruction because herd mentalities convince people that evil acts are normal. If there is anything consistent in the punk-politics of Killing Joke, it is their inconsistency. While nuclear war loomed large in the 80s, frontman Jaz Coleman lamented about seeing “the sun turn green/ from my penthouse window/ it’s different now/ because you got no shelter.”
In accordance with the title, MMXII also focuses on 2012 doomsday theories as well as other occult themes. While occultism is not new for the band, it has never surfaced as visibly as it does in MMXII. This plus their political track record is, unfortunately, a mixed bag. Coleman rants about the Rapture and ancestor worship to the point where he sounds demented, which complements nicely with the band’s rock-like-it’s-the-end-of-the-world attitude. But it does induce a lot of eye rolling and detracts from the powerful political message the band intended. Can we really take seriously a person who calls for an end to corporate greed (“Corporate Elect”) when he also accuses FEMA of building concentration camps in preparation for Congress to declare martial law (“FEMA Camp”)?
Album opener “Pole Shift” is a perfect example how torn the album is between awesomeness and eye rolling. On one hand, Coleman’s insane rant about the north and south poles switching on December 21, 2012, and causing a global catastrophe is an engaging story that works with thrashing guitars and guttural screams to create an epic nine-minute track. On the other hand, the band actually believes it. In a press release promoting MMXII, the band warns that the pole shift is a disaster beyond our control, and yet they find “positive light in the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.”
MMXII creates another more positive form of disbelief: It’s confounding, even a little unfair, that a band that played with long gone ancients like Joy Division could still come out with something this good. Big basslines and scratchy guitars create a mixture of industrial rock, post-punk and heavy metal that manages to stay harsh and abrasive while sounding fresh and classic. The band doesn’t try to hide the fact that they’re old, but they make it clear that they still have something to say.
Disregard the horrid album cover and ridiculous conspiracy theories, because MMXII is overflowing with immense and epic heavy rock. If you have never listened to Killing Joke, this album is a great place to start. If the band has taught us anything, it’s that there is never a time when it is too old or too late to do something.