Feature: Killing Joke in the Boston Phoenix (12.1.10)

Posted on January 10, 2011

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“I never thought something like that could happen to a boy who was getting into trouble living in squats when he was 15 years old.” Long-time Killing Joke frontman Jaz Coleman is speaking over the phone from an orchestra gig in Prague with a cultivated, aw-shucks nostalgia. “I’m relieved to do my work in classical music, and also to be decorated as a chevalier by the French government. And then, lastly, getting an innovation award presented by Jimmy Page, who said we were the greatest band of all time. Well, that was a blast.”

Coleman has perfected an understatedly conceited way of carrying himself that’s made all the more charming by his gruff British bark. His 31-year-old band, Killing Joke, pretty much invented the crooked scaffolding on which four generations of bands have climbed, from Big Black and Nine Inch Nails to Faith No More, Neurosis, and Jesu. They’re pulling into the Paradise this Saturday after a victorious European tour and a monumental show at last year’s All Tomorrow’s Parties in the UK, reunited as the original four-piece for the first time since 1982. “For this all to work,” Coleman explains, “you’ve got to find a way to dissolve one’s cathedral-sized ego, somewhat.”

Of course, the past few years of social, environmental, and military chaos have screamed out for the perspective of some cathedral-sized egos. (What years don’t?) But it took tragedy to bring about the reunion. In 2007, long-time bassist Paul Raven died from an apparent heart attack. At his funeral, the original line-up, now four middle-aged blokes with day jobs, decided the rotten old world was ready for them again.

And why not? Back in the ’80s, Killing Joke were the great doomsayers of rock history, impaling punk and disco with rusty skewers and burning them to charred briquettes. Big on occultism from the start, Coleman and company gleefully grabbed apocalyptic disasters from the headlines and cast dark horsemen of the Cold War into vicious popcorn horror. They made metal chic, punk tough, and pop music a legitimate agent of fun-house evil. And when you look around at the world today, things seem tailor made for Killing Joke to clean house.

Fortunately for us, original drummer Paul Ferguson and bassist Martin “Youth” Glover had no trouble readjusting to Coleman and guitarist Kevin “Geordie” Walker as the band dove into the studio. “It was explosive, as usual,” says Coleman. “We go in with no expectations at all.” The result ended up sounding a lot like what you’d expect. Absolute Dissent (Spinefarm/Universal) is laced with fuzz, howling, and creepy Depeche Mode moments. And in the end, even with all the topical keywords thrown into the esoteric mix (the European Super State, the Singularity), it still seems strangely like 1981. But perhaps that’s the point: in Killing Joke’s world, all signs point to a good thumping.

Now a classical composer and conductor with a successful European career, Coleman is able to tell the story of Killing Joke as one of chance and Dickensian redemption. A band who tore up the tabloids, fueled by drugs, violence, and a fascination with Aleister Crowley and the Rosicrucians, have come out on the other side as a respectable bunch. And maybe they always were. “We began with Renaissance principles, really,” Coleman argues. “Everybody is born with an innate God gift. Everybody’s born with innate genius. We’ve always believed in this. So now, people come and see us on stage and think, ‘God, if those assholes can do this, anyone can do anything.’ ”

Original article in the Boston Phoenix here.

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