For some time, the legendary Killing Joke have been ageing like a fine wine. Defiant in the face of the natural ageing process, the band – possibly in reaction to volcano-throated frontman Jaz Coleman’s doomsaying, prophetic lyrics actually being more relevant by the day – have only become louder, darker and better as the years have passed.
It is a good fortune and seemingly never-ending winning run only afforded to the truly special and prosperous, with fellow national treasures Iron Maiden being an immediate example – also having a back catalogue so crammed with gems, a truly perfect setlist is impossible.
Nevertheless, they give it a bloody good go. From the minute the lumbering, shuddering nightmare of ‘The Hum’ fills the equally historic Brixton Academy, the ‘Joke give a faultless lesson in how to keep any heel-snapping protégés away. Indeed, when they finally hang it up it’ll be hard to find an act with quite the same weird allure or blazing intensity.
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1980’s hit and deathless set-staple ‘Love Like Blood’ follows, throwing back to their historic gothy-pop period and reminding us all of their expeditions into varying genre territories: the enduring, endearing result is, for the uninitiated, a nerve-racking proto something or other that’s too heavy to be punk, too nuanced to be industrial, and not quite metal either. Yet they outwit many of the greatest proponents of these genres by (still) being stubbornly uncategorisable and seamlessly blending them together, without losing sight of what constitutes a tune.
Stringsman ‘Geordie’ Walker, the immovable object against which Jaz Coleman’s unstoppable force collides, provides great textural cathedrals of sound with an utterly unmistakable and sought-after guitar tone, making the noise of thousands from only one pair of hands.
Legendary producer and bassist Youth is almost his complete opposite, stage left: barefoot, in a kimono, and grinning his teeth out, and why not? Most bands never make it past the big 3-0, most never manage to retain or reform their original lineup and sound this fantastic (the tragic passing of longtime bassist Paul Raven having preceded this, however, with the band taking a long hard look at their own mortalities and making the decision).
But Killing Joke are not ‘most bands’, and in a world of absolute fucking anaemic grey-arsed musical tedium, they have only become more vital and desperately needed. ‘New Cold War,’ from last year’s barnstorming ‘Pylon’ album, ably explores its title’s subject matter like an essay set to music, with Walker supplying chilly atmospherics. They somersault into territories other bands refuse to enter.
Underpinning all of this sits the formidable ‘Big’ Paul Ferguson, a mesmerising sight during the rabbit-hole tumble of ‘Unspeakable’ and, well, at any given point during the gig. It’s a testament to the man’s dizzying tub-thwacking that he can command your attention even with a pair of fire dancers blowing flames within singeing distance of Youth’s dreads.
The generous running time amounts to nearly twenty songs, and while some stones are left unturned, there’s room for the likes of ‘Eighties,’ the venerable ‘Turn to Red,’ underrated dancey banger ‘European Super State,’ while failsafe early ‘uns like ‘The Wait’ and ‘Change’ square off against the furious ‘Dawn of the Hive’ and ‘I Am the Virus.’
A delicious hat-trick of ‘The Death & Resurrection Show,’ ‘Wardance’ and a multi-dimensional ‘Pandemonium’ ensure a winning send-off to a night of energy, dancing, sore necks and smiles all round.
Killing Joke, after thirty-plus years in the game, are still impossibly unique and utterly unsolvable. We shall not see their like again.