Killing Us Loudly
Killing Joke's antisocial diatribe might seem adolescent if the band weren't so smart and provocative. Far from the empty bitching of slackers who've run out of bud to smoke, this work by the London trio of Jaz Coleman, Youth and Geordie identifies and picks apart what pisses them off about modern life, and then offers alternatives. Issues such as environmental devastation, wanton consumerism and spiritual malaise are met with concepts of Gaia and ancestor worship that, at least for the band, establish a profound sense of community and continuity between peoples scattered across time and the Earth.
If this New Age vibe sounds like a load of Yanni, Democracy is anything but. Because bands like KMFDM and Nine Inch Nails owe a musical debt to Killing Joke, it's easy to dub the group "forefathers of industrial rock." A bit too easy, actually. Killing Joke has always been quick to use volume and Coleman's unrefined vocals to drive home a point. But it's also an exceptionally creative band, blending exotic rhythms with chiming metal guitars and sequenced loops. The effect is hypnotic, until Coleman snaps you back into his agenda with lyrics decrying "guilds in extortion and a Ph.D. in fuck you."
Joke's 1994 album Pandemonium made a stir on college radio with two singles--"millennium" and the title track. But the band's lack of a U.S. distributor has, for better or worse, kept Killing Joke a cult phenomenon in the New World since the 1979 release of its first EP, Turn to Red. (Virgin EG did finally issue a collection of Killing Joke singles titled Laugh? I Nearly Bought One! through the NYC-based Caroline Records in 1992.)
The band has grown more adept at orchestration and manipulating studio technology over the years--Youth runs his own U.K. indie label and has produced recordings for the Orb and Paul McCartney, and Coleman is a classical composer--but Killing Joke has maintained much of the primal energy that propelled such early gems as "Follow the Leaders" and "Wardance."
Even though Democracy isn't Killing Joke's best album--Pandemonium is more consistent and lyrically interesting--the new release offers several worthy tracks by angry young men who haven't forgotten to evolve. "This Savage Freedom" advocates leaving the city and its dead-end jobs in favor of living according to the "old ways" in villages and hills. "Prozac People" finds Coleman taking a shot at a medical establishment that treated the symptoms of his depression rather than its cause. And on the title cut, Geordie's trademark guitar chime serves as a melodic counterpoint to Coleman's growl. "You have a choice, we are your voice," sings Coleman, playing a politician who boasts about pushing through legislation for "another five-lane motorway" and taunts the voters "you'll never get a referendum anyway."
Killing Joke does have a brighter side--"Aeon" is a swirling storm of guitar and synthesizer anchored by a simple, thunderous bass line. Even as "economies perpetuate the next arms race" and individuals feel helpless before market forces, Killing Joke's front man sings about a positive transformation that sweeps through him as he taps into the coming age of spiritual rebirth.
It's easy to snicker at a heavy industrial band that extols the virtues of "windmills and waterfalls, strawberries and lily ponds." But Killing Joke's apparently absurd religiosity is the earnest effort of industrial pagans in search of nature's rapture. The band's music is inspired by the Earth goddess--it's just that, in Killing Joke's world, Mother Nature wears a flak jacket.
Cocktails With Joey
Excuse me, but isn't it time for the vogueing hipsters of the so-called cocktail nation to cash in their talismans--their Lava-Lites, their martini glasses, their wraparound couches--and return to the present? (Honest, Ike left the White House a few years ago, and all the Playboy clubs have shut down.)
Certainly, listening to lounge music by established masters of the genre such as Juan Garcia Esquivel, Perez Prado and Henry Mancini will always and forever hold an undeniable kitsch appeal, but cocking even half an ear toward the soulless jazz "stylings" generated by contempo imitators like bassist/bandleader Joey Altruda is akin to attempting to appreciate the dark heart of Edgar Allan Poe's work by reading the flotsam of Stephen King.
Is this album's "Parental Advisory" sticker really necessary? Negatron may be peppered with expletives, but good luck in deciphering them when vocalist/bassist Eric Forrest snarls into his fuzz box.
If the liner notes are to be trusted, two songs on this thrash-metal excursion articulate a conspiracy theory about the U.S. government secretly permitting aliens to abduct humans in exchange for technological secrets ("Project X" and "Cosmic Conspiracy"). And drummer Michel Langevin explains that the tumultuous single "Nanoman" is about what happens when "an intelligent digital cell that you can shoot in someone's arm to kill disease goes out of control and replicates too much."
Not your typical Ozzy Osbourne spandex schlock.
Over the course of 13 years and eight albums, Voivod has gradually departed from metal convention by jacking into the realm of cyberpunk to produce an oeuvre of influential extreme rock that theorizes about an imminent dark, high-tech future. In "Project X," for instance, a government cabal sells citizens to the little gray men from outer space. The enormity of the outrage sends Langevin and Forrest into a frenzy. The two treat rhythm like a subterranean monstrosity that requires bludgeoning--and plenty of it. Denis d'Amour's guitar spews forth chunky bits of distortion, and when Forrest hits his screaming stride on the chorus, he sounds like a guy who just learned the little-gray-man word for "vivisection" the hard way.
It's "Nanoman," though, where Voivod really breaks off a piece of steel and starts swinging. More yelling, more incendiary guitar riffage--including a white-hot break during the bridge. This song whips about like a downed electrical wire, lashing in and out of double time.
Voivod enlisted the help of Foetus mastermind Jim Thirwell for Negatron's final track, "D.N.A. (Don't No Anything)." Predictably, Thirwell belches brimstone and contributes groovy noise loops that sound like a '57 Chevy desperately trying to turn over. "DNA is DOA," growls Thirwell before he ends the blistering jaunt--and the CD--with a paranoid, sarcastic directive. "Have a nice day," hisses King Foetus. Yeah, right.
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