In “The Operable Man,” German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk stated, “It is neither our failure nor our accomplishment that we live in a time in which the apocalypse of man is an everyday occurrence.” The music of Killing Joke is the sonic corollary to this existential predicament. Let me show you how.

From their earliest days in 1978, when founding members Jaz Coleman and drummer Big Paul Ferguson met in a welfare line in London, when Killing Joke made a style of music that was roughly comparable to The Clash-meets-The Stranglers, to their unprecedented melding of punk, postpunk, and metal (“The Wait,” “SO36,” etc.) on their self-titled 1980 debut, Killing Joke never let the artificial demarcations of genre constrain their ambitions, or define their sound. Unlike many of its contemporaries, Killing Joke claims an incredibly diverse audience, one which from the very start of its career crossed subcultural boundaries.

There is something incredible about the fact that a band that once toured with Joy Division is still going strong today. (In fact, Joy Division bassist bassist Peter Hook was in an extremely brief lineup of Killing Joke; Jaz Coleman has joked that, had this lineup stuck, they would have had to change their name to “Killing Division.”) Part of what fuels Killing Joke’s longevity is its creative ethos. It has never been content with resting on its artistic laurels.  Appropriating new wave, industrial, goth, deathrock, and crust punk, Killing Joke’s openness to new musical ideas has both kept it moving forward, as well as held it together. [The present incarnation features its late 1970s lineup.]

This is a critical montage of Killing Joke’s legacy, emphasizing the most prominent theme recurring throughout its work: the apocalypse. Their newest LP, MMXII, officially released in the US in October, is a perfect summation of why this idea  is key to unlocking the band’s oeuvre.  [See my April review of the album Apocalypse Now, Forever, in Souciant.]

This is not an exhaustive selection. I have erred on the side of  Killing Joke’s more powerful songs, skipping the slower tempo material,  in order to emphasize the more visceral aspects of the band’s sound, and to highlight its soundtrack-like quality, as though it were narrating a specific historical period. One which, to these critical ears, is inseparable from the West’s decline. Especially during the decades since this band’s formation.

1. Are You Receiving?
2. You’re Being Followed
3. War Dance
4. The Wait
5. Birds of a Feather
6. Me or You
7. Frenzy
8. Eighties
9. Money Is Not Our God
10. Absent Friends
11. Absolute Dissent
12. Colony Collapse
13. Endgame
14. Love Like Blood


Photograph courtesy of alterna2. Published under a Creative Commons license.