As expected, Killing Joke’s Lemon Grove setlist was rife with buzzsaw guitars, Gary Numan-esque vocal work and eyeliner; oh so much eyeliner. Gaz and the rest of the original line up played with a more subdued energy than they did when they released their eponymous debut over a quarter of a century ago, but that’s only to be expected. It was immediately obvious just how much Killing Joke have influenced American contemporaries Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden, and Metallica. Indeed, fans of Nirvana would recognise the opening riff of their super-hit Eighties in a flash - Kurt Cobain shamelessly nicked it eight years later for Nevermind’s Come As You Are. Killing Joke have always represented Britain’s best post-punk industrial hardcore offering in the 1980s – it’s fair to say that they carry a monumental legacy in rock music from this side of the pond.
Discussing their legacy isn’t to say however, that they’re “past it”; quite the contrary. Many critics and fans would argue vehemently that since getting the original line up together again in 2008 Killing Joke have released two of the best studio efforts of their repertoire to date. Their fifteenth studio album, Pylon, sees another good release from the weathered rockers. Though it is only that: good.
The rebellious political sentiment of the band is still just about present. However, Pylon sounds like a band that has evolved exactly as much as it can. Drummer Paul Ferguson chugs steadily away, with Youth Glover and Geordie Walker filling out the rhythm section nicely on bass and guitar respectively, with the same tidy, choppy rhythms that we’ve come to expect from them. To say that Pylon treads any new ground though would be pushing it. Nonetheless, considering they released it at around the same time as Motörhead and Iron Maiden released their latest albums, inevitably inviting comparisons, the album does show us that actually, some of these ‘80s rock dudes have still got it.
These days, their stage presence is somewhat limited by the fact that Gaz Coleman is the last band member maintaining his goth cred after all these years, with what looks like several tubes of eyeliner, and a couple of boxes of black hair dye emptied over him. Also, though at recent gigs, the band have been known to draft in half naked fire-eaters and other spectacles to supplement their energy, it was just the line up and the Lemmy’s lighting rig on Tuesday. As a result, their own energy was all they could go on, and with an average age of fifty-five, they weren’t exactly brimming over as they were in their prime. Having said that, at their best on stage, they still managed to create a dark and spacey atmosphere of rough, industrial distortion, and desolate nuclear wastelands of chorused vocals and guitars. Their rebellious spirit is still there, too. “I wanna kill someone!” Gaz screamed as an introduction to Exorcism, after a considerable rant about the way that “nothing makes sense anymore!”
When Killing Joke returned to the stage for their encore, they almost looked and sounded as good as they ever did. Memorable renditions of Wardance and Pandemonium served as reminders of just what these guys are capable of. Overall, much like their latest album, Killing Joke sounded like shadows of their former rebellious selves – as if they’ve come to terms with the fact that the revolution they were encouraging in their youth lies just beyond the range of their now tired vocal chords and calloused fingers.
On the plus side though, Geordie’s favourite Gibson hollow body still looks just as marvellous as ever.