By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — One of the leading bands of Britain’s second wave of punk in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Killing Joke forged a dark, apocalyptic sound that has resonated with a host of punk, metal and industrial bands that followed in their wake.
Drawing together elements of punk, dub, funk and experimental electronics, the influential outfit crafted their own distinctive brand of heavy yet eminently danceable rock. Killing Joke wove pulsing synthesizer with the corrosive, hook-laden guitar riffs of Geordie Walker that were powered by titanic rhythms pounded out by drummer Big Paul Ferguson and bassist Martin “Youth” Glover and topped with the effect-drenched proclamations of doom bellowed by singer/keyboardist Jaz Coleman.
Though the original line-up of the band recorded only two full-length records, their self-titled debut and the 1981 sophomore effort What’s THIS For…! remain post-punk landmarks, Killing Joke would continue to produce important work through the the decade with bassist Paul Raven filling Youth’s shoes, taking a more reserved and melodic direction that scored gothic-tinged new-wave hits (“Love Like Blood”) while still showing flashes of their earlier intensity (the iconic rocker “Eighties” that Nirvana notoriously nicked the guitar melody from for “Come As You Are”).
In the two decades that followed, principles Walker and Coleman have further built on the growing Killing Joke legend, recording more brilliant albums with a variety of musicians that ranged from brutal explorations of industrial heaviness (Extremities, Dirt and Various Repressed Emotions in 1990 and 2003’s Killing Joke, tracked with Nirvana/Foo Fighter drummer Dave Grohl) to more global sounds (the Egyptian-influenced Pandemonium in 1994) and electronic dance (Alchemy: The Remixes).
The passing of longtime collaborator Raven in 2007 led to a reconciliation between the founding quartet, giving way to a celebrated concert tour and the recording of the original line-up’s first album since 1981 — the 2010 juggernaut Absolute Dissent. A powerful collection of songs that hearkens back to the band’s earlier classics while still pushing the Killing Joke sound into bold new territory, the album ended up on numerous best of lists at the end of the year and proved the reunited quartet was still a force to be reckoned with.
The band has continued to cultivate its renewed chemistry since then, performing regularly in the UK and Europe and issuing another stunning album in 2012 with MMXII. The following year, the group was the subject of the feature-length documentary entitled The Death and Ressurection Show. In 2013, Killing Joke also unleashed its most ambitious retrospective package yet.
The Singles Collection 1979-2012 gathered 33 of the band’s singles covering their entire career spread over two CDs that runs the full gamut from the reggae-tinged 1979 tune “Nervous System” from their debut EP through to their latest material. Early editions of the collection will include a third disc of rarities with soundtrack songs, remixes and previously unreleased studio tracks.
Since then, the band has released its 15th studio effort — 2015’s well received Pylon — in addition to starting a crowd-sourced funding drive for The Great Invocation: A Killing Joke Symphony. The album that follows Coleman’s interest in classical interpretations of rock music (he previously has arranged and produced full orchestral recordings of songs by Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, the Doors and Nirvana), the collection will feature a collaboration with the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra on new versions of Killing Joke songs from throughout the band’s career.
Last September, Killing Joke returned to San Francisco for the first time in six years on the band’s 40th anniversary Laugh at Your Peril Tour, playing a packed and raucous sold-out show at the DNA Lounge. In October and November, the quartet recorded two shows in London and Berlin that were released on CD and LP this year. With the band’s schedule appearance at the annual Punk Rock Bowling Festival in Las Vegas at the end of May, Killing Joke is returning to the U.S. for another round of dates at intimate venues. This show at the Chapel in San Francisco’s Mission District will feature LA-based synth-punk band the Pink Slips opening the show.
Monday, May 20, 8 p.m. $65 ($250 VIP meet-and-greet packages available; does not include ticket)