The re-alignment of KILLING JOKE's original line-up consisting of Jaz Coleman, Geordie, Youth and Paul Ferguson coughed up one of the most devastating recordings of 2010, "Absolute Dissent". It wasn't startling the primary foursome were able to gel instantaneously as much as how they were able to decimate their audience with a career-defining reboot, if you take it as a reboot. The tense collision between brute nihilism and reverential sanguinity of "Absolute Dissent" propagated more than just a creative spark for KILLING JOKE, held together for more than three decades with principals Coleman and Geordie. The death of longtime bassist Paul Raven had opened the jugular of KILLING JOKE and consequently, "Absolute Dissent" spilled rivers of conviction.
In answer to the question of whether "Absolute Dissent" was a one-time magic trick, this year KILLING JOKE proves the mojo is no fluke. "MMXII" may not be as shattering upon greeting as "Absolute Dissent", but it grows equally menacing, equally transcendent and equally bombastic. In other words, it's KILLING JOKE to the nth power for a second consecutive trip. We could even say the band has been on a roll as of the 2003 self-titled album and 2006's "Hosannas From the Basement of Hell".
If there was ever one band predicted to be standing at the end of civilization, it's KILLING JOKE. It's because Jaz Coleman as an artist has a danse macabre way of viewing the world. He is an absolutely fascinating interview guest and while most people might feel sullied and despaired at the end of a sitdown with Jaz, there's validity to a lot of what he has to say. On "MMXII", he and the band warn us once again that the planet is on a crash course for elemental disaster. The thing with KILLING JOKE's perpetual prophecy of a lost civilization is there's less an imploring for change and more of an acceptance that mankind is doomed to its base instincts, so we'd better brace for the end of days. In other words, KILLING JOKE's soapbox is more the pedestal for a fractured mirror held against the face of humanity.
As with "Absolute Dissent", KILLING JOKE spreads harmonious cadence throughout the sheer ugliness of their sometimes-stripped, often double-dubbed palettes of wrath. It's easy to rock out on "MMXII" with the marching pump of "Colony Collapse", the furious punk punches of "Corporate Elect", "Rapture" and "Glitch", not to mention the slow, accusatory wallow of "Fema Camp".
Where KILLING JOKE remains brilliant on this album is how they scramble the band's past eras into a whisked egg of re-examined and reinvented ire. "Corporate Elect" is the frothing mad dog brother of "Money Is Not Our God" from 1990's "Extremities, Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions". The opening number "Pole Shift" is a simmering nod back to the 1980 "Killing Joke" album that takes a few bars to build tension then reaches for the throttle from the first chorus onward. Even the Alan Howarth-esque haunted synth intro (KILLING JOKE has been known to open live sets with Howarth's main title score of "Halloween III: Season of the Witch") encapsulates a suspicion the earth is about to eradicate us all in protest for past atrocities. "Rapture", for all intents and purposes, is the louder encapsulation of the "Fire Dances" album for a desensitized generation. Hard to ignore such blazing veracity here, especially with Paul Ferguson's pulverizing double hammer outro.
While some KILLING JOKE fans dismiss the band's synth-alt dance swerves on "Night Time" and "Brighter Than a Thousand Suns", the band has the guts to pull from that era in spots and still come off heavier than a parliamentary wig. "In Cyntheria" is as close to bubblegum pop alt as you'll find this side of ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN, but it is also deeply infectious and you just know there's something subliminally sinister ready to pounce from behind all of that yummy effervescence. The subsequent track, "Primobile", dirties down any huckstered pretenses from "In Cyntheria" with its repressed, synth-gutted gloom. The keyboard-soaring intro to "Glitch" (reprised a couple times within the song) may make some listeners pause with clenched fists that "Brighter Than a Thousand Suns" is going to dominate the rest of the album, however, KILLING JOKE have the veteran sense to beat the tar of the song. "Glitch" instead becomes a piledriving mutant hop filled with ear-scraping yelps by Jaz Coleman and a noggin-crushing stomp groove.
Ditto for the next track, "Trance" which might go down as one of KILLING JOKE's penultimate revenge statements. The ska-based rhythm guiding "Trance" translates like MADNESS decided one day to denounce Two Tone and dive straight into the mud. While Jaz Coleman swerves his vocal patterns on "MMXII" in similar fashion as "Absolute Dissent", alternating between his famed high altos and mucky dirge squelching, he sounds deceptively honeyed on "Trance". This is likely the voice you'll hear taunting you come Armageddon, and for good measure, Coleman gives his audience a told-you-so farewell on the smarmy finale, "On All Hallow's Eve".
The reunion of KILLING JOKE's best-known lineup may have been initiated in the spirit of remembrance for Paul Raven, but it has thus far played out far greater than anyone could've imagined. "MMXII" is just as special as "Absolute Dissent", benchmark work (however sinister it may feel in tone) from adult men who are far more advanced in craft than those who wielded their hefty calling card cut, "The Wait". "MMXII" is not just savvy, it's addicting. There's something disarming about music so affective you almost miss the intended caveats behind it, but that's KILLING JOKE at its smartest.
- Ray Van Horn, Jr.