Review Summary: Killing Joke prove in no more than eight tracks why they are the longest lasting of all the new wave bands, a band whose influence still reaches out to bands today.
Industrial music is a very subjective term. It either refers to the far more literal soundscapes and ambient noise experiments of bands like Throbbing Gristle and SPK, or it can imply a more subtle attitude and instrumentation influence in the shape of bands like Nine Inch Nails, Skinny Puppy and Nitzer Ebb. Regardless of this the term has been banded about in an unequivocally careless way, all music from senseless pop with a slightly harsh drumbeat to extreme metal which sounds like a high powered meat-grinder have now been addled with the term 'industrial', all for the sake of neat pigeonholed genre-pooling.
Of course, Killing Joke aren't really industrial music, but they knew this long before the tag hungry media of then (and now) tried to label them as such, and yes, of course we know the Killing Joke story to be one that unraveled that way eventually, but in the early 80's, the band had yet to take this course. Main man Jaz Coleman knew where to take his cues from, and in 1985 he used the new wave of Devo and combined it with the harsh unforgiving landscape around him, utilizing the industrial sounds of the bands previously mentioned.
Night Time as a whole finds Killing Joke in their most ambitious mood yet, whilst also seemingly quite conservative. Fully aware of their intent, yet never really relaxing into it, constantly aware of trimming away excess and keeping the whole record streamlined and weightless, leaving the album at an impressively punchy 39 minutes and 54 seconds. Reserved, atmospheric keyboards dart through Coleman's wonderful and quintessentially 'new-wave' vocals, Earth-crushingly heavy riffs shrink-wrap around robotic drumbeats, all of which is rounded off by a constant dull thud of bass throughout, which serves to ground every track. The album works on a very fine line between arty pop noise, and absolute mayhem, yet manages to reign in the latter at the perfect point throughout.
The album kicks off with no messing around, title track Night Time is a rushed, up tempo grinding track, which rushes to finish itself, but in no way does it sound as forced or bad as it may appear from this description, it races itself, and eventually after an intense near five minutes, it wins.
Darkness Before Dawn and Love Like Blood are two of the albums most typically new-wave tracks, they sound so in time with 1985 when not played on the album that it begins to seem quite totally deliberate a choice to have them follow the harsher and more destructive Night Time, lightening the mood but keeping a dour eye on the albums proceedings. Love Like Blood was consequently released as a single, and did surprisingly well, for a world craving more British New-Wave in the style of XTC. It gave many people a taste of the band they didn't soon forget, and as such defined the band's sound for about 10 years. A sound that went on to clearly influence their 90's contemporaries, Faith No More (amongst countless others), as heard in the atmospheric lingering keyboards and rolling rhythms of Angel Dust.
Convenient then that Killing Joke line up the album in such a way as to include the next single from the release, Kings and Queens, a militant and dark contrast to the fairly upbeat sound of Love Like Blood. Regardless, the band were on a roll and this single sold similarly well as the previous one, though it may not be as strong or as identifiable a track, it still packs a fairly guttural punch, with it's rising crescendo of "live like kings & queens".
The remaining tracks on the album finish it off in a similarly abrasive but no less spectacularly listenable fashion, Tabazan, Multitudes and Europe providing more ecstatically paranoid, dark and foreboding new-wave from this unlikely hit band. It is on these three tracks that the band seems most animated, knowing full well the impact of a hit single (and to be fair, a wonderfully powerful first side), they have more to prove on these tracks, and they don't disappoint one bit, still sounding as edgy, confrontational and powerful today as they did 15 years ago, Europe in particular being a standout, with it's wiry, angular guitar riff weaving around Coleman's suitably epic and slightly deliberately off-key vocals.
It is on the last track that this album will perhaps be remembered for, Eighties. This track kicks off straight away and it is an recognizable and undeniable affront on the band, the riff is identical to Come as You Are by Nirvana, and lest we forget which year both albums were made. Killing Joke never seemed to concerned about this blatant rip-off, Coleman actually befriending (the adoringly huge fan) Cobain in the years before he took his own life. The track taking a similar approach as others on the album, punky Gang of Four guitars edged in with explosive drumbeats and tribal chanted vocals.
It is a measure of Killing Jokes long lasting influence the amount of bands who can claim to be huge fans of them, Nirvana and Faith No More, obviously, but there is something more to the band. Their longevity is obviously a factor, but more than that, their attitude was not one of usual punks or new-wave bands, they had a dignity and a craft of labour that was unmatched in their circles, one that still remains today as the band releases constantly new and inventive material at least every three or four years, an up-and-coming new album is scheduled for September.