Review Summary: Killing Joke return with a new album which, whilst lighter and more accessible than its more aggressive predecessors, still represents the band's charming work ethic.
Killing Joke have now got to the point in their career where the reputation of being a "cult" band precedes them more often than not. Sure, their work in the 80s was mainstream gold and the vast majority of New Wave purists continually refer to the likes of Night Time
or Brighter than a Thousand Suns
regarding what makes a legendary underground 80s record, but since the dawn of the new millennium Killing Joke have scrapped all that. It all started with the violently heavy second self-titled effort in 2003, and Jaz Coleman's credibility as a preacher to the apocalyptic masses has been strengthened to match the charismatic nature of some of the greatest frontmen in rock bands, past and present. This year sees the release of 16th record Pylon
, the release date being questionably close to Halloween. Of course, Pylon
has no ties whatsoever to Halloween, but the album turns out to be just as menacing and virulent as that particular seasonal holiday.
, for want of a better superlative, is gentler
than its predecessors. What do I mean by this? Well, it's in all aspects of the musicianship and songwriting really. Coleman doesn't sound so rough any more (like in 2006's Hosannas...
), Geordie's guitar work feels more refined, and the industrial elements largely inherent in previous records here seem to have been more lenient in the production process. There's proof of this "gentler" nature from the very start. "Autonomous Zone" and "Dawn of the Hive", whilst still being relatively speedy and epic in all the right ways, give the listener a nice "relaxed" feeling as the almost lush production brings all instruments and sounds to the forefront-closer to heaven, if you will. Of course, guitar work is still more or less heavy in these songs-more so in "Dawn of the Hive" than in the album opener-but it feels like the gritty, raw-edged performance of yore has been scrapped in favour of a cleaner approach. This even affects Coleman's vocal delivery, though not completely thanks to the rough ride that is "I am the Virus". Coleman still brings about his own personality and charismatic energy to the proverbial post-apocalyptic altar, and that's essentially the one thing keeping Pylon
from falling under the radar. The excitement of more progressive songs such as "New Cold War" and "New Jerusalem" maintains the band's incredulous instrumental performance, but more often than not this is because you get the strong impression Jaz Coleman was dancing around the studio rather than shouting frantically into the microphone.
On the flip side, Pylon
isn't as memorable or effective as Killing Joke's better 21st Century releases. That's the reality of it all. Whilst some songs here could well be ideal for the band's live performances ("Euphoria", "Delete", "I am the Virus"), the slower songs which often surpass the 6-minute mark turn out to be lacklustre if the listener isn't in the mood for post-apocalyptic dance beats. Let's explore. "Big Buzz" fails to reach its potential in amounting to a climactic ending-something which the likes of "Dawn of the Hive" actually excel at in general-and just when you think the main riff will change its direction for a more upbeat pace, it simply doesn't. And this affects the larger part of the album, though to a lesser extent in some cases ("Autonomous Zone" redeems itself thanks to an injection of menacing heaviness and "New Cold War" has melodic flourishes to fling us all into an enigmatic daydream). You see, the best songs here are really those that are obviously accessible and lively from the very start. In songs like "Euphoria" or "Delete", there is no build-up or messing around to get to a certain point. The haunting riffs and thunderous drum beats are there from the moment you press play. Perhaps if the longer songs had that songwriting ethic too, the album would feel a little more consistent.
That said, Pylon
simply represents the power of Killing Joke's unique charm and charismatic approach to both studio and live performances. It is a representation that Coleman and co. can inflict post-apocalyptic menace onto the unsuspecting listeners whilst still giving the impression they're simply having a damn good time. Whether or not you want to join the cult is up to you, but Killing Joke's latest album won't change opinions. Matter of fact, it will either draw the fans even closer towards the slowly burning star, or repel the haters ever further to their own grave.