“The sound of the earth vomiting” is how co-founding drummer Paul Ferguson describes Killing Joke, which is entirely in line with the band’s tendency towards provocation and shock, but doesn’t give us a sound. Clearly influenced by early metal such as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, yet emerging from the late-70s British punk scene, Killing Joke’s original sound was an early kind of heavy industrial rock that progressively became more angular and danceable.
The band was formed in 1978 by singer Jaz Coleman and Ferguson, who had both previously been part of the Mat Stagger Band. They recruited Youth and Georgie on bass and guitar and almost a year later released their debut EP Almost Red, which earned them a session on the influential John Peel show. Backed by Peel and encouraged by raucous live shows, the band’s self-titled debut album (1980) showcased their primitive punk while incorporating a little cold electronica. Just nine months later second album What’s THIS For…!? (1981) landed, featuring singles such as Follow The Leader that appealed to fans of punk, metal and disco. By this time Killing Joke were earning notoriety for their deliberatively provocative imagery and gig posters, including one appearing to show the pope saluting a crowd Nazis. Just after the release of third full-length Revelations (1982), singer Coleman missed a surprise appearance on Top Of The Pops as he had fled to Iceland to escape the imminent apocalypse.
The failure of the apocalypse to hit seemingly cheered the group, if fourth record Fire Dances (1983) is anything to go by. All four group members had travelled to Iceland at some point to talk to, counsel, and play music with Coleman. Upon their return, Fire Dances seemed to reflect a group that had worked their way through some of their darkest issues. The world kept turning and Killing Joke kept touring and recording. Night Time (1985) was, arguably, the high point of the band’s career, striking a balance between the strident aggression of their earlier days and the maturity of later. But unexpected commercial success had a malignant influence on their music. Follow-ups Brighter Than A Thousand Suns (1986) and Outside The Gate (1988) were less interesting all round, and the latter’s preference for synth keyboards above guitars angered many long-term fans. Both albums were panned and soon afterwards Killing Joke were dropped by their label.
With a new bassist and drummer the band returned with Extremities, Dirt and Various Repressed Emotions (1990), a noisier, harsher, heavier album that seemed much more in-keeping with the band’s native style, and an appropriate return given the success at the time of industrial rock superstars Nine Inch Nails. The band then took a four-year break before unleashing Pandemonium (1994), which was hailed at the time as an upgrade on Extremities, and Democracy (1996), before taking an extended break.
In 2003 Killing Joke returned with a second self-titled record, featuring Foo Fighter and former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, who’d often declared himself a fan of the band. It was met with excitement by long-term fans and new fans, and heralded a new late stage for the band, now touring regularly across major venues all around the world. Their fourteenth studio album Pylon was released in 2015 and the band show no sign of stopping soon.
Killing Joke group members
Jaz Coleman – lead vocals, keyboards
Kevin "Geordie" Walker – guitars
Martin "Youth" Glover – bass guitar
Paul Ferguson – drums, vocals
Reza Uhdin - keyboards
Killing Joke Discography
Turn to Red EP (1979)
Almost Red EP (1979)
Killing Joke (1980)
What's THIS For...! (1981)
Birds of a Feather EP (1982)
Fire Dances (1983)
Night Time (1985)
Brighter than a Thousand Suns (1986)
Outside the Gate (1988)
Extremities, Dirt and Various Repressed Emotions (1990)
Jana Live EP (1995)
Killing Joke (2003)
Hosannas from the Basements of Hell (2006)
In Excelsis EP (2010)
Absolute Dissent (2010)