Jaz Coleman is lucky that his Killing Joke co-conspirators didn’t shoot him for desertion. Late this summer, on the eve of the industrial metal/post-punk agitators’ tour with The Cult and The Mission, Coleman went missing, leaving the rest of Killing Joke wondering just what the hell happened to him. Then, there were the blog posts, where Coleman is alleged to have effectively taken a flamethrower – figuratively speaking – to both outfits in writings that can charitably be described as “derisive” at best and downright “hostile” at worst, announcing, without his band mates’ consent, that Killing Joke wasn’t going on the road with those stiffs. The Cult and The Mission would have to forge ahead without them, much to Coleman’s delight … or was it?

As it turned out, the enigmatic Coleman was alive and well, wandering like a nomad in the Western Sahara – much like David Carradine in “Kung Fu” – working on new solo material and a book. He has since denied posting those comments, although anybody expecting to ever see a triple bill with these three acts again should probably have their heads examined. Fortunately, Coleman, who’s done this sort of thing before, having fled to Iceland in the early ‘80s when he thought the apocalypse was nigh, was present for the recording of this raging Killing Joke performance titled Live at Hammersmith Apollo, released in October by Four Worlds USA.

Shaking his fist at totalitarian governments, greedy banks and an overpopulated, apathetic world that is consuming its natural resources at an alarming rate while being seduced by the false promises of technology, Coleman proves himself a dangerous and formidable insurrectionist, his gargling-with-broken-glass vocals cutting through the gloom and volatility of Killing Joke’s atmospheric synthesizers, rumbling bass and drums and coils of razor-wire guitars with ease. Whether they are brutally beating “Wardance,” the stomping “This World Hell,” or the racing “Asteroid” to a bloody pulp with abrasive, bare-knuckled metallic riffs and punishing rhythms, or urgently steering their battered sonic vessel through the stormy, roiling seas and beautiful chaos of the distress call “Absolute Dissent” – introduced by Coleman screaming, “I don’t believe in a micro-chip world!” – Killing Joke is edgy and explosive on this glorious occasion, evidently an anniversary for the band.

Throughout their 30-year history, Killing Joke has always trafficked in sounds that are ominous and fierce, and the version of “Pssyche” on this record, with its hard-charging riffs and desperate aggression, is as visceral as it gets. But, Killing Joke is just getting warmed up. With its strong undercurrent of dark energy and its prison riot chorus, “Depth Charge” is a mean bull that sees nothing but red, circling and sizing up whatever matador is stupid enough to challenge it. Growing more and more menacing with every riff, the tension builds to almost unbearable intensity in “The Wait” and “Great Cull,” these angry, gathering swarms of bounding bass lines and scything guitars cycling around and around in some demented game of tether ball, as Killing Joke’s original lineup of Coleman, guitar terrorist Kevin Geordie Walker, Martin Youth Glover and Paul Ferguson make the most rancorous and uncompromising, yet utterly compelling, racket together.

And then, just when it seems that Killing Joke is unable to extricate itself from this wild mosh pit of sound, they turn moody and strange, with the otherworldly, echoing dub-infused phantom “Ghosts” haunting this particular chapel and the clean lines and synth waves of “Fresh Fever” resurrecting the Dark Wave flourishes of ‘80s contemporaries Echo & the Bunnymen. In this live setting, however, it’s the most combustible hits, like the swirling, dizzying rush of “Eighties” and the sprawling “Pandemonium” that closes out this two-disc set, that win the day, and Killing Joke’s eschewing of its more electronic, dance-oriented material for the heated, gothic hard rock that dominates this smoking furnace of a playlist is a wise choice.

Before introducing that final stab that kills off Live at Hammersmith Apollo, Coleman expresses his profound love for the three men who’ve joined him on this journey into the bleak ruins of civilization. Hopefully, they’ve forgiven him for his unscheduled walkabout, and there will be more Killing Joke releases like 2010’s masterstroke Absolute Dissent, from which quite a bit of Live at Hammersmith Apollo is drawn. Here’s to you, Jaz. Rock and roll needs your intelligence and unpredictable personality more than ever.


Label: Four Worlds USA