Apocalypse now

Killing Joke resume their urgent war dance
By JAMES PARKER  |  May 28, 2006

JAZ IMPROV: “I’m forever disappointed by man’s ability to sell his brother or his sister or his best friend for a few shillings.”

Jaz Coleman — magus, timelord, leader of the tribe of Killing Joke — is theatrically drunk on the end of a phone in the Czech Republic. Or might he just be very, very tired, having been in rehearsals for a European tour? “I don’t like human beings . . . ,” he insists, in a slow, scalded voice. “I think they’re parasites, they’re fucking parasites. What people will do for money disgusts me . . . dis-GUSTS me . . . I wanna build a big wall, and no one will be able to get in . . . ” And then you get the laugh, the Killing Joke laugh — “he-yurgh! he-yurgh! he-yurgh!” — the same phlegm-racked, bituminous gurgle first heard at the beginning of 1980’s “Wardance.” No, God love the old demon, he’s wrecked.

And somewhat depressed. In Prague, city of alchemy, city of changes, where Emperor Rudolf II hosted John Dee and Giordano Bruno, Coleman is in a moody, boozy flux. His talk balloons into grandiosity, sags into resignation, floats up again on huffs and puffs of eloquence. Have things been getting him down? “To be honest, yes,” he sighs, after a huge, crackling pause. “I’m disappointed with human nature. I’m forever disappointed by man’s ability to sell his brother or his sister or his best friend for a few shillings . . . for a handful of silver crowns . . . for some cheap gold. He’ll do it. He’ll fucking do it! Eternally disappointing.”

Has anything in particular brought this on? “Betrayal,” he says glumly. “I think that in peacetime . . . when your best friends betray you, they rip you off . . . but in a time of war they’d see you executed. . . ”

Long-time Joke-ologists will recognize in these pronouncements the symptoms of cyclical intra-band aggravation — another fight with bassist Paul Raven, perhaps. “The band has only ever been Geordie and me,” rumbles Coleman, referring to the guitarist he, bassist Martin Glover Youth (a/k/a Youth), and drummer Paul Ferguson recruited to form Killing Joke in 1978. “Geordie’s played the bass lines on nine or 10 Killing Joke albums, and he also writes the drum parts and plays the guitar. I sing . . . do a bit of keyboards . . . so between the two of us, we are . . . ” He trails off. The smell of the “psychiatric problems” blamed in a press statement for the delay of Killing Joke’s UK tour steals acridly down the line.

Killing Joke have been doing this for a quarter of a century — falling to bits and coming together, in successive incarnations, now weaker, now more powerful. The force that keeps the molecules on the merry-go-round is sheer atavistic bloody-mindedness: how could Killing Joke possibly go away when the world, the foe, the great evil spur to their music, keeps getting stronger? And from the paranoid London dub of their 1979 Turn to Red EP (Malicious Damage) to the fulminating Mahler metal of the new Hosannas from the Basements of Hell (Cooking Vinyl), the MO has been the same: accelerate breakdown, induce rebirth. As Coleman says, “It’s a pagan thing.”

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