My introduction to the danceable, abrasive world of Killing Joke was the epic classic Love Like Blood: an anthemic, rousing track with an irresistible hook. Their early work was unknown to me, and I wish now I had been paying attention, because it is a rich harvest of angst-ridden post-punk: ‘the sound of the earth vomiting’, as original drummer ‘Big Paul’ Ferguson labelled it.
We play music that reflects pressure, because that’s what I feel, I’m a very intense person. I’m no punk myself, don’t get any illusions about it. [Jaz Coleman, vocals/keyboards]
It was JP who picked up on the Nervous System andTurn To Red EPs (on the Malicious Damage label): at the time, they were mixing punk with reggae and funk. However, the eponymous first album pushes the aggression further into the realms of heavy metal, which explains why they had a following from both the greasers and the disaffected punks. The opening two tracks laid out their battle strategy: Requiem (FF 1980 #35, 1981 #27 and All-Time 1982 #32) is a stately introduction to the apocalypse, while Wardance (FF 1980 #52) is openly sarcastic about people’s attitudes to their music. The latter was released as a 7 inch, backed by the jumpy, agitated and paranoid call to arms, Psyche (FF 1980 #36, 1981 #45 and All-Time 1982 #34): ‘dodge the bullets, or carry the gun/The choice is yours’.
What’s THIS For…! was the early shine of their urgent sound polished up with a Brillo pad, and contained an attack on organised religion, Follow The Leaders (FF 1981 #28):
It’s religion, that’s something I really want to stir up. I know what I’m talking about there. The church is a fucking joke. I’m into what’s beyond that. The occult if you like…What is behind it is Paganism, which is like, my belief. That is the killing joke, to know that established religion has all been clouded, the truth’s not there. [Jaz again]
At this stage, their inflammatory style of publicity garnered accusations of fascism, and led to their being banned from performing at a concert in Glasgow (although they did nothing to discourage the fascist label, they claimed it was untrue and ‘a bit of a giggle’). Whether one shares their sense of humour or not, the muscular power of their music, Jaz’s tortured vocals and Geordie’s unique guitar style have had a profound effect on many bands since.