There are bands, and there are cults. There are concerts, and there are religious experiences. There are fanbases, and there are devout followers.
There is an endless void, and there is Killing Joke.
Those wise enough to make this distinction and spend All Hallows’ Eve crammed into Birmingham’s Institute enjoyed a rollicking set of the Joke’s special brand of indescribable purifying noise: cackling over the end of the world and presenting landscapes drawn from a sonic palette so indefatigably punishing and relentlessly brutal that it is, in its own way, unerringly beautiful.
Touring in support of their fifteenth album, the shit-kicking Pylon, Killing Joke – returned to their original line-up after bassist Paul Raven’s untimely passing, with a rare Absent Friends dedicated to him – take to the stage then take the stage itself, their autonomous zone for the night.
Ploughing through an exploratory career-hopping set, due reverence is given to their position as venerable statesmen, with the tunes to match: a suitably boinging Eighties is judderingly relevant, despite being older than some of the crowd (hello). Pandemonium closes the set, after the likes of Turn to Red going toe-to-toe with the assault of newer cuts.
Theirs is a tribal-industrial lot – if forced to categorize – pummelling the Institute and instigating a two-way energy exchange. Bassist Youth lighting incense sticks or whatever the fuck it was christ I’m tired who reads this shit anyway was a touching addition.
Love Like Blood and Requiem, two foremost set staples, are tucked inside the middle of the set for once. Security lies in the understanding that the band could fart them through a kazoo and the respective gorgeous ache and fantastic stomp of these two would still transmit, and still incite no less applause.
After thirty-eight (thousand?) years in the game, frontman Jaz Coleman is also no less the most hypnotic frontman of his generation. Still keeping any heel-snapping newcomers at bay, looking away is an impossible task as it is searingly clear from his expressions that every word carries megatons of weight, delivered accordingly.
Guitarist Geordie Walker, meanwhile, is a mystery no easier to figure out even when working a few feet away. Chordal oddness and sheer inventiveness mixes with a guitar sound that is completely and utterly unmistakable, with bludgeoning riffing giving way to effortlessly illustrated textures, housed inside great cathedrals of sound, making his underrated status all the more criminal.
There are precious few acts where each and every member makes their mark through sheer force of personality as well as musical and technical skill. Skinsman ‘Big’ Paul Ferguson emits kidney-puncturing beats, perfectly undercutting the band’s sound and quite possibly vibrationally eroding the venue’s infrastructure. Aforementioned Martin ‘Youth’ Glover’s driving bass dances around it wonderfully, fulfilling an overall sound that is, upon reflection, something not to be repeated.
It is sobering to think of the oft-cited bands who Killing Joke left a (claw) mark on – the likes of Metallica, Tool, and Nine Inch Nails may command bigger audiences and their own degrees of fan loyalty, but know this: there will only ever be one Killing Joke, with an unrivalled intensity and singular identities of sound. Miss them at your absolute peril.
Review and live photos: James Stokes (@jhstokesjourno)