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WAKING THE HIVE: Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke Talks Nirvana, Politics & ‘Pylon’

Shawn Helton
21st Century Wire

Out of the primordial soup of the late 1970’s punk scene, emerged an arty and musically introspective alter ego dubbed ‘post-punk’. It was through this fusion of sound that the immensely influential band Killing Joke was born.

Forming in 1978, the seminal band Killing Joke fused a heavily textured backdrop of distorted guitars, tribal-disco drums, snaking hypnotic bass grooves and avant-garde synth sounds.

‘HEAVY LEGEND’ – (left to right) Members of Killing Joke: Martin (Youth) Glover, Jeremy (Jaz) Coleman, Kevin (Geordie) Walker, Paul (Big Paul) Ferguson. (Photo Tom Barnes/VariousArtistsManagement)

The Requiem

Killing Joke’s evocative aesthetic has morphed into many incarnations, evolving from stripped down post-punk-dance-metal to haunting gothic rock, darkwave, industrial and heavy metal – all the while exploring motifs such as apocalyptic prophecy, political corruption, psychological abuse and wartime atrocities past and present.

Though the band is known for delivering dire warnings about a world mired in perpetual terror, raging global conflict and transnational corporate takeovers, the band’s compelling lyricism also examines the potential of mankind, the ‘Promethean’ spirit and the quest for individual freedom.

The original line-up of Killing Joke reunited 2008 and since that time, they’ve produced three albums: 2010’s Absolute Dissent, 2012’s MMXII and 2015’s Pylon. It’s worth mentioning that over the last few decades, many well-known artists have cited the innovative outfit as an influence on their sound – including Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica and Ministry.

‘PYLON’ – An alternative cover for Killing Joke’s latest album Pylon, designed by longtime collaborator Mike Coles. (Photo vk.com)

While the group’s harmonically dense texture and varied composition has been acknowledged as groundbreaking, perhaps the most distinct element in their sound comes from the band’s enigmatic founder and frontman Jaz Coleman – with his savagely melodic vocal contributions.

In addition to Coleman’s multifaceted journey within Killing Joke, he has also become a renowned composer, working with London Philharmonic Orchestra, Prague Symphony Orchestra, and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra over the last couple of decades.

Coleman’s orchestral creations, have also drawn a comparison to the Austrian composer Gustav Mahler, who was regarded as a leading conductor during his time in the late-Romantic era.

Throughout Killing Joke’s storied career, they’ve examined hermetic occult traditions, mystery religions and secret societies – in particular Rosicrucian.

On the surface, the band’s Nietzschean perspective and study, have prompted those casually acquainted with their image to view them as promoting a darker message. But on the contrary, Killing Joke’s explorations into hidden realms could be seen as a vehicle of expression, as much of their material is concerned with catharsis or a purging of mankind’s darker schemes and the distorted reality that has indoctrinated the masses over centuries. 

‘WATCHMAN’ – Jaz Coleman in Prague, 2015. (Photo David Havlena/Spark-Rockmagazine.cz)

‘New Culture’

The members of Killing Joke project a type of ‘shadow play’ both on and off stage, which only adds to the band’s mythos, whether it’s through media-hyped apocalyptic pilgrimages, their motley musings on world issues or the group’s subtle affiliation with a global dynasty.

Now in their 37th year, Killing Joke has given rise to Pylon, a new album which presents the many humanitarian concerns facing the world today, as it captures the global zeitgeist on full-throttle display – with an assessment of nuclear tension, the deceptive War On Terror and NSA cyber-spying to name a few.

21WIRE was recently granted an opportunity to talk with the Killing Joke front-man in a revealing Q & A. During the course of our exclusive interview, the well-known singer and composer shared some inspirational thoughts, along with some pointed geopolitical insights, while also discussing an upcoming orchestration he will be working on called Nirvana Dialogues – based on the recorded music of the band Nirvana. The following is our interview with the charismatic singer Jaz Coleman:

What are your thoughts about the most recent Killing Joke album?

Jaz Coleman: “Big Paul says it´s the best recording yet! Both Youth and Geordie have a big smile on their faces, and admit they can´t stop playing Pylon. As for myself I am over the moon with the result. If you had told me thirty-seven years ago that Killing Joke would make their most explosive record when the band was in their mid fifties I would not have believed it.”

Did you or other members of Killing Joke, pursue any kind of pilgrimage or practice any sort of ritual prior to working on the new album Pylon?

: “Yes , we formed a circle at the start of the session. Ritual affirmations.”

As you observe the churning landscape of the world, what are your thoughts regarding the West’s encroachment in Syria, the upheaval in the Middle East and the cause of the recent refugee crisis?

JC: “I am afraid to say that western foreign policy is to blame. It should fill us all with shame. We have entered the darkest time since WWII.”

Much of Killing Joke’s recent material such as Absolute Dissent (2010) and MMXII (2012), has conjured some of the band’s most politically charged records from the past. Standout records like Extremities, Dirt and Various Repressed Emotions (1990), along with the band’s second self-titled album in 2003, expose much of the power-grabbing by Western nations and their allies in recent decades.

What do you hope an audience will gain from the often very timely geopolitical commentary contained within the band’s lyrics?

JC: “I want to impart a sense of awareness to our listeners that we are all sleep walking into technocratic fascism. Awareness is the beginning of resistance.”

On Killing Joke’s record MMXII, there’s a powerful track exposing the manipulation of the political process called the “Corporate Elect.” It’s somewhat reminiscent of the content that appeared on the album Democracy (1996).

In America, I’ve seen the political system become blurred as both neo-conservative and neoliberal politicians are more interested in government expansion and nation building, rather than taking care of economic concerns at home – now that the election season is heating up here in the United States, how do you see things shifting globally, if at all?

JC: “Possibly a nuclear false flag. All out war in the middle east. Global economic collapse followed by the establishment of a single currency and the restructuring of world order. The ‘Dawn of the Hive’ indeed!”

Do you believe Killing Joke’s primal expression inspires a listener to awaken to the harsh realities of the world, while at the same time offering a cathartic release? Perhaps a prime example of this could be the grinding metal-juggernaut from Absolute Dissent, entitled, “This World Hell.”

JC: “Speaking for myself – after a KJ performance I feel spiritually cleansed – and a deep sense of peace. Catharsis absolutely!”

What’s the key behind Killing Joke’s unique ability to examine the dark reality of the modern era, centuries old conflicts, as well as the unending psychological and pathological abuse besieging the planet and still project a message of hope?

JC: “I sincerely believe Killing Joke have incarnated together to show how to ‘process’ the evils of the modern world through art, brotherhood, and love. It is our mission.”

Do you feel that the role of an artist or warrior-poet throughout the ages is to challenge the oppressive mechanisms of the old order, in order to shake the shackles of tyranny for future generations?

JC: “In KJ we aim to align the listener to the incoming current of the emerging Aeon.”

When you look back on your many accomplishments within Killing Joke, what are you most proud of?

JC: “So many musical children. KJ is a rennaisance!”

 In 2011, I saw an inspiring video of you playing a very moving and dramatic solo piece on piano entitled, ‘Bury My Bones On The Barrier’ at Ra Bob studio in Prague. Your background as a successful classical composer has been well-documented, as time goes on, how do you see the evolution of Killing Joke and will there be an emphasis on more complex classical arrangements in the future?

JC: “Yes, classical music came before KJ. I´m currently setting the Sumerian epic for choir and orchestra for the United Nations. Next year I release the Nirvana Dialogues – a requiem mass based on Nirvana´s music recorded with St. Petersberg State Symphony Orchestra. I shall persevere with KJ and orchestra until the end. Love is the Law.”

One could consider the members of Killing Joke to be modern-alchemists, when looking at their side projects and various accomplishments in and outside of the musical sphere. Coleman himself, is an ordained priest, in addition to being a published author, with a newly released book in 2014 entitled, Letters From Cytherawhich entails “the principles of self-education, symbolism, quantum mechanics, numerology, ” via a ‘super-synthesis’ which appears to be associated to semiotics, a “study of signs and symbols.”

As mystical and metaphysical ideology is present in Coleman’s process, he becomes an abstract figure and difficult to pin down, whether its his global views or the facial makeup he wears on stage to ward off the collection of dark energy. As the iconic singer once stated, “The mask isn’t for other people’s benefit. It’s for my own protection.”

Below is an overview of a few standout tracks on Killing Joke’s most recent album Pylon

‘FLASHBACK’ –  The original line-up of Killing Joke in the early days. In 1994, three original members recorded a couple of tracks off of their tenth studio album (Pandemonium) in the King’s Chamber in the Great Pyramid at Giza. (Photo Metal Wiki)

New Cold War – This track incorporates a taut rhythm section with a dark disco vibe that ascends into a majestic chorus reminiscent of the band’s Brighter Than A Thousand Suns era and Night Time record, marked particularly by Geordie Walker‘s thick winding progression that burns through decades of political tension.

New Cold War reaches its zenith with a crushingly dramatic buildup as Coleman’s thunderous chorus sheds light on manipulated oil and food prices via sanctions imposed by the West. The potent track appears to reference the surreptitious proxy wars within the Middle East and the Ukraine.

Big Buzz – Dark slabs of effect-laden melancholic guitars quickly give way to a soaring shoegaze uptempo rocker. The song is catchy, opening up to a big bright chorus that conjures fond memories and undying dreams. This track is a more upbeat version of the melodramatic pop song “In Cythrea” off of MMXII and touches on some of the group’s guitar-washed mid 80’s atmosphere.

I Am The Virus – A heavy metalesque stomper, that erupts into a scathing condemnation of Western foreign policy directed by secretive think-tanks. The band released a lyric video for the song and there are some rather revealing topics discussed, such as the conspiracy surrounding 9/11, false flags, black operations, mind control and covert neo-eugenics.

New Jerusalem – This is another weighted groovy-funk track spurred on by drummer Paul Ferguson. The song evolves from a crunchy and sparsely tense tone of guitars and electric beeping, while crisp reverb-rap-talk vocals shine a spotlight on the massacres that have taken place on the Gaza strip in recent years. The tightly focused mechanized verse explodes into a mountain of a chorus, that poses the question, “Look what we’ve become? – New Jerusalem!”

Indeed, what have they become? The song is another well-timed piece, given the ramp up of violence in the West Bank recently, along with echoes of Operation Protective Edge which saw the deaths of over two thousand civilians in Gaza last year.

Other standouts on Pylon include the metal-burner Dawn Of The Hive, which is driven by Walker and bassist Martin Glover. Songs like War On Freedom, Euphoria, the omniscience of Panopticon and Into The Unknown, also reflect a fresh take on the band’s previous efforts.

These are just some of the songs from Pylon – an album which features a brutal honesty rarely seen in music these days… 

Here’s Killing Joke’s official lyric video for I Am The Virus…

MORE MUSIC WITH A MESSAGE HERE: 21st Century Wire Music Files




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