Killing Joke

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Killing Joke

Killing Joke - Killing Joke ©1980 EG Records
1. Requiem
2. Wardance
3. Tomorrow's World
4. Bloodsport
5. The Wait
6. Complications
7. Change
8. S.O. 36
9. Primitive

Shortly after the Orwellian drone of the opening keyboard lines of "Requiem", it is pretty safe to assume that the face of music was changed forever and that thousands of sound-alike bands, most of lesser quality, would sprout up by virtue of The Joke's precedence. Taking the confrontational stance of punk rock and giving it a slower, apocalyptic sheen, some hypnotic tribal elements (which would be further expounded upon on subsequent albums), and even some surprisingly danceable pop hooks, simply no other band sounded like this in 1980. Geordie Walker's guitar, while not at the deafeningly dense level of distortion and reverb it would reach on later albums (he had yet to purchase his Gibson ES-295), was like a living thing in his hands, his razor-wire riffs wildly careening off of the especially inventive rhythm section of Youth and "Big Paul" Ferguson. Of course, it was the unique presence and tuneful snarling of one Jaz Coleman that gave The Joke its face and identity, and even back in 1980, it seemed that his MO (that of the post-apocalyptic shaman) was in full force and would only get more intense in the years to come.

Tracks like "Requiem", "Wardance" and "The Wait" would all be Killing Joke staples years later, not to mention covered to death by many bands (Foo Fighters and Metallica in particular). Simply stated, the effect that The Joke, and particularly this album, have had on rock music is still being measured, but no one did it with as much gusto as the Joke itself.

Review by Alec A. Head

Review date: 05/2008

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Night Time

Killing Joke - Night Time ©1985 EG Records
1. Night Time
2. Darkness Before Dawn
3. Love Like Blood
4. Kings And Queens
5. Tabazan
6. Multitudes
7. Europe
8. Eighties

In the early part of the 80s, Killing Joke singer Jaz Coleman became obsessed with the occult and felt the world was coming to an end. He figured what better place than to spend the apocalypse than Iceland and vanished to that island for awhile. After some time had passed, it became evident the world was in fact still spinning and Coleman and the rest of the gang reemerged in 1985 with one of their best LPs, Night Time.

Still featuring the band's signature danceable armageddon soundtrack music, the eight songs on Night Time rank among some of the best for the band. "Love Like Blood" and "Eighties" are both notable for different reasons. "Love Like Blood" may be one of the band's best singles of their entire career and is the one track I'd suggest a new listener find if interested. "Eighties" is better known for having a very familiar guitar riff that Nirvana would "borrow" for "Come As You Are" six years later. The rest of the albums stands up very well. With guitarist Geordie providing razor sharp and gripping licks over the mildly danceable rhythms with slight hints of keyboards behind it all, Jaz Coleman is provided a solid base for his ranting. However, he does offer some good vocals throughout Night Time, hinting at paranoia and anger. But most importantly, the songs are all a bit catchy, despite the prevelant darkness that seeps through the album.

Strange career detours and lesser albums notwithstanding, Killing Joke has a few good moments under their belt and Night Time happens to be one of them.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 12/2002

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Brighter than a Thousand Suns

Killing Joke - Brighter Than a Thousand Suns ©1986 EG Records
1. Adorations
2. Sanity
3. Chessboards
4. Twilight of the Mortal
5. Love of the Masses
6. A Southern Sky
7. Victory
8. Wintergardens
9. Rubicon
10. Goodbye to the Village
11. Exile

Otherwise known as the "other" red-headed stepchild in the Killing Joke universe, Brighter Than a Thousand Suns indicated a further step towards the commercial and pop-oriented for the band, while at the same time stretching the songs to near prog-rock lengths and atmospherics. By this time, Jaz Coleman discovered that he had quite the singing voice, and his keyboards dominate the proceedings. Conversely, Geordie Walker's guitars are shockingly low in the mix, while "Big" Paul Ferguson's drums were given "The Phil Collins" (ie: The Gated Drum Treatment) and were pretty much relegated to standard 4/4 time with little of that tribal flair that made earlier Joke albums so damned tasty. Paul Raven even introduces us to bit of funky slap-bass playing on "Love of the Masses" and "Victory". Oh, and everyone's hair had been coiffed to Flock of Seagulls-like proportions.

Once one ignores the fact that the chorus for "A Southern Sky" sounds like it was lifted directly from Supertramp's "The Logical Song", one will hopefully come to the conclusion that this is actually quite the good album. Suns sounds like a band coming into its own skin, not content to scream and holler at the world, but to sing gently to it. It seems as if the band was trying to achieve a much loftier atmosphere than the apocalypse presented on albums prior, and, for the most part, they succeeded. Jaz absolutely sings beautifully on this album, and the emotion he pours into songs like "Adorations", "Love of the Masses", "Sanity" and "Goodbye to the Village" is something to behold. While his guitar is buried beneath the morass of keyboard orchestration and that annoying gated drum sound, Geordie's playing and distinctive tone remained the one thing tied Killing Joke to its earlier recordings; a rich but subtle tapestry of echoey guitar noise.

Pop aspirations considered, and while it certainly isn't mentioned as a particular favorite among fans, nor does the band perform songs from it during their recent live outings, I've always considered Brighter Than a Thousand Suns to be one of the more misunderstood albums in their discography, if not one of their absolute best.

Review by Alec A. Head

Review date: 08/2009

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Outside The Gate

Killing Joke - Outside The Gate ©1988 EG Records
1. America
2. My Love Of This Land
3. Stay One Jump Ahead
4. Unto The Ends Of The Earth
5. The Calling
6. Obsession
7. Tiahuanaco
8. Outside The Gate
9. America (Extended Mix)
10. Stay One Jump Ahead (Extended Mix)

If there ever was an album to earn the oft-used term "red-headed stepchild" in Killing Joke's discography, this is it. Originally conceived as a solo project for Jaz Coleman, rumor has it that the record label got a hold of the master tapes and quickly released a press release stating that a new Killing Joke album was on the horizon. Coleman then had to rush to complete the album in question, and the resulting record was none other than the maligned Outside the Gate.

The album itself is actually not as dreadful as its reputation suggests, although it is certainly apparent that it was not intended to be anywhere near What's THIS For on the record store racks. In fact, a careful listener will note that Paul Raven (who actually played on the album but refused to be credited) was all but absent from the rhythm section. Geordie Walker's distinctive guitar tone was entirely stripped of its girth and richness and replaced with a cold and sterile tone normally found on the most commercial of 80s pop albums. On the plus side, Coleman was at an all-time best in terms of his singing voice. "My Love of This Land" is particularly beautiful in this regard. Once one looks past the blatant commerciality of the music, there are some good songs to be heard here. The aforementioned "My Love of This Land" and "America", in particular, are worth hearing. However, with "Stay One Jump Ahead", featuring guest rapping by "JC 001" (actually Jaz Coleman himself), it was all the more apparent that the once mighty Joke was in the thrall of their record label, as it is a song that I am sure most bands would never want to own up to creating.

Reportedly, the ensuing legal troubles that occurred between Coleman, the band's management, and the record label over this album would result in Coleman suffering a nervous breakdown (judging by an interview conducted with him during this period, one would think Coleman thought of this album as his magnum opus), and the band would go on one of its many hiatuses, only to re-emerge a year or two later with one of its most ferocious albums in years.

Review by Alec A. Head

Review date: 01/2008

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Extremities Dirt And Various Repressed Emotions

Killing Joke - Extremities Dirt And Various Repressed Emotions ©1990 Noise Int.
1. Money Is Not Our God
2. Age Of Greed
3. The Beautiful Dead
4. Extremities
5. Intravenous
6. Inside The Termite Mound
7. Solitude
8. North Of The Border
9. Slipstream
10. Kaliyuga--Struggle

After what is reportedly a rather spotty jaunt through the 80s, Killing Joke returned in 1990 with a fantastic new rhythm section in the form of drummer Martin Atkins and bassist Paul Raven to relive a bit of the band's earlier style. With grinding bass and driving percussion, the overall architecture of the album is fairly well intact. Moreover, vocalist Jaz Coleman was full of his spitting psychotic self, opening up the album with his peculiar throat clearing noise, and ranting throughout the album on various topics, some clearly illustrated ("Money Is Not Our God"). The band uses its trademark repetition of riffs and patterns quite often, as well as more somber, quiet moments, such as "The Beautiful Dead". As usual, the album contains one track that stands out above and beyond the rest, this time being "Slipstream". This track offeres trademark aggressive and nearly tribalistic drumming as well as some of the tastiest licks to come out Geordie's guitar on the album. "Slipstream" is easily the trademark Killing Joke song on the album.

The biggest problem with the album is that the middle few songs tend to lag a bit and take down the overall impact of the album. Nevertheless, Extremities offers a pretty solid return to form for the band and one of the better highlights of the band's back catalogue.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 10/2000

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Pandemonium

Killing Joke - Pandemonium ©1994 Zoo
1. Pandemonium
2. Exorcism
3. Millenium
4. Communion
5. Black Moon
6. Labyrinth
7. Jana
8. Whiteout
9. Pleasures Of The Flesh
10. Mathematics Of Chaos

For one brief moment, Killing Joke enjoyed their fifteen minutes of above-ground fame not for a having one of their early songs covered by the band whose name begins with M, but for their own accomplishments. The band had essentially reformed with the original 1980 lineup (minus the drummer) and the result was a fresh and interesting record, which garnered a lot of attention with "Millenium". Overall, Pandemonium features a bit of an exotic overtone to it over a somewhat repetitive, looping heavy metal-industrial hybrid. The result is a consistent and strong record which deserved much of the fleeting attention the MTV generation gave it while "Millenium" received airplay. But that track is only one of ten strong songs here. Nearly every song has a lot to offer the listener and is quite enjoyable in one way or another. Even when the band lightens up their thick sound as they do on "Jana", it's still successful. This is the sort of album that is best played on roadtrips or any time you need heavy, energetic and kinetic music. And the other benefit of Killing Joke's short moment of mainstream notice is that now you can find this album easily in used CD discount bins everywhere, though that is a sad testament to the wishy-washy nature of the mainstream buying public.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 02/2000

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No Way Out But Forward Go

Killing Joke - No Way Out But Forward Go ©2001 Pilot
CD one:
1. The Hum
2. Darkness Before Dawn
3. Requiem
4. Empire Song
5. Tabazan
6. Night Time
7. Kings & Queens
8. The Good Samaritan
9. Love Like Blood
10. Blood Sport
11. Complications
12. The Wait
13. Pssyche
14. Eighties
15. Wardance
16. Adorations
17. Chessboards
CD two:
18. CD-Rom Bonus - Concert Video

In lieu of any sort of studio album (it's been quite the eternity since Democracy, Killing Joke has released a live set recorded during the summer of 1985, back during their original creative peak. No Way Out But Forward Go is the type of live release that smacks of uselessness to me and furthers the great debate against live concert packages as well. One would think that a live release would include just a tad more audience interaction, but they're all but inaudible in the mix, making the music sound more like a sterilized, slimmed down version of their studio counterparts. Moreover, the performance by the band is adequate but hardly inspiring. The worst aspect of this release is that Jaz Coleman's vocals are terribly flat and often out of tune. Obviously he is a man who benefitted from a studio environment. There are some points in this album that make me want to flay open whoever decided this particular live recording was worth releasing over a decade and a half later. I certainly didn't need to hear Coleman butcher his own song in the tuneless rendition of "The Wait" or "Love Like Blood". This might as well have been a demo tape recorded in a small bathroom, but hardly worth an extravagent release in 2001.

There is a limited edition that features a bonus CD containing video footage of the show. I suppose that's nifty in a DVD age, but considering the live recording on a whole is less than dandy, it's not enough to make the CD worth recommending. It's both uncomfortable and needless. I'll be quite happy to stick to my studio versions of all these songs, thank you very much.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 12/2002

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Killing Joke (2003)

Killing Joke - Killing Joke (2003) ©2003 Zuma
1. The Death & Reurrection Show
2. Total Invasion
3. Asteroid
4. Implant
5. Blood On Your Hands
6. Loose Cannon
7. You'll Never Get To Me
8. Seeing Red
9. Dark Forced
10. The House That Pain Built
11. Inferno (UK Bonus Track)

It seems that Killing Joke only arises when Jaz Coleman is incensed and angry enough to resurrect it, which has unfortunately become increasingly seldom throughout the nineties and well into the early part of the still very new millenium. Considering that Democracy, their previous effort, was released in 1996, it would have been assumed that Jaz, guitarist Geordie Walker, bassist Youth, and whoever was their drummer at that time had packed their bags and layed their baby to rest. However, it also seems that recent occurrences prompted the legendary band to reemerge complete with an unbelievable new album and a new drummer in the form of the ever-prolific Dave Grohl.

Through many repeated listenings, it seems to me that the KJ clan has found a way to reverse time while at the same time embracing the future. They have seemingly shed their collective forty-something years to a time when they were a group of fledgling, angry punk rockers whose thirst for the apocalypse and penchant for shamanic prosestylizing outshined nearly every other band that of era. With their stripped down, molten, primal assault, Killing Joke would go on to birth hundreds of bands, among them Fear Factory, Faith No More, Nirvana (whose shameless ripping off of the opening riff of "Eighties" for "Come as You Are" prompted many an outcry from Coleman and Killing Joke fans worldwide), the Young Gods, and arguably every industrialized or current "nu" metal or modern heavy band.

Killing Joke is back, and, quite simply, this new album leaves every modern metal, punk, or what-have-you album cowering, and perhaps whimpering as well, in a fetal position somewhere in the cowardly land of Wussville, where the big dogs freely eat the young, live slurry for sustenance. The band has managed to recapture the ferocity of their self-titled debut, What's THIS For, and Fire Dances, while giving said ferocity a thoroughly modern (oh how I hate that term), crushing kick in the auditory balls. Geordie Walker's thick slabs of syncopated distortion have never sounded more destructive and Youth's rumbling undercurrent perfectly complements Grohl's precise, thundering percussion. Moreover, it is simply good, concise rock songwriting which gives the album its edge, which is something that Killing Joke has been consistently providing with each album.

Which brings me, of course, to the band and album's star and leader, the Reverend Jaz Coleman (yes, he actually is a reverend). Coleman, obviously feeding off the recent anti-Middle East hysteria (as he was born to Egyptian parents), has never sounded more forceful, emotive or downright angry in his entire life. He can prophesize and prosetylize with the best of them on the pulsating, nervous, mechanical opener "The Death and Resurrection Show," croon like he used to on albums such as Night Time and Brighter Than a Thousand Suns and roar and bellow in such a way that could swear that your skeleton will jump out of your skin, only to be obliterated shortly thereafter by the sheer force of it all, leaving you a quivering mass of viscous flesh and innards. The man has even added some downright creepy, almost Dani Filth-like rasps and whispers on tracks like "Total Invasion" and "Dark Forces".

For an example of the sheer youthful exuberance the entire band exudes, listen to the closing song "The House that Pain Built", which plods along at mid-pace before the chorus hits, where the song turns into a swirling mass of speed and despair. By far the most astonishing track is the incredibly moving "You'll Never Get to Me", an anthemic ballad not entirely unlike "Lanterns" off of 1996's Democracy.

For a band with as rich of a history and as long of a line of descendents as Killing Joke, it is refreshing that the band has found and reforged the spirit which carried them along their nearly twenty-four year history. One of the best albums of the year? Most definitely.

Review by Alec A. Head

Review date: 09/2003

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Hosannas From The Basement Of Hell

Killing Joke - Hosannas From The Basement Of Hell ©2006 Cooking Vinyl
1. The Tribal Antidote
2. Hosannas From The Basements Of Hell
3. Invocation
4. Implosion
5. Majestic
6. Walking With Gods
7. Lightbringer
8. Judas Goat
9. Gratitude

Killling Joke's 2003 self-titled comeback album was a reunion album to end all reunion albums; one that both successfully recaptured the rage of old and inspiringly pointed toward the future. Ergo, it seemed natural that anticipation for a subsequent album was quite high among the band's close fans (of which this reviewer is a proud and ardent member). With Hosannas from the Basements of Hell, Jaz, Geordie, the tragically late Paul Raven, and new drummer Benny Calvert show that while they still are content with beating the living shit out of you with simplistically brutal but appropriately dense music, they still have a few new tricks up their collective sleeve, even if the album itself does not necessarily surpass its predecessor.

Recorded in a basement rehearsal space that came complete with late 70s recording equipment and human bones lying about, Hosannas is by no means a forced retro throwback to days long since dead, but the feel and tone is definitely similar to their older albums, reminding me more of the vibrant and raging atmosphere of Extremities than, say, the colder and clinical nature of What's THIS For. Things get off to somewhat of a rocky start with opener "The Tribal Antidote". While Jaz Coleman has lost none of his trademark vitriol, his vocals are a bit low in the mix and are done a major disservice via the use of warbly vocal effects, and Geordie's swirling riffs are not among his best on this particular track. Thankfully, however, the album picks up with the following trifecta of songs. The title track, "Invocation", and "Implosion" are simply among the best songs the Joke has ever put to tape. On "Invocation", Coleman finally gets to put his expertise as a classical composer to good use, dressing up Walker's stomping riffs in truly epic-sounding Middle Eastern string arrangements, turning it into a sort of neo-"Kashmere". "Implosion" and the title track contain particularly ferocious vocals from Jaz along with Geordie's rich guitar attack. The rest of the tracks don't quite measure up to the power of these three, particularly in terms of the often interminable length they often reach. One would have liked to hear a few of them trimmed by a good two or three minutes, but the songs in question are still of considerably high quality (particularly the tense, lurching "Majestic"); they just have the misfortune of following three great ones. The album closes on a high note, however, with "Gratitude," a touching tribute to Killing Joke's fans that sums up the band's reason for being to a T ("And when you find yourself along the un-trodden path, remember me with a smile, a drink, a gesture, or a laugh, and a toast for the man who loves every hour of every day, and a feast for friends and faces met along the way").

Considerably more raw and seasoned in a much darker atmosphere than the 2003 "Clown" album, Hosannas does not surpass its predecessor so much as it simply moves in a different direction. If nothing else, it proves that the band is as vital and alive as ever.

Review by Alec A. Head

Review date: 01/2008

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In Excelsis EP

Killing Joke - In Excelsis EP ©2010 Spinefarm
1. In Excelsis
2. Endgame
3. Kali Yuga
4. Ghosts of Ladbroke Grove
5. Ghosts of Ladbroke Grove (Dub)

In an effort to sate the voracious appetites of hungry Killing Joke fans everywhere, the band has decided to release the In Excelsis EP as a means to give everyone a little taste of material comprised of what may or may not make it onto the final mix of their upcoming Absolute Dissent album. This release will be the band's first recording with the original line-up of Coleman/Walker/Glover/Ferguson since 1982. While the production on the material presented here is a bit on the rough side, it is definitely apparent that the band in its current state has lost none of its fire or potency. The title track damn-near soars in a way that is very uplifting. "Endgame" is a bit of an angry stomper of a track where Mr. Coleman castigates the world (the chorus is catchy as hell), and "Kali Yuga" sounds like an alternate version of "Blood on Your Hands" off of the 2003 self-titled effort. Jaz Coleman is his usual mad barking self, only there seems to be a greater balance between his trademark scary-albeit-melodic growliness and the smoother crooning of the Night Time/Brighter Than a Thousand Suns era. Youth's bass-playing is thunderous in a way that hasn't been heard on a Killing Joke album in a long time. Big Paul's drumming is a bit reined in when compared to his mesmerizing tribal drum patterns on the first three albums, however. As usual, Geordie Walker is his monochromatic riff-tastic self, and that is definitely a good thing. Ending with two different mixes of the odd and surprising reggae/dub-tinged "Ghosts of Ladbroke Grove", essentially all the elements for a great album are in place. The real question is whether or not the album on a whole will deliver on its promise. We will definitely see, won't we?

Review by Alec A. Head

Review date: 09/2010

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Absolute Dissent

Killing Joke - Absolute Dissent ©2010 Spinefarm
1. Absolute Dissent
2. The Great Cull
3. Fresh Fever From The Skies
4. In Excelsis
5. European Super State
6. This World Hell
7. Endgame
8. The Raven King
9. Honour the Fire
10. Depth Charge
11. Here Comes the Singularity
12. Ghosts of Ladbroke Grove

Killing Joke is a band with a history so convoluted that I bet even David Lynch would take a look at it and go "What the fuck, man?" Be it the revolving door of drummers, Jaz Coleman's LSD-induced, apocalyptic Icelandic sojourn, his eventual rumored nervous breakdown during that unfortunate Outside The Gate situation, the three or four band break-ups and reunions, the long wait between albums, and, most tragically, the recent death of long-time bassist Paul Raven by a heart attack at the age of 46 (not to mention having a certain riff stolen by a certain famed grunge musician who would later write a certain famous song by the name of "Come As You Are" based on said riff), one could write an epic tome of a band biography and still have enough material to pen a sequel. It was, of course, Paul Raven's passing that brought the original Killing Joke line-up of Jaz Coleman, Geordie Walker, Todd "Youth" Glover, and "Big" Paul Ferguson back together. The four had convened at Raven's funeral and decided that the fire burned bright enough to resurrect the original line-up, tour, and release a new album both as a means of their own purgation and as tribute to their fallen friend, for the first time since 1982.

While we were given a taste of what was to come on the In Excelsis EP from earlier in the year, nothing can truly prepare one for the release of a new Joke album. Regardless of who is either behind the drum kit or playing bass for the band, Killing Joke is a band that is so in tune with its own idea of artistic integrity and ability to defy expectations that even when the results don't always work (Outside the Gate is a prime example of this), they are, at the very least, interesting and surprising. Now, is this a fancy way of justifying the release of shitty music? Absolutely not, as Absolute Dissent is yet another spectacular collection of songs that could easily sit among other classic albums by this legendary band.

The first thing that jumps out at the listener is how dynamic and alive the album is. Pretty much every era of the band is covered in some way, shape, or form, not to mention a few surprising twists and turns to keep us on our toes. The opening title track sets the tone nicely, with Youth's bass sounding positively monstrous against Big Paul's propulsive drumming and Geordie's thick guitar attack. "The Great Cull", apart from having an insidiously catchy sing-a-long chorus, has a tremendous groove going on. "Fresh Fever From The Skies" is a tense and taut little number that only the Joke can provide. A pleasant surprise comes in the form of "European Super State", which is a catchy, Depeche Mode-like new wave song. Even the oft-ignored Brighter Than 1000 Suns/Outside the Gate era is given a nod on the album's best track, "The Raven King", a truly moving, epic tribute to the memory of Paul Raven. "Honour The Fire" sounds like what would happen if Jesu sped things up a bit, and more traditional, aggressive Joke songs like "Depth Charge" and "Endgame" see the band at its full-throttle best. "Here Comes The Singularity" is a wonderful throwback to the early days of post-punk and a great primer to closer "Ghosts of Ladbroke Grove". All of the songs are concise and catchy in ways that many of the hook-free and overlong songs from the latter half of Hosannas From The Basement of Hell were not.

The venerable Jaz Coleman gives it his all here; displaying more of his emotive crooning than his frightening bark. He pours his heart into "The Raven King", sounding like one who is simultaneously celebrating the life of and mourning the death of his friend. He is resigned and hopeful on "Honour The Fire" and back to his scary self on "Endgame", the midpaced, heavy-as-balls "This World Hell", and "Depth Charge." Lyrically, the band is dealing with much more than political vitriol and social turmoil (although those subjects do pop up). Themes of mortality, aging, friendship, and nostalgia resound throughout the album. If there are any criticisms to be made, it would be that Big Paul's drumming is a bit too straightforward and reined in for a musician of his pedigree, but that is a minor quibble, as his tom-heavy tribal drumming of the early days would be ill-suited to most of these songs. Also, Youth's backing whispers on the reggae/dub closer "Ghosts of Ladbroke Grove" are unnecessary and trite. It is otherwise an unusually fitting closing song.

Unlike most bands to have been around for 30-plus years, Killing Joke has proven time and time again that they are out to challenge themselves and their fans via the release of quality music that is worthy of their moniker and legacy. Absolute Dissent is yet another fine example of this, and it seems that nothing but the apocalypse itself would stop them from doing it again, and even then they would be celebrating and rocking out while the world collapsed around them.

Review by Alec A. Head

Review date: 12/2010


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