Killing Joke – S/T

I am so tragically disappointed right now. Here in my hands, I hold the case to what could have potentially been a great, great piece of music – a 2003 release from influential rockers Killing Joke. We’re talking original members here – with the one switch-up being the addtion of DAVE FRIGGIN’ GROHL on drums. Yes, that Dave Grohl – the best drummer in the world that doesn’t really play drums anymore (sorry, J Mascis – you’ve got him on axe skills, but he slays your drumming). I was positively giddy when I saw this in my promo package. Too bad a majority of this record totally and completely sucks.
I’ve listened to this disc 20 times. I really, really, really wanted to like this. I tried really hard to like it. I tried, and I tried, and then even when I was sure it sucked, I tried yet again to like it. What sucks about this, you ask? Well, here’s the thing – back in the day, Killing Joke’s records were absolutely devastating – a clever mix of loud, chugging, and even more LOUD rock and growled, over-the-top vocals (think Lemmy on downers) that came off light-years cooler than it had any right to, which is really a tribute to the songwriting and musicianship of band leaders Jaz Coleman and Geordie Walker. Killing Joke mastered the task of taking big, slow, dumb rock and making it really, really, really enjoyable (mostly by taking the ‘dumb’ out of it).
Now, as for this 2003 self-titled Killing Joke release … Well, let’s consult a Killing Joke checklist, shall we? Slow, chugging rhythms? Check. Copious amounts of dreadfully powerful guitars? Check. Killer drummer? Check. So far, so good, I guess. Variety? Uh … nope. Total waste of the killer drummer thanks to terrible mixing and engineering? Oh, yes. Yes, yes, and yes again. Dreadful re-make of one of the band’s previously most destructive songs? Yup yup yup. Massive injection of the ‘dumb’ that the band previously removed from its sound? Oh boy, you’d best believe it.
Ugh. There are a zillion things wrong with this record, the biggest of which being that sadly enough, the disc comes off sounding like a pitiful re-hash of the basic sound of Ministry’s Psalm 69 CD (which is a damned shame, considering that Ministry’s entire sound was lifted from Killing Joke’s first three or four releases). The other major problem I have is with the mixing/engineering of the drumming – Grohl’s tracks are, for the most part, made to sound like absolute crap. Some tracks are touched up with synthetic flourishes, while others are just boring, drab, mundane drum tracks (which is the last thing in the world I’d expect to say about Grohl).
There are so many things wrong with this record, in fact, that I’d rather talk about the three things that I DID enjoy about it, simply because doing that will let me finish this review sooner, and from that point on, I’ll never have to acknowledge this album again.
Thing that works #1: The album’s opening track, “The Death and Resurrection Show,” is quite honestly a very good representation of what I expected the rest of this album to sound like. It’s mechanical. It’s droning. It’s repetative. The thing is, though, this song has something that a majority of this record doesn’t have – a personality. Something about this song just stands out light-years ahead of the rest of the album. The guitars are brutally unrelenting – when the second guitar riff pops up about a minute into the song, I want to jump out of my chair and thrash around. This is what Killing Joke is supposed to sound like.
Thing that works #2: Admittedly, “You’ll Never Get to Me” is a surprisingly good song, although it sorta goes against the general Killing Joke tradition by coming off as, well, a ballad. The verse structures are reminiscient of The Cure and Joy Division, and damn, syrupy or not, the song comes off very, very well. I didn’t want to like this song at first, but the more I listened to it, the more I found myself digging it.
Thing that works #3: Dave Grohl’s one true chance to shine on this disc is “Seeing Red.” As far as the song goes – well, yeah, I could take it or leave it. The drumming, however, is everything that I love to hear when Grohl’s behind a drumkit. I **REALLY** don’t like this song, but I’ve listened to it three or four times in a row on multiple occasions just because I love hearing Grohl going apeshit on the drums. Yes, the drumming on this track really is that good. Yes, I honestly think that outside of the drumming, the song is totally blah.
The sad part is, while those three things that work are very good things, the rest of this disc is so awful, boring, repetative, and bland that I can’t even recommend this disc for those three things. Yes, I’m being serious – the rest of this release is such a vortex of suck that it pretty much cancels out the good stuff. I mean, c’mon – they completely snuffed the life out of “War Dance” with the re-recorded version tacked on here. Yeesh. If you wanna hear some Killing Joke, do yourself a favor and go get a copy of the band’s original debut self-titled record or What’s THIS For…! (which were complete trend-setters), because this latest release comes off as nothing but a lifeless self-parody of those albums.