Killing Joke – Absolute Dissent
British post-punk legends Killing Joke return with their 14th studio album, fittingly entitled Absolute Dissent. Written and recorded over the course of two years in London, Spain and Prague, the album is the first since 1982 to incorporate the full original lineup of the band, enigmatic lead vocalist and primary songwriter Jaz Coleman, guitarist Geordie Walker, bassist and producer Martin 'Youth' Glover and drummer Paul Ferguson.
The record commences with the monumental and visceral Absolute Dissent, titularly referencing the reportedly colourful in-band arguments in regards to which songs, mixes and artwork would be used for the album. Led by Walker's overdriven power-chord riffs and Coleman's guttural yet melodic vocals, the track kicks off proceedings in epic fashion, and seems to hint at a band at the peak of their powers.
The Great Cull follows, another great example of the band's heavy, stadium-sized sound, which has been refined and polished here to great effect. Dealing thematically with ideas such as Malthusianism and the Codex Alimentarius, Coleman suggests that government programs to remove the nutrients from commercially available foods are being implemented in order to cull the world population.
The infectious groove of Fresh Fever From The Skies is almost reminiscent of an ancient chant to lead troops into battle, a call to arms of sorts. The listener can almost feel the storm clouds of the album's cover art enveloping around them. Continuing on the popular Coleman theme of ancient, almost religious imagery is lead single In Excelsis, Latin for 'in the highest'. Dominated by Coleman's massive, cavernous vocals, the incantation of 'In excelsis, in excelsis' that appears in the chorus is one of the more anthemic moments of Killing Joke's career to date.
Following In Excelsis is another single, European Super State. The two tracks are stylistically linked by their inconspicuous New Order-esque synthesiser lines, but Coleman shows rare restraint in his vocals, opting to sing rather than snarl. This World Hell is the closest the band come to industrial metal on the record, the power of the duelling bass and guitar of Glover and Walker respectively being matched blow for blow by Coleman's colossal bellowing.
At its core, Endgame is a catchy, well-written pop song. With the potency of Killing Joke's sound however, it becomes a sinister, apocalyptic anthem. Lyrically dealing with the Baxter H1N1 swine flu controvarcy, subject matter once again comes to the forefront, and as with the rest of the record, Coleman is at his thought-provoking best.
The Raven King is Killing Joke's token slow-builder with a massive chorus, reminiscent of You'll Never Get To Me from their 2003 self-titled LP. Dedicated to deceased band member Paul Raven, the final line of the track is 'Carpe nocturno', the last words Raven uttered to Coleman during their final meeting in Prague. Honour The Fire is perhaps the mellowest moment on the album, if one can call it that. Ferguson's drumming during the opening segment of the track is almost soft-rock in its styling, a departure from the often complex and unconventional drumming one becomes accustomed to from a Killing Joke record. The band return to their heavy roots on Depthcharge, which once again revolves around Coleman's energetic and aggressive vocals, this time in the form of incantations about global warming and environmental deterioration.
The closing pairing of Here Comes The Singularity and Ghosts Of Ladbroke Grove is something of a disappointment musically, both tracks ambling along at mid-tempo without reaching any great heights. Here Comes The Singularity has the makings of a solid track, but there is not enough variation to keep things interesting. Lyrically though, the track is truly compelling, telling of a form of apocalypse caused by technological singularity (hardware increasing the speeds at which human minds can run, and computers developing self-awareness). Ghosts Of Ladbroke Grove is an interesting experiment for the band, and sees the use of ambient synthesisers and sounds reminiscent of 80s New Wave. Although it shows great promise, it becomes somewhat monotonous and ultimately fails to deliver.
Overall, however, Absolute Dissent is a greatly rewarding listen, and is the most complete record the band have released for a long time. The sound of the band has been distilled down to a tight and polished form of post-punk/industrial crossover that is as potent as anything currently being released. Coleman once again shows his versatility in terms of both songwriting and vocals, and he is ably backed by his cohorts throughout the record. Approaching controversial subjects such as population control, chemtrails, microchipping of the world's population and bioterrorism, Coleman's lyrics are fascinating as always, and he remains one of the few truly enigmatic and captivating frontmen in the world of modern music. More than anything else, Absolute Dissent highlights exactly why Killing Joke remain so culturally relevant after over 30 years – far from being content to rest on their laurels, they continue to explore territory far beyond almost any other band today.