Heavy music in 2015 is experiencing a special kind of revitalization. Legendary and pioneering bands who count themselves among the living and recording have proven that even in their later years, they can still produce the same quality rock ‘n’ roll that initially brought them acclaim. Bands like Motörhead, Iron Maiden, and Slayer have all stuck to their guns and released albums this year that manage to showcase some of their best talents while still maintaining their relevance. This week, Killing Joke, the English legends of post-punk and industrial rock, add their name to the list with the release of their 15th LP, Pylon.
With bands like Nine Inch Nails, Faith No More, and Soundgarden naming them among their influences, it’s a bit staggering to realize how much Killing Joke have shaped the heavier and more experimental side of rock ‘n’ roll. Full of Killing Joke’s breed of futuristic post-punk rebellion, Pylon storms in unwavering in its identity in more ways than one.
Like their past two studio albums, the founding members of Killing Joke are all present and pleasantly cohesive here. New listeners to the band will likely first notice Jaz Coleman’s metallic and reverberating vocals above everything else. Coleman’s voice lies somewhere between Gary Numan’s melancholic pleas and Lemmy Kilmister’s vodka-soaked growls, piped through loudspeakers in a grand Thunder Dome arena where a great uprising against the treacheries of the modern age is about to bubble over. In his off time, Coleman has acted as a composer in residence for Prague’s Symphony Orchestra, and that operatic control is very much present in his vocal work. It even tends to overpower the music that underscores it.
That isn’t to say that the instrumental work on the album is understated in any way. Drummer Paul Ferguson keeps a steady, motivating beat throughout, while Geordie Walker and Youth Glover chug away on riffs that could inspire a nation to overthrow its government. “New Cold War” sounds like waking up in a disillusioned world with the sun in your eyes, striking a balance between palm-muted strums and bright finishes, whereas Walker and Glover do some welcome exploring in the beginning of “New Jerusalem”, as the album’s steady pace is thrown off for something much more fierce and determined. Reza Udhin’s keyboard work is minimal, but enough to set the industrial mood, with his buzzed and heavy saws remaining on the fringes of it all.
As far as variety goes, though, “New Jerusalem” is about the extent of it. Most of the songs on the album run into each other, undifferentiated. A pace is set, a riff is laid down, and Coleman’s voice commands. This formula can get repetitive and monotonous after just a few minutes into each track, and with the average track length at just under six minutes, things get tiresome after just a few tracks.
The finished product is still strong and consistent, to be sure, but with the lack of variety, Pylon is likely to be remembered as an album that just kept a constant rhythm for 56 minutes. That’s not to say we should lose faith in the latter years of our legends. While basic and likely forgettable, another album like this in Killing Joke’s discography presents a fascinating journey into the sort of music that influenced many of the popular experimental artists still working today.
Essential Tracks: “New Cold War”, “New Jerusalem”, and “I Am The Virus”