Killing Joke – Absolute Dissent

After thirty years of terrorizing the airwaves Killing Joke have hit their peak. Absolute Dissent is a crushing tour-de-force of an album, a masterpiece that can stand shoulder to shoulder with anything they’ve released in the past. In fact, this may be their quintessential record. The album feels like a drawing together of all the elements that make up Killing Joke, incorporating all the musical styles they perfected on previous albums and synthesising them into something dark, hypnotic and utterly unique.

Thankfully Absolute Dissent is a departure from the black-depression-horrible-grind of 2006’s Hosannas from the Basements of Hell. After dealing with the sudden death of long-time member Paul Raven the band seem happy to be alive and a strange “we’re all fucked, so let’s dance” mood of apocalyptic celebration pervades the album. One look at the tracklist establishes that they haven’t mellowed at all, with the wonderfully named ‘The Great Cull’ and ‘Fresh Fever from the Skies’ offering an indication of the doom-filled subject matter of their music. Lead singer and boggle-eyed ranting lunatic Jaz Coleman growls, bellows and sings his way beautifully throughout, backed by a group which are undoubtedly at their musical peak. Absolute Dissent has all the hunger, ambition and energy of a debut album from a bunch of whippersnappers just starting out and shows up Nicky Wire’s “oh, we’re 40, the energy of youth has gone” bleating for the bullshit it always was.

By turns angry, chilling, brutal, gentle and nostalgic, Absolute Dissent is an album of contrasts. By far the biggest surprise is the funky and danceable ‘European Super State’, which betrays a strong Kraftwerk influence with its shimmering synths. Depending on your viewpoint the song’s either an ironic denunciation of the E.U. and everything it stands for, or an enthusiastic paean to the good ship European Union and all who sail aboard her. Personally, I think it’s the former. Coleman’s ironic, sneering lyrics are particularly great, especially the inspired rhyme of “descendants of Plato” with “accommodating N.A.T.O.” which made me laugh out loud. I’m still not entirely sure whether the song as a whole is meant to be taken at face value; the only one who knows for sure is Jaz himself, and if you asked him he’d probably try and eat your shoes. It’s an oddity on the album, the laid-back dance grooves offering a nice contrast to the crushing-yet-melodic brutality of the songs that precede it, of which ‘The Great Cull’ is a particular highlight, starting with just the guitar riff before the rest of the band crashes in like a brick through a window.

The death of Raven last year has left the band in a reflective mood, with ‘The Raven King’ and ‘Honour the Fire’ dealing with their feelings of loss and realisation of their mortality. It’s a tribute to the band that neither song comes across as mawkish; ‘The Raven King’ balances its sense of loss with a vow to continue resisting authority, while the stunning ‘Honour the Fire’ marks the passing of time, the acceptance of age and the value of friendship with a wistful defiance that simultaneously chills and warms the listener. If Jaz’s plaintive “and all of our struggles never been in vain” doesn’t give you goosebumps then you are an emotionless robot. Beautiful sonically as well as lyrically, the song is the highpoint of the album.

The gleefully apocalyptic ‘Endgame’ couples a brutal groove to a strangely melodic chorus and has quite possibly the most sarcastic “a-woo-ha” backing vocals in musical history. Coleman’s clearly been taking his mad pills if the aptly-named ‘Depthcharge’ is anything to go by; an electro-freakout reminiscent of the Pandemonium album, his fragmented, disjointed lyrics and rasping bellow of “Kali Kali Kali!” during the chorus sounds utterly demented even by his lofty standards. Luckily the next song is ‘Here Comes the Singularity’ which boasts a truly beautiful guitar line and a chorus to which the word epic cannot do justice. Closing track ‘Ghosts of Ladbroke Grove’ returns to the dub reggae sound of Killing Joke’s very early singles, bringing the album and the band’s career full circle.

If this is Killing Joke’s last album it’s a fitting way to go. Their long career has had many highlights, from the grinding post-punk of their self-titled debut, to the melodic and accessible Night Time to the acoustic-tinged industrial metal of Democracy, but Absolute Dissent represents a new high. This is the Killing Joke album, essential for old fans and an excellent starting point for the uninitiated. Throughout their career Killing Joke have stubbornly refused to sell out, mellow or coast on their accomplishments and they’ve continued to push at the very limits of their sound. Now, thirty years after they first began, they’ve released their masterpiece. This is vital, life-affirming music that every punk/metal fan should have in their collection, and you owe it to yourself to experience it. Now.

Alun Thomas