Sometimes great albums happen. Multiple forces converge — influences, musicians, leaders, ideas, opportunities — and everyone involved becomes more than they are. They rise above their mortal lives and create something profound enough to live in, a musical world we want to inhabit and take up its struggles and make it turn into the full potential we see nascent within its objects.
Streetcleaner falls into this category. After a stylistically-inspiring but somewhat deconstructive first EP that never really created a direction of its own except aesthetically, the three individuals who comprise Godflesh returned with a new energy. They combined influences from their fledgling industrial grindcore, indie rock and death metal, and came up with an album resonant with layers of potential. Instead of aiming to destroy melody, they built it from the smallest elements so that it could only be seen when those overlapped and only then often by implication, creating a haunting album like an ancient mansion full of unexplored pathways and secret rooms.
Slowing down their attack, Godflesh carved time into a space through the selective introduction of sounds which then received an ecosystem of other sonic fragments with which to interact, creating an atmosphere that also had form and narrative. From indie rock they borrowed melancholic but affectionate melodies, from death metal complex song structures, and from industrial the sound that genre had always desired to express, namely a machine crushing human hope like a Charles Dickens novel. Together these influences formed a sound like Killing Joke accelerated into apocalyptic nihilism with the raw sonic experimentation of death metal.
Streetcleaner came together like an impossible dream. It borrowed from many musical traditions but the band kept both its own voice and a style specific to the album. What really distinguishes this album however is the content. Streetcleaner captures a range of human emotions in response to the disaster of human emotions that creates our modern world: individualistic selfishness leading to herd behavior empowering vast evils. In putting this into sound, Godflesh opened a dialogue with the darkest parts of our souls and the reason those souls are dark, which is that we know the possibility of light.
The band never concentrated its energy in such a way again. The following album, Pure, went back to a higher concept version of their first EP, but never managed the emotional intensity that the interwoven melodic streams of Streetcleaner brought out among the crushing noise and abrasive battle robot rhythms. They swung back the other way toward indie rock for a few more albums, but those went too far into face-value emotion and lost both intensity and honesty. Eventually the band faded out into a series of projects pursuing influences as most senior underground efforts do. However Streetcleaner remains as the apex of industrial music and the album every dark topics band wishes they could make, as well as a profound influence on the rising black metal movement and the second wave of death metal.
Iconoclastic and idiosyncratic industrial traditionalists Killing Joke release the video for “Corporate Elect” today in anticipation of their new compilation, The Singles Collection 1979-2012, and riding on the heels of their success last year with their newest full-length MMXII released on Spinefarm Records.
Active since the late 1970s (hence the title), Killing Joke explored the murky zone between punk, metal, synthpop and industrial music. Years before Ministry, Godflesh, Nine Inch Nails or Fear Factory, Killing Joke found their own voice in this nomansland of styles and also found their own voice in terms of content, exploring ideas that most pop music couldn’t articulate much less contemplate.
The Singles Collection 1979-2012 comprises thirty-three career-spanning singles over two CDs with an additional third disc of rarities which includes previously unreleased studio tracks. The limited three-CD version will revert to two CDs containing the singles tracks. The three-disc deluxe and regular two-CD version is set for release via Spinefarm on the new date of June 4, 2013 and can be pre-ordered here.
For more information, visit the band’s official website at www.killingjoke.com.
Staying true to roots is difficult because as time goes on and learning increases, one must necessarily spread wings and soar to more ambitious ground. Killing Joke do both on MMXII, an album that showcases the style of their first album as interpreted through a more modern style and revisiting their influences.
Categorizing Killing Joke has never been easy. They sound like they should be an electronic music band, with spacious beats and future pop song structures, but then they add in guitar which sounds like a lighter version of Amebix, and a distinctly sweet-sour male vocal that gives the music an expansive mood and lightens the sometimes intense distortion on the guitars. They augment this with atmospheric keyboards and a throbbing, pulsing aggro-pop bass groove.
On MMXII, the band get closer to their roots in early electro and British techno pop, using melody to lead the otherwise unstoppable fusion of industrial, pop, punk and rock that they wrap into a final product that is both passionate and furious. While this is no way a metal band, Killing Joke has influenced a good many metal bands because it shares a similar mood: mythological, metaphorical, distanced from the human and yet emotional in the sense of someone watching a lovely mountainside burn in a drought.
As fierce critics of the modern life and its favorite crutches, Killing Joke also have a mood that is more punk than the most righteously self-proclaimed punk. This gives the music a surging quality, between a contemplative Britpop melancholy and harmony, and a driving rage during which the vocals distort to the edge of black or death metal territory. The result is an enclosing wall of sound that catches the listener in its emotion.
MMXII presents an amazingly consistent package. While songs are generally verse-chorus with strategic breaks, and cycle around to circular structures that repeat with changes, they are not consistent and each one has a different set of moods. Like actors playing a role in the drama of the album, each seems like a shard of the glass face reflecting the true experience of this album, which is both elaborate and brilliantly compelling.