An early Killing Joke song brings out the dead

An early Killing Joke song brings out the dead

In Hear ThisA.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing.

Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune of interviewing quite a few of my musical heroes, from Paul Weller to Wayne Shorter to Pere Ubu’s David Thomas. None was as flat-out intimidating as Jaz Coleman. I interviewed the mysterious Killing Joke frontman in 2003, soon after the release of the band’s self-titled album. It’s the second full-length to bear the name Killing Joke; the first was the group’s 1980 debut, which instantly established Coleman as one of post-punk’s bleakest poets. Over the phone, Coleman was twice as creepy as his creepiest song. It probably didn’t help that I was interviewing him the week before Halloween, which gave Coleman an excuse to expound on the holiday’s pagan, ritualistic origins. He also laughed a lot. That sound is not for the fainthearted.

Neither is his music. Although 2003’s Killing Joke—which features superfan Dave Grohl on drums—is fantastic, 1980’s Killing Joke is the album that made me a convert. The record is best known for “The Wait,” which Metallica covered on Garage Days Re-Revisited. But the track that hits me hardest is “Requiem.” Like a robotic crematorium stalking the barren earth looking for corpses to consume, “Requiem” is an inhumanly cruel contraption of industrialized dread. It also rocks. “Man watching city fall / Clock keeps on ticking / He doesn’t know why / He’s just cattle for the slaughter,” Coleman coldly intones over a conveyer belt of brutality. When I saw Killing Joke in concert in ’03, a week after I interviewed Coleman, he came out onstage in a druid’s robe with the hood pulled up. It was the night before Halloween. The whole show was incredible—but when the band broke into “Requiem,” I’m pretty sure I felt the true, ancient meaning of Halloween for the first time in my life. (A new, triple-disc Killing Joke anthology, The Singles Collection: 1979-2012, comes out May 14 via Spinefarm Records.)

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