Album Review: ‘Pylon’, Killing Joke (2015)

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Being released in October of last year, it’s a little late in the piece for a review of Killing Joke’s ‘Pylon’. However, on account of a difference of opinion I’ll add my take on the album to the reams of existing opinion. A lot has been made of this being Killing Joke’s return to form, ‘Pylon’ managing to tap into the same creative energy that drove Killing Joke’s efforts from the 1980s, all while remaining original.

I can see why reviewers have taken the tack they have, and mostly I don’t disagree. In parts, ‘Pylon’ is more aggressive and up-tempo than the average anthemic Killing Joke track, all while managing not to lose the dystopian bleakness the pervades their prior work. There’s a healthy contrast of dark and light in this broadly shadowy mix as well. Musically, the songs distinguish themselves from one another, allowing for repeat listenings from start to finish without risk of boredom.

For the most part, the lyrical structure works as well – there’s no repetition of clichéd rhythms across the track list, no forced rhyme, and nothing hackneyed other than a couple of phrases repeated over the album.

This is all important and perhaps surprising. When rockers get on a bit, there’s always an increased risk of formulaic disappointments; droning, uniform arrangements, cheesy rhymes and vocal rhythms oh-so predictable because you’ve heard it all before, quite possibly on the previous track or recycled from an anthem on the back catalogue. In this respect, ‘Pylon’ has to be a welcome relief for anxious Killing Joke fans – the album commits none of these transgressions.

No, contrary to this, creatively, Killing Joke has cut the brake line, removed the safety-measures, fucked-off the very concept of aging, and clearly just head into this project with zero inhibitions. There is, however, a substantial down-side this removal of the cognitive filters; some complete shit has made it through into the lyrics, and if you’re like me, lyrics matter to you.

***

Before I get all shitty, I want to focus on a couple of things that lyrically, either hit me right in the gut, or at least got a little bit of sympathy out of me.

Israel has done nasty things to folks living in the Gaza strip. Corporate welfare has left us Little People paying the way for the big end of town, taxation wise. Market manipulation by powerful interests is a bit shit. Massive inequalities of wealth distribution are horrible. Not that I necessarily appreciate Killing Joke’s lyrical treatment of these issues, I’m not apathetic about them, and so can sympathise a little with some of the motivations on display.

Big Buzz:  This one just grabs me by the heart strings, especially with all the artists appreciated by, or a part of the “scene”, dying of late. Lemmy and Bowie do come to mind, but lyrics like “remember friends and faces, passing of the years ” also conjure up celebration and mourning by locals over the recent passing of artists like Peter Staben and Rod Archer. To Killing Joke’s credit, this gets me a little bit blubbery. The song does delve just a little into ancestor worship, and can be a tad schmaltzy-motivational in parts, but none of that is even close to being a deal breaker, and Jaz Coleman sings it like he means it. Similarly, Euphoria is a welcome break in the storm clouds, even if a bit sardonic.

…And then there’s the rubbish.

Dawn of The Hive alludes to smart dust/barium chemtrails connecting us to a network of microwave transmitters atop the album’s titular pylons of death. War on Freedom prattles on about “compulsory vaccinations”, the Bilderberg group, and non-existent bans on heritage seeds. I Am The Virus rants on “false flags”, and tells us of the Manhattan 9/11 attacks, that “steel frame buildings don’t fall in seconds”, all while pompously decrying people’s “deep denial” of such apparently obvious-but-hidden truths.

Delete revisits the barium chemtrails nonsense, again damning people’s apathy, before blaming a cabal of bankers for manipulating people through war. If that last part doesn’t seem suss to you, consider that strictly speaking, cabals are Jewish; what you’re left with is something approximating a Rothschild conspiracy theory, if not an allusion to the actual thing.

A few years ago, Peter Tatchell called out Killing Joke on the basis of allegations of fascist sympathies and homophobia, supposedly demonstrated to interviewers from Zig Zag magazine back in the day. Attempting to track down confirmation of a quote concerning “queers” and “black music” won’t get you very far, while references to Killing Joke’s promotional material featuring Nazi salutes seem to be exercises in the misapprehension of satire, along the lines of mis-readings of Charlie Hebdo or Laibach.

All the same, when Killing Joke go this far off into zany-town, as they have with ‘Pylon’, you can see the appeal this’d have for certain nasty sorts. Indeed, even if you don’t look too hard, you can find a Stormfront discussion from a few years ago where neo-Nazis praise Killing Joke, while predictably bad-mouthing Tatchell. They aren’t simply responding to Tatchell’s campaign either – there is affection for and familiarity with the band stated in a number of comments. While Killing Joke aren’t Nazis, this extreme still isn’t my kind of thing.

I’ve never expected Killing Joke to be uber-sceptics, or considered ethicists, and I’d no more have been schooled by Jaz Coleman than go to Dave Mustaine or Jon Schaffer for pointers on political science. I certainly don’t expect Killing Joke to drop the dystopian fantasy. But it is possible, even for those artists with a maw full of froth and a head full of paranoia, to produce works that aren’t so utterly dominated by the particulars of these kinds of neuroses. Maybe I need to revisit the back catalogue in finer detail and re-assess my perspective, but ‘Pylon’ seems madder than most of Killing Joke’s material by a considerable margin, the last couple of albums – FEMA death camps and all – not withstanding.

***

This is where the heartbreak sets in. I don’t regret buying the album, and based on what it is, what it was pitched as, and what I heard on-air before grabbing a copy, I don’t think the positive reviews and recommendations have been unfair. That being said, I’m going to give this album two ratings; lyrical content overlooked, and content considered. You can decide which rating to take on-board based on what your own priorities are.

Rating (Lyrical Content Overlooked): 4.5/5. It’s true what announcers and reviewers have been saying. This is a return to form that doesn’t wear out on replay, has enough light and dark and in all the right places, a well-structured track listing, no dud tracks, all while making the attempt look effortless. It could fit in alongside the classics from the backlist, but doesn’t recycle old material in managing to do so. The slight hackneying through repetition of phrases, though, is not small enough to go un-noticed, and looses the album half a point.

Rating (Lyrical Content Considered): 1/5. Jesus McFuck. Big Buzz and Euphoria will probably make valued entries on my playlist alongside some of Killing Joke’s older tracks, but most of the rest just leaves me pissed off. I think I’m going to have to chill with some of the oldies for a while now.

~ Bruce

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