It makes sense to see The Imbeciles here tonight – the latest release Imbecilica was produced by Killing Joke’s very own Youth, and their special brand of spectral punk provides a perfect complementary counterbalance to tonight’s headliners. John Kent’s imposing figure looms over the stage, his booming voice and growling bass driving a set peppered over with stabs, fret-dancing and palm-muting-a-plenty courtesy of a bouncing Butch Dante. Tiny Blue People is a standout that jerks its way through call-and-respond guitars and chugging verses, a wall of noise carrying in a chorus catchy enough that it continues to disrupt my working memory for the next several hours. The Imbeciles have a presence, fill the stage with it, and doubtless win a few new fans from among the ever-expanding army of industrial rockers now filling the O2.
As a pitch-dark room reverberates to the haunting aura invoked by Jocelyn Pook’s Masked Ball, a soundtrack lifted from the psychological Kubrick mind-bender Eyes Wide Shut, there’s a sense that we’re standing in the presence of legends. I’ve never seen Killing Joke before, but I’m hard-pressed to find a band from my teenage years that doesn’t cite them as an influence, and as Masked Ball melts into the thickly-sliced motor-driven opening of Love Like Blood I start to get why. Emerging in the 1980’s post-punk scene, Killing Joke lay the groundwork for a heavier, more industrial form of rock, allowing it to escape the underground and permeate the mainstream, opening the door for the Nirvanas and Nine Inch Nails of this world in the process. They’re heavy, they’re moody and they’re loud, and even at the age of 62 singer Jaz Coleman still has a voice capable of filling an arena. Coleman’s range is impressive too, soaring over the crunch of Geordie Walker’s guitar one moment, guttural and venomous in the next. “We’ve all been through so much,” he muses, “And worse is to come, so let’s channel our fear.”
With that, the band launch into Wardance, Youth’s rhythmic, harmonic-tinged bassline locking in step with drummer Paul Ferguson’s tribal rolls around the toms, as Coleman’s roar is echoed back to him from the hundreds baying below. There’s impressive energy about Killing Joke’s sound, and they play with an intensity that refuses to yield over the course of a generous 19-song set. Coleman twists his face, crawls over the monitors and persistently marches up and down the front of the stage, and watching him bellow his way through Money is Not Our God and the sheer sonic madness of Mathematics of Chaos, I get the feeling Killing Joke aren’t going to stop touring anytime soon. They jam their way through Pssyche, their seventeenth track of the night, before temporarily taking their leave, the crowd getting a chance to regroup, perhaps aware that the biggest sonic punch to the face is yet to come. Killing Joke reemerges with a double salvo, Reqiuem taking us into Pandemonium, a fitting monster of a closer, laden with riffs so heavy that it’s probably worth consulting a structural engineer before playing it at home. Killing Joke has just delivered a history lecture on how to pioneer a musical movement and how to rupture a few eardrums along the way, and it’s been something of a privilege to learn.
Jaz Coleman vox
Paul Ferguson drums
Geordie Walker guitar
‘Honour The Fire’ UK 2022 shows.
The Imbeciles are supporting on all dates (except Cheltenham) and Brix Smith is the special guest in London.