Thursday, 24 February 2011

Killing Joke - Killing Joke (2003)

1. The Death and Resurrection Show
2. Total Invasion
3. Asteroid
4. Implant
5. Blood On Your Hands
6. Loose Cannon
7. You'll Never Get To Me
8. Seeing Red
9. Dark Forces
10. The House That Pain Built

Manic Maniacs Maniacally Making Memorable Music – 8.5/10

Alright, all jokes aside, prepare for Killing Joke’s ruthless comeback after a short time of absence. After Democracy, which I see as one of their weaker efforts, the band disappeared into the clouds again only to emerge fresher, more powerful and above all heavier than ever before. That’s right. Killing Joke are taking their trademark danceable vibes more into the savage world of metal than ever before on their self-titled eleventh full-length. Most bands that emerged in the early eighties are not really adding anything memorable to their often impressive catalogue, but Killing Joke never stops writing new classics.

And so we have another terrific album by industrial rock pioneers Killing Joke. Do they ever stop? Not if it’s up to them. Coleman, Geordie and both Youth ánd Raven, which is odd since they’re both bassists, have reunited only to show that Killing Joke is still as relevant in 2003 as they were back in 1980 when they released their self-titled debut, which still holds the most classics. With Coleman slowly turning into a monster by increasingly using his bellowing voice, this album is very aggressive. They hired Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl to play drums on this record, which sounds very good. The combination of Killing Joke with Dave Grohl turns out to be aggressive with very punctual rhythms without losing that dance-vibe the band always had. Perhaps this is also the most industrial album they’ve recording, after 1994’s Pandemonium of course.

So then as “The Death and Resurrection Show” kicks in it sounds like an occult ritual. A threatening monotone voice takes you into a trance with the punctual vibes of the guitars on the background. Quickly enough the drums join in and Coleman turns into a monster, giving the song a bit of ‘summon-the-beast’ ambience. One song you can’t evade is the in-your-face “Asteroid”, starting of quite chaotically before an aggressive load of choppy, punctual riffs and rhythms kicks in. With “Implant” we once more have a similar riff and rhythm and the trick is getting old here. When the chorus mainly features Coleman bellowing without the music underneath the track really can annoy me. “Blood On Your Hands” is a totally different kind of song and is mainly driven by the anger about the way of the world in 2003, which is exactly the entire feel of the song and provides it with a lot of energy. One of my personal favourites would be the single “Loose Cannon”; it’s very industrial, very groovy and has a slow but certain headbanging-vibe to it. This track really stands for ‘simplicity is the key’. There’s a ballad in “You’ll Never Get To Me”, but it doesn’t stop the band from making it rough. It’s slightly more melodic and gentler than the other tracks and at times even tends to be epic, but is not at all a black sheep on this album, for it’s equally heavy and anger-fuelled. “Seeing Red” also sounds like a single and is similar to, but notably less than, “Blood On Your Hands” as it has the same upbeat rhythm with aggressive tone. The album does end on a high note with the, yes, epic “The House That Pain Built”. It so powerfully concludes Killing Joke’s plea of anger you’d instantly want to put the album on repeat again.

You might have noticed that I ‘accidentally’ forgot to mention two tracks. Don’t get me all that wrong, they fit well within the concept of this record and there is some very nice riffage on “Total Invasion” as well as a great dark atmosphere in “Dark Forces”, due to the low orchestral themes of the intro. But they both contain a new experiment by vocalist Jaz Coleman: the whisper-grunt, as I like to call it. He never truly grunts, but likes to bellow monstrously every now and then… now imagine that in a whisper. I absolutely hate it and I’m glad he didn’t do it more often.

In short, Killing Joke for a change decided to make another great album with again a very distinct sound and its fair share of classics. It’s not sure to please Killing Joke fans of the early hours, but those that loved their 90s work should definitely dig this. Highly recommended.

Strongest tracks: “The Death and Resurrection Show”, “Loose Cannon” and “The House That Pain Built”.
Weakest tracks: “Total Invasion” and “Implant”.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Steven Seagal - Songs from the Crystal Cave (2004)

1. Girl It's Alright
2. Don't You Cry
3. Music
4. Better Man
5. Route 23
6. My God
7. Lollipop
8. Not for Sale
9. Dance
10. Jealousy
11. War
12. Strut
13. Goree
14. The Light

Spiritual Steven goes music…?! – 6,5/10

Yes, you are right. This is an album by the infamous martial arts fighter and actor Steven Seagal. This guy can fight like no other, he can produce movies like farts in terms of quantity, originality and quality, and now he’s into music too?? Mostly, actors that go music I hear and after five minutes I shake my head and turn it off due to a big lack of catchiness or originality. You’d be very surprised, but Steven Seagal’s debut album Songs From The Crystal Cave is somewhat different from albums by… say Bruce Willis or Jennifer Love Hewitt. I feel this album should be taken seriously.

What?! Did he say Seagal must be taken seriously?! Yes, for he is not immortal on this album and most importantly he does not practice the martial arts here. But do not get me wrong. I am extremely generous with this rather high rating. This is nowhere near a classic album, nor has it any potential to be and as for Seagal, it’s nice that he can show us some of his hobbies outside of acting, but we could live without it. That being said, what does our Under Siege-star do? Steven likes playing guitar and though it seriously looks very clumsy on stage (thumb-plectrum and holding his guitar with pink and ring finger), he clearly knows his instrument and provides solid backing for melodies. He also goes lead guitar at times, which he does well, but it’s nothing really spine-shivering. But most importantly, the man sings on this record. How does his voice sound? Ever seen his movies? He talks with a husky voice, almost a whisper. That’s exactly the way he sings, but for the music he likes to make, his voice actually fits very well. Seagal jumps from style to style on this album, most notably country, blues, soul and reggae. That makes this album a bit of a mash-up and it’s hard to find cohesion. Not to mention he only takes the clichés of each musical style, which is actually plain boring, but if you’re not a regular listener of the genres, like me, they might not be all that bad.

Seagal opens the album a little country-ish and could be mistaken for a singer-songwriter on the catchy, radio friendly “Girl It’s Alright” and “Don’t You Cry”. The former most notably features a gospel-esque backing choir, while the latter was the lead single of this album and it’s not too hard to know why. The arrangements sound very acoustic and intimate, with Seagal’s voice clearly on the foreground. With “Music” he shifts the direction a little more to soul or reggae with a bluesy and gospel-esque ambience. Say what you want but Seagal’s got some soul in his voice and the backing choir really adds to his voice as a counterpart. Highlight of this track would be the break in the middle with a Jamaican reggae vocalist called Tony Rebel, who does a little rap, before the song goes back to the chorus, after a little guitar solo by Steven. “Better Man” goes a little back to what the first two tracks stood for, but this time it’s less interesting, though still a solid track. “Route 23” is the first real low. Steven Seagal goes total blues here, but it can’t possibly be more cliché. The overload of guitar leads here seriously gets annoying, not to mention Seagal’s voice doesn’t match the song. After that track the music style changes to some uplifting world music or reggae. “My God” is a real relief after the boring quiet track before. This song is really uplifting and its lyrics are remarkable, to say the least.

Now, the second half of the album isn’t half as good as the first. Not to mention the lyrics quality is going down fast, most notably in “Jealousy” or “War”. Talk about cliché. Now, that is not to say all is awful after “My God”. Seagal performs the traditional “Lollipop” with Jamaican reggae vocalist Lieutenant Stitchie and it has this so-bad-it’s-good touch to it. With “Not for Sale”, we have really one of the stronger songs from the crystal cave. It starts with these (cliché) eastern percussions but has a really nice groove to it and there’s one of Seagal’s strengths again. The chorus, and especially the guitar-driven pre-chorus, is definitely one of the strongest of this album. With “Dance”, the bad side of the album really kicks off, but whether it’s bad or not really depends on your mood. “Dance”, “Jealousy” and “War”, all suffer from clichés, both musically and lyrically, but don’t really harm anyone, unless you’re in a bad mood and can’t find the skip-button. The latter two feature more Jamaican guest artists, respectively Lady Saw and Lieutenant Stitchie again. Lady Saw also features on the second single “Strut”, which seems to be a reggae-hip-hop hybrid. This is one song that brings me headaches. Seagal really sound poor next to the mighty voice of Lady Saw. Then the album ends more like it started with the very poor “Goree” and the very strong “The Light”. Seriously, if he’d just stick to that genre this album could have become very known.

In short, yeah I’m very generous when I give this album a 6,5. Yet I think going lower wouldn’t do justice to this album. It’s really not that bad as a whole, if you can overcome the lack of cohesion, of professional musicianship and original ideas. This is just a feel-good record, not made to be groundbreaking. It’s just a man’s hobby and at least it sounds like he’s having a lot of fun.

Strongest moments: “Don’t You Cry”, “Not for Sale” and “The Light”.
Weakest tracks: “Route 23”, “War” and “Strut”.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Killing Joke - Pandemonium (1994)

1. Pandemonium
2. Exorcism
3. Millenium
4. Communion
5. Black Moon
6. Labyrinth
7. Jana
8. Whiteout
9. Pleasures of the Flesh
10. Mathematics of Chaos

Long Live Industrial – 9/10

Killing Joke is one of those bands that never let you completely down. Okay, perhaps some considered the 1988 album Outside the Gate as a letdown, but all the others are never total disasters. Still, they manage to release totally stunning albums from time to time and Pandemonium is definitely one of those. With 1990’s Extremities album, the band wanted to return to form and show the fans they were back to making anger-filled rock again. Its success gave them more room to engage new experiments.

The band has always been a major influence to industrial rock and metal, mostly because they were making danceable rock in the 80s long before the genre came to exist. By the time of this album, bands like Ministry, Nine Inch Nails and Godflesh had grown out to be the big industrial rock acts, but Killing Joke shows with Pandemonium that they are absolute masters of the genre they helped arise. This album shows clear signs of adapted 90s dance influences, which might make it sound a little outdated, but if that doesn’t bother you it makes you move. Within the danceable riffs and tunes lie the anger, frustration and dark fantasies we know so well from previous albums. To this date, Pandemonium stands as one of the strongest Killing Joke full-lengths and certainly as one of the most classic ones. It also marks the first return of original bassist Youth to the band since he left in 1982 and the album features multiple drummers after the departure of Martin Atkins in 1991. The record features middle-eastern influences as well, spread throughout the record, but most notably found in the title track’s synthesizer intro.

As soon as the drums and lead guitars kick in at the opening and title track and the rhythm section slowly builds up you know you can’t escape. It cools off a little in the short verses, but the chorus only adds to the groovy madness, which goes on for about six minutes, which might seem to long since the song doesn’t change, but this is all about ambience. Same goes for the very aggressive “Exorcism”, which peaks at seven-and-a-half minutes. This is a very strong way to kick off the record. With the heavy “Millenium” the band got themselves a single. It’s basically a very heavy, dragging track, leaning a lot to metal, with a catchy chorus… if you like Jaz Coleman’s bellowing voice. This is by the way the first Killing Joke record where he regularly uses that bellowing voice of his instead of a clean voice. “Communion” drags along nicely with the eastern influences clearly audible here. Then there’s “Black Moon” to raise the tempo a little. It really sounds like a song from the classic Killing Joke from the early 80s. You’ll be confused by the chaotic synthesizer theme of “Labyrinth”, which makes you feel like you’re in a maze and you can’t get out. It even tends to go as far as being annoying. You’re glad you’re out of that maze when the song is over… but the album quickly recovers itself with the ballad “Jana”, about a girl that’s been tested positive on AIDS. You can hear the despair in Coleman’s vocals.

More towards the end of the album things are getting more and more serious. On “Whiteout” we are being tempted to dance with a serious beat and a delightful guitar riff, but as we dance you’ll see how dark this really is when you read the lyrics. “Pleasures of the Flesh” is one of the more passionate mid-tempo tracks with its very powerful chorus. If you think nine of the ten tracks is about the best it can be, you should hear the tenth track, for it takes the whole record to a new level. “Mathematics of Chaos” extends what we’ve heard on “Whiteout” to an epic level. Prepare for another delicious guitar riff accompanied by true dance beats. The chorus is downright epic. There’s absolutely no better way to close this album.

Without a doubt, Pandemonium is one of Killing Joke’s strongest releases to date and that says something, especially because the band very rarely releases weak albums. I highly recommend this album to fans of industrial rock and to fans of Killing Joke. This album is definitely a must-know.

Strongest tracks: “Pandemonium”, “Exorcism”, “Whiteout” and “Mathematics of Chaos”.

Killing Joke - Outside the Gate (1988)

1. America
2. My Love of This Land
3. Stay One Jump Ahead
4. Unto the Ends of This Earth
5. The Calling
6. Obsession
7. Tiahuanaco
8. Outside the Gate

Killing Joke’s Black Sheep – 7,8/10

Every band intending to sound different with each new record will have an album almost officially declared as ‘the band’s worst’. In a time where a lot of rock bands included more synthesizers to smooth productions to their music, Killing Joke, or at least Jaz Coleman and Geordie Walker, become creative with this synth-full sound they developed on 1986’s Brighter Than a Thousand Suns. Instead of replicating “Love Like Blood” a couple of times again, they took a radical step into experiment.

It is often said this should have been a Coleman/Walker collaboration and not a Killing Joke record, which I agree with most dearly. This simply does not sound like Killing Joke at all, except for Coleman’s ever-threatening voice. Here, you won’t experience the fury of the wardance, the call for help in desperate situations or the feeling that something is not right. That is not to say they delivered a bad record here, but it’s just a black sheep in the Killing Joke family. Coleman and Walker took a conscious step to experiment with different, less obvious song structures, more focus on melody and odd time signatures. This album heavily leans towards progressive rock. That said, I don’t think Coleman’s voice has ever sounded as beautiful as on here, where he actually sings melodies. Drowning these ideas in a pool of synthesizers and 80s slick production and there you have Outside the Gate. Though it will never be one of my favorite Killing Joke records, it’s certainly not one to be forgotten. Sadly, the band is not proud of this record. It was the time original drummer Big Paul Ferguson was kicked out of the band and bassist Paul Raven (R.I.P.) asked to remove him from the credits.

The album begins with two singles that flopped. “America” has a catchy synth-theme and has a driving pace throughout. A good candidate for a single it is for sure; it is catchy, short and probably the most straightforward track on this album. “My Love of This Land” then shows a continuation of the sweeter side of Brighter Than a Thousand Suns and turns out to be a nice gentle track. Then the album becomes more inaccessible, starting off with “Stay One Jump Ahead”; a really funky track with slapping bass underneath all the time and with Coleman sounding like Freddie Mercury on his solo record. It’s certainly one of the more kick-ass tracks. “Unto the Ends of the Earth” really steps into the prog direction with its weird song structure and rhythm changes. It’s quite atmospheric, but is possibly the least song on the record, though far from a bad track. Mysteriously “The Calling” sneaks into your ear and continues in the same vein as the previous track, but leaves a more spontaneous impression. “Obsession” is as an uplifting track, but not as catchy as “America”. It’s rather prog-esque and has a powerful chorus. The last two songs are probably the best. “Tiahuanaco” is one that comes to your attention immediately with its catchy melody and its bombastic nature. But still, the title track is the most bombastic track on the album. It lasts over eight minutes and its eight minutes of pure ear candy. It starts off gently with water sounds and when the music kicks in the verses create a mysterious ambience until suddenly the mighty chorus kicks in. The bombastic, instrumental theme easily takes you into hypnosis and if you weren’t attracted by the other tracks, this theme will make you want to give the album another chance. The piece closes with a beautiful classical guitar-piano piece.

Yes, I think Killing Joke fans who dislike this record should give it another chance. If you don’t like progressive rock, there’s a good chance you will never get the feel of this record, but I hope fans of prog will once find this album and give it the credits it deserves.

Strongest moments: “My Love of This Land”, “Tiahuanaco” and “Outside the Gate”.
Weakest moments: “Unto the Ends of This Earth” and “The Calling”.