In his magnificent book on the post-punk period Rip It Up and Start Again, Simon Reynolds dares to sum up Killing Joke’s resounding personality in a single line: “a post-punk version of heavy metal, a death-disco Black Sabbath”. And one can’t help but imagine Jaz Coleman, vociferous alma mater of the legendary English group, spitting fire and spouting Maori curses from his cabin on Great Barrier Island (New Zealand) upon hearing such an efficient and mundane definition of his greatest life project. For this giant –scholar and megalomaniac with a shamanic soul– as for his partners, Geordie Walker, “Big” Paul Ferguson, Youth and Paul Raven, Killing Joke’s music is and forever will be sacred. Larger than life. A basic urge, impregnated with mysticism that conjures ancestral spirits while setting the (martial) pace of a collapsing world on the brink of Armageddon. And if anyone thinks we’re exaggerating, they need only hear what they have to say in the documentary The Death and Resurrection Show.
Directed by the photographer and filmmaker Shaun Pettigrew –like Coleman, a Brit by birth and a Kiwi by adoption– the film was shot between 2003 and 2013, and is based on Letters from Cythera, the book in which Coleman explains his philosophical evolution since 1960, the year of his birth, to 2008, the year in which bassist Paul Raven died. Pettigrew unleashes an overwhelming visual torrent (news footage, strobe and mirror effects, lavish graphics and a dash of time-lapse). And combines it with agile chronological narration of the history of the group, formed in 1978 following a ceremonial ritual and a cryptic ad in Melody Maker magazine, on one hand, and on the other, Coleman’s passionate dissertations about his interest in –deep breath, folks– Aleister Crowley, chaos magick, occultism, hermeticism, the Kabbalah, the Rosicrucian tradition, numerology, all manner of pagan symbols, and in particular, how all this influenced his work with Killing Joke and as a classical music composer (he worked with the Prague Symphony Orchestra and violinist Nigel Kennedy and has composed symphonic covers of The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and recently, Nirvana). And lest we forget, his obsession with the idea of a hidden island in the outer reaches of the world, which, alongside the giant atomic mushroom cloud, serves to open and close the narrative circle of the film.
And so, traveling from London to New Zealand, passing through rituals in the forests of Oxford and the Scottish island of Iona, an escapade to Iceland fleeing nuclear apocalypse, plagued by paranormal experiences, a wild season at the Nazca Lines, a wedding in Morocco and a recording session at the Great Pyramid of Giza (Egypt), two and a half orgiastic hours go by, encapsulating three decades of archive material. And, surprisingly, they turn out to be entertaining even for those that aren’t fans of the band, oscillating between the excitement of adventure films and the tension of a psychological thriller.
In the testimonies section, Jimmy Page, guitarist of Led Zeppelin and self-confessed occultist bows down to the unique sound of Geordie Walker’s semi-acoustic and the band’s ominous presence: “You could cut the atmosphere at their concerts with a knife”. Other revealing commentaries are provided by Peter Hook (bassist of Joy Division and New Order), Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters), the Maori diva Hinewehi Mohi and Coleman’s mum, Gloria: “He's gentle and reflective inside. You wouldn't know that because of Killing Joke. But inside, he is. He has a deep fear of something and he manifests it in different ways”.
And if all this weren’t enough and by way of extra content, we invite you to watch more videos in order to follow the countless loose threads that hang from the complex and fascinating personality of Jaz Coleman and Killing Joke.
Coleman goes crazy for a great Dionysian torch-lit ritual. This scene comes from the film Rok d'àbola (Year of the Devil, 2002). Directed by Czech filmmaker Petr Zelenka, it follows the misadventures of a (fictitious) documentary directory filming the (real) folk rock group Cechomor. LA Weekly described it as “Don‘t Look Back, A Hard Day‘s Night and This Is Spinal Tap all rolled into one compulsive, eccentric, rootsy ball.”
Dave Grohl pounded the drums for Killing Joke’s namesake second album in 2003, the first offering from the band after a seven-year absence. Here, we find him in the studio explaining how he met Coleman and discussing the song “The Death and Resurrection Show”.
This video, produced by Ra Bob, Jaz Coleman harks back to the Killing Joke tour with Joy Division
in February 1980. The audio is from a monographic from the New Zealand radio program “The 13th Floor”, in which Jaz, a man of eclectic musical tastes
, selects some of his favourite tunes (from reggae to punk, classical to metal) and shares juicy anecdotes with Can
you can (and should) listen to the whole program.
Journalists in general, and TV presenters in particular, tended to enter a state of panic when interviewing Killing Joke. Basically, they didn’t get what the devil they were talking about. Paula Yates faced the challenge in this interview for the Channel 4 program “The Tube” in 1985, for which the band played their first and only major hit, “Love Like Blood”.
Killing Joke in Munich, Germany (March 25th, 1985) as part of the launch tour for the album Night Time
. Back then they were already –like it or not– the fathers of what we'd come to know as "industrial rock": Ministry
, Skinny Puppy
are all self-confessed fans of Killing Joke. Via Kill That Cat, probably the best online archive of live videos of underground punk and metal bands.
One place we’ll never see Killing Joke is at a benefit gala organized by Bono.