Many older bands, once established, will eventually coast by just on their name alone. Sure, they’ll cut a new album every few years, but it never lives up to their influential works of yesteryear. It’s often an excuse to go out on the road, play nothing but the classics, and bring home the money while also hocking wares that have nothing to do with the band’s original intent. England’s Killing Joke, however, are a unique beast. Almost 40 years into their storied career, they’ve influenced groups as disparate as LCD Soundsystem, My Bloody Valentine, Nine Inch Nails, and Metallica just by utilizing any and all genres suitable to deliver their brand of poetic vitriol. Now, completing the triptych that started with 2010’s Absolute Dissent and continued with 2012’s MMXII, we have Pylon to analyze and mull over. I will say right now that you would be forgiven if you thought the band would finally sound like they are running out of steam and would finally be outed as bitter, cranky old men baring unnecessary resentment. You would also be proven absolutely dead-wrong within a matter of seconds.
You probably scrolled to the bottom of the page, saw the score, and are wondering if it’s really that good. If you enjoyed the anger brought forth in Absolute Dissent but felt a little let down by MMXII, then Pylon will wipe the floor with you. “Autonomous Zone” continues the long tradition of relentlessly angry openers, recalling 1990’s Extremities, Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions in terms of sheer urgency and a bit of danceability, thanks to the solid, driving drumming of Paul Ferguson, Geordie Walker’s recognizable distorted open-chord mayhem, and Jaz Coleman’s prophesying. Speaking of Coleman, his voice continues to hold up quite well, and he sounds just as focused and commanding as he did in his earlier days, mixing both honey and venom in potent amounts. Quite the ear-catching opener.
Speaking of venom, there is absolutely no shortage of it to be found on Pylon. This album is thankfully free of anything that could be considered a ballad. Instead the purpose is to engage, inform, and enrage. While there isn’t a bad song on here, some are going to rise higher than others, but all are potent ragers. “Euphoria” comes closest to the band’s gothic period, sounding both dance-worthy and fist-clenching. “Delete” reaches back to the second (and grossly underrated) self-titled album from 2003, with Pig Youth’s bass sounding particularly grimy and thick. “New Jerusalem” tricks you with a happy drum beat while Coleman calls out a pet peeve of mine: corporate media poisoning our airwaves with useless bullshit while serious and heinous crimes go unabated and ignored (“Charmed, no attention span/No empathy for the common man”). Hi, Facebook!
Produced by the band and Tom Dalgety, Pylon may be lacking in dynamics, but it still sounds great. Youth’s bass is chunky and driving, Walker’s signature tone remains powerfully intact, and the drums sound especially beastly (seriously, that breakdown just after the first chorus in “New Jerusalem” is thundering and rage-inducing). But what makes this album such an incredible success is just how fluid Killing Joke are when it comes to jumping styles to convey particular messages instead of trapping themselves in one mode. It’s this exact reason why Killing Joke are still so vibrant, so seething, and so utterly convincing in their delivery. You can’t fake sincerity.
Here I was, just hoping that Killing Joke would bring us all an album of decent songs, as they’ve been on an absolute tear since the original line-up regrouped in 2008. Instead, they released an emphatic statement of intent, proclaiming that complacency, ignorance, and lack of empathy will not be tolerated on their watch. Pylon is one for the ages, and I hope and pray that when I’m in my fifties, I’m just as focused, driven, and passionately scathing in my views of the world. Timely, yet timeless.