Be afraid. Two candles flicker at the back of the stage. Those flames can never burn brightly enough to pierce the darkness and break the sense of foreboding. It’s Hammersmith outside and pure Hammer horror inside the Apollo tonight.
This climax to their ‘Honour the Fire’ tour is the band’s first wanderings for three years and the first Killing Joke gig at the Hammersmith Apollo for over twelve years. The devil is in the detail.
The devil is on stage. Heavy and relentless tribal drums pound away and a figure in a jumpsuit appears – looking like a broken Alice Cooper reconstructed by Dr Frankenstein. Stirred into life by the industrial noise – Jaz Coleman has awoken.
Killing Joke have always been something of a gateway band. Leading to dark industrial goth in one direction and agit-prop post-punk in the other. The steamroller drumming tonight courtesy of Paul Ferguson drags primaeval dance grooves from the bowels of the earth which penetrate the Apollo.
Considering, the biggest Killing Joke ‘hit’ was back in 1985 the crowd tonight spans all the generations – younger and well, not so young. There’s still an extraordinary amount of men with plaited and beaded wispy goaties though. The tribe of ‘85, perhaps. Do their children worry about them like their own parents fretted over them some forty years ago when they were darkened souls donning black eyeliner, perfumed with patchouli listening to this “racket”?
That ‘hit’ is played first – Love Like Blood from the Night-Time album is the most commercial moment in their back catalogue. The other ‘hit’ Eighties is conspicuous by its absence in spite of having those riffs which famously influenced Kurt Cobain.
Jaz, Geordie, Paul and bass player and musical genius “the mighty Youth” as Jaz calls him – they all have heavier matters in mind. War Dance snarls along like an evil executioner before a chorus resembling a baying crowd adds a different kind of sinister. Released in 1980 on their debut eponymous album it’s a sonic time capsule of post-apocalyptic anger delivered by his satanic majesty Jaz.
All this persistent noise takes its toll on some of the geezers. Many have quite clearly hit the booze to wallow in the mood and are seen battling the sloping floor of the Apollo doing their very own war dance as they squint to find the gents. Requiem from that Killing Joke debut only ups the anxiety and – like so much of the Killing Joke discography – will most likely survive nuclear war along with the rats, cockroaches and Keith Richards. Resilience is everything, resistance is futile.
Such is the intensity of Killing Joke tonight, war could have ravaged London but we are left inside with Jaz to roar us through the nuclear winter.
Without the darkness though how can we ever appreciate the light? Those candles are still flickering and Jaz is still staring out like a maniac…a tousle-haired and eccentric maniac…with a strangely enticing, dangerous glare. Spellbinding. Money Is Not Our God is another concrete splitting assault with Jaz making it clear he doesn’t worship Mammon – but we already know where his tarot cards fall.
That mask slips after over an hour of concentrated and anthemic seamless noise as Jaz finally speaks just before starting the encore of songs. After owning the stage with such menace, hearing Jaz Coleman the mindfulness guru is an unexpected twist. The emotion of this final tour night has clearly got to him as he declares, “as you can hear it’s the end of the tour, so thanks, but before we do this, let’s just try and be in the moment – look at the person next to you, think about where we are, let’s hope we can all meet again. I did hear some talk of people saying this is our last concert but that’s not the case, we have a mission to do”. His voice is finally cracking but there’s still enough there to get him through the set. The sirens sounding during Change add even more urgency to the night as Jaz chants “change!”.
The world has moved on since 1979 when Killing Joke played their first gig. Our fragile egos have created millions of tiny media empires with millions of virtual worlds packed with insecure narcissists. We foolishly think we can control the chaos. Yet in real life little has changed and there’s still dark stuff occurring that we cannot ever control. Listening to Killing Joke and diving into the depths of their darkness is a form of therapy. They are still masters of the black arts. Be very afraid.