Despite barely registering in the charts or garnering any mainstream media interest (outside of a short dalliance with Dave Grohl in 2003) for a good part of two and a half decades Killing Joke remain one of the most influential and vibrant artists around. They're the artists' artist, one who have caused as many people to form bands as they have sold records, and throughout their turbulent 30 year plus career have been a point of influence, or a framework to rip-off, for much more widely celebrated artists such as Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, Rammstein and Tool.
Which isn't to say they haven't got a following, a 90% full Rock City will attest to that. Unfortunately the capacity is closer to 30% when Swimming open the nights proceedings, and despite throwing out a set of highly enjoyable sugar-rush shoegaze-gone-pop they fail to strike a chord with the audience. The Nottingham-based quintet are nailed on for a breakthrough with a sound that encapsulates the dynamics of Ride, MBV and the like and the schematics of Mew, but whilst not failing to the extent of getting bottled off stage ala Mogwai supporting the Manic Street Preachers tonight was certainly not the right environment for the bands expansive, expressive, if somewhat predictable, sound.
Something which may be down to the cult-like devotion that Killing Joke are adorned with. Indeed there is no ill-feeling harboured to Swimming, just a desire for the headliners to truly open proceedings. Speaking prior to the gig, front-man Jaz Coleman suggests that their set will be comprised of material from their first two and most recent two albums, due to bass guitarist Youth's reluctance to play anything from any albums in between, which were written for the main part with a number of replacement bassists, including the sadly deceased Paul Raven whose funeral spurned the reformation of Killing Joke's original line-up and, it seems, has given a new breath of life to the band.
This rule is broken two songs in with the airing of 'Love Like Blood' from 1985's "Night Time" album. Whilst the band have been much too prolific over the last 30 years to have a 'calling card' as such it is still their most widely recognised, and successful, single. It has an epic eighties-pop synth-driven sound, with a tempo and aura that are a million miles away from the bands latest offerings, but it has the unmistakeable delivery of 'the Joke, despite Jaz dropping from his usual rasps of paranoia into a regretful lull.
It is a lull that doesn't last for long, however, with 'European Super State' and 'The Great Cull', both taken from 2010's 'Absolute Dissent', arguably their heaviest and most consistent album yet, encapsulating the bands renewed vigour and velocity. That a band can sound more relevant and fresh on their fourteenth album than their first is astounding in its own right, but with the added ferociousness when these tracks are played live, with Jaz's alpha-male prowling in front of Kevin Walker's razor sharp guitar riffs, sound much more exciting than any band making their first real steps in the loosely defined (at least in Killing Joke's case) world of metal.
What makes their performance all the more special above this? They could easily phone it in. Much of the audience had defined tonight as a classic gig before they took to the stage. At least as far as their own fan-base is concerned they've reached the plateau on which they can do no wrong, and yet they still play every song with the intensity, belief and absence of trepidation that would have you believe it to be their first and their last. Jaz, dressed as Kiss if they weren't a pisstake, could probably fill an entire set with his not-quite-post apocalyptic ramblings if he wanted to, but instead uses them as segue-ways between each slab of powerhouse heavy rock, with his followers hanging on every word whether spoken, shouted, shrieked or screamed. As a circle pit slowly builds throughout the set to its climax, the title of the song that represents that climax sums up the band, and indeed their set, better than a thousand words could; "Madness"
Much more than simply a source of enjoyment it's a privilege to witness Killing Joke in such form, to be privy to Jaz Coleman's certified genius/madness and the bands illustrious, untouchable blend of heavy metal, rock, electronica and dub. Whilst other bands may have made more success from their blueprint no one comes close to Killing Joke. No one.