Thursday, October 14, 2010

Killing Joke: Asteroid (live)

I've a theory as to why musical tastes tend to change with age. That is, why as we scale up in age do our music choices tend to mellow down? The reason, as I've unscientifically concluded, is that as noise in our lives increases — career, marriage, mortgage, kids, etc. the less we want it in our diversions. I think this goes a long way in explaining the popularity of banalities such as Twilight and Barry Manilow. But mellowing down doesn't have to be all vanilla. Even though I'm now on the ripe side of middle age myself I can't imagine how senile I'd have to be to enjoy, say, Rod Stewart's diddling over of The Great American Songbook. Or to book passage on the next Air Supply cruise. Take the "a" and "t" from adult and you're left with dull (then add another "l"), but it doesn't have to be that way.

E.g.: Killing Joke, a relic from my post-adolescent musical formation of '78 - '81 (after that they continued without me). For those who don't know, Killing Joke is considered one of the fathers of Industrial and is an admitted influence on many bands that followed (Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, Ministry, Jane's Addiction), including metal (Metallica, Tool). Interestingly, Asteroid was originally recorded during a more recent reforming when remaining original members ages were deep into pattern baldness and middle age spread. Grease-painted vocalist Jaz Coleman — already wearing a precursor of his retiree's jumpsuit became an ordained minister in 2003. (KJ songs are larded up with scriptural references.) His ordainment followed periods of dabbling in Alister Crowley and the occult. In the early 80s he convinced other band members to join him in Iceland to wait out the impending apocalypse. (That's all right, Jesus missed that call too.)
If this latter day sound is also Industrial then it's of the most wizened and vintage variety. Asteroid is repetitive and coarse, transgressive is the word reviewers used, like a buzz saw ripping through 24 gauge steel. Yet, somehow all that bash comes out remarkably hypnotic as well kinetically so, if that's possible. (That phrase may be as oxymoronic as "High-impact Yoga" but you get the idea.) What works for my ears is the intensity of the sound; I don't believe there's another sound in the universe that quite conveys what only an overdriven guitar and a vocal with that kind of force thickened rasp can. Our emotional soundtracks aren't all violins and twee singer-songwriters huddled over acoustic guitars. Killing Joke's sound is a great symbol of the working life: Coarse, repetitive, droning, and yet with a kind of stuttering rhythmic balance. Maybe it's the fact that it's a sound pounded out by guys with AARP cards (like me) that speaks so well to me. (Although, judging from audience's young faces, the sound isn't limited to an age group.)

And maybe it's the touch of humanity within. Hear the plaint in Colemen's shout; He may be singing about the world's demise but he's not quite ready yet (as none of us are ever likely to be). I'd guess he's no more ready now then he was when he ducked into the Land of Trolls.

In conclusion: The sound may travel in a clenched fist but it arrives with an open hand.

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