Killing Joke /
‘Full Spectrum Dominance’
Released 10 March 2023 (streaming only)
Following the Lord of Chaos EP by just less than a year, this latest single from Killing Joke is in the same vein as that EP’s two new tracks: gargantuan riffs, sophisticated melodic tension, brutal rhythmic power, subtle syncopation, lyrics that again confront our rapidly accelerating dystopia, and a signature Geordie coda to end. Here that coda leads us into the closing bookend: a disconcertingly subtle synth drone that also opens the track, evoking a future Armageddon – or the echo of one that has already happened while we were looking the other way.
Can we stop this apocalypse? Perhaps if we understand its origins and progenitors, so here the Joke apply their advanced sonic weaponry to warn us about powers that already control us with a peacetime version of the US military’s concept of ‘full-spectrum dominance’. This is the idea that a conquering force must dominate the enemy across every element of the theatre – from psychological warfare to the denial of basic resources. But as the Joke have clocked: there is no ‘peacetime’ – our own governments are at war with us, their own citizens.
If the unsettling main motif reminds you of The Prodigy’s ‘Firestarter’, that’s because both songs combine the minor key with an Augmented Scale – each having the same root note – to uncannily haunting effect. In the verses, Jaz calls back to the first Joke albums by conjuring social alienation with the ‘bars of my bedroom cell’. We are all infected with pathogens both biological and psychological, spreading our germs as ‘the world turns’. We worship the ‘leviathan’, which resonates with KJ’s ‘Total’: we are controlled by a power so behemothic, so monolithic, that we cannot ever see it clearly, let alone fight it: ‘resistance is futile’. But go deeper and there’s resonances with Christianity (leviathan as devil), Gnosticism (the leviathan as ouroboros keeping us forever separated from the divine) and Hobbes (the hegemony of materialism, and a social contract now so degraded that our governments steal from and kill us with impunity).
Jaz’s voice sounds better than ever: his baritone clear and clean but with a depth and edge grown from 45 years of work – both musical and magickal. And that voice is at its best in the post-prog bridge as Geordie and Youth vamp from B Lydian to B-flat Phrygian (which have the same notes), creating harmonic tension ‘as cabals rise to prominence’ – a tension that’s not quite resolved by the B-flat Lydian chorus proclaiming the unassailable power of those cabals. We are dominated in every realm. The only escape is to remove ourselves from the spectrum entirely. Easier said than done, obviously.
The final two stanzas reference the computer modelling used to wargame the myriad of our possible ends in such a way that an elite always comes out on top. ‘It’s just a game, a grand simulation’ for the rich because they’ll always have what they need. Whoever created this ‘masterplan’ has ensured that a powerful few will survive. This is followed by a sublime juxtaposition of organic and inorganic matter, recalling subterranean strands in the Joke’s thematic DNA: ‘acacia leaves and microwave trees’. Those leaves have an occult allusion: a sprig of acacia signifies immortality in Freemasonry, suggesting that the cabals that control – billionaires and their useful idiots – are aiming to live for a Pharaonic eternity while the rest of us are consumed by the effects of ecological breakdown – if we haven’t already been poisoned by toxic air, water and soil. Big Paul’s annihilation express propels us towards that Geordie coda and our impending doom, cut short before we can properly acknowledge or understand it.
Released two days before they performed their first two albums at the Royal Albert Hall (reviewed here), ‘Full Spectrum Dominance’ reminds us that the Joke continue to record new music that is both a natural progression from – and in fractal dialogue with – their earlier work (and Mike Coles’s artwork for the new single deliberately references his cover for 1980’s ‘Wardance’). Wisdom and experience have sharpened rather than dulled Killing Joke’s righteous fury, added new layers rather than undercut those they’ve already laid down. The Joke’s relevance is still full-spectrum.
Pre-order Killing Joke On Track from Amazon in the UK here.