It’s July 2003, and Jaz Coleman is talking. And talking.
“This album has the commitment of a suicide bomber with a smile on his face,” says Jaz Coleman, with a smile on his face, sitting in the offices of Sony Music in Newmarket, Auckland.
Many of us in our late 30s and early 40s hold a special affection for the tense, defining cusp years of 1979 through 81. World affairs were in a shambles; Reagan, Thatcher and Muldoon were firmly wedged in their seats of shame, the Springbok tour and tales of Riot Squad excess were on the horizon; but the post-punk music scene was at its innovative height, and providing youth with bulletins from the battlefront that held more meaning than any front page of the mainstream Press. 1980: Out of nowhere (well, England actually) came the blazing self-titled debut album by KILLING JOKE. Singer Jaz Coleman roared fighting war chants above the belting, powerful din. It was a ritualised washing of our fathers’ sins, and a metaphorical call to arms, and it sounded quite unlike any other heavy rock before or after it. Wagnerian in its scope, in fact. Coleman had cut short a promising classical career to launch his Killing Joke, and its apocalyptic anger kept resounding through numerous rock cultures over decades, proving a pivotal influence on bands from other times and styles, from Metallica to Nirvana to our own Pacifier. 2003: World affairs are in a shambles, wars rage, genocide rules. Time for a Killing Joke album. “You’ve got widespread political corruption, and an illegal president starting an illegal war… it’s dark times, and in those times, THAT’S when we do Killing Joke. I don’t need this shit. I don’t need 150 dates with Killing Joke. It’s hard work. But I HAVE to do it.”
These days, Jaz Coleman is a New Zealand citizen who spends part of the year hiding out on Great Barrier, but is currently Composer In Residence for the Prague Symphony Orchestra. His classical work will go on hold while he rages around, promoting and playing with the current edition of Killing Joke. Mellow? Ha-ha! The self-titled album is not a jot less jolting or splayed with venom and fury than that first one 23 years ago. Featuring Nirvana’s former drummer, David Grohl, it’s a record that illuminates how pointless and narcissistic generations of heavy bands have been, as Jaz gets into a lather about the state of things to a backdrop of bone-crunching heaviosity that makes most ‘heavy’ rock seem like kids banging preserving jar lids. Sitting in the conference room of Sony Music, half-Indian Jaz takes the term ‘self-possessed’ to a new level. Clearly an individual whose focus is on his current, as well as prescient interests, Coleman is a subscriber to arcane belief systems involving magic and geomancy (the study of the dynamic and interwoven relationship between human consciousness and it’s subtle energetic matrix with the consciousness and subtle energetic matrix of the earth, apparently). But if you think that’s just a bit mad in these scientific times, it’s worth noting that Coleman is a phenomenally successful individual with many strings to his bow. Right now, however, that bow is angry, it needs unleashing, and it doesn’t scrape, it roars.
Killing Joke is released on Coleman’s own label Zuma, and distributed by Sony Music. This piece was published by Metro in 2003. Keep an eye out for Steel’s 1988 Coleman interview in all its bizarre glory, available online as soon as the writer’s transcribing fingers thaw out.