Review: As the new decade of the 1980s dawned, rock music had already become stale after lapsing into the usual hybrid of liberal altruism and capitalist self interest in the 1970s, revealing its sold-out principles: instead of prophets of a new age, these rockers were like everyone else, out to get what they could and split. The only genres left with any spirit of life were the rising electronic-industrial scene, punk hardcore, and the quasi-underground NWOBHM.
Killing Joke's self-titled work fuses these three; with electro beats and indie rock sweet piquant choruses, it drops crossbred metal-punk riffs into spacious songs that work their magic through serial modifications of existing patterns instead of dramatic change. It is like a transcendentalist revolution in the science of background music, and the result is listenable not because it attempts to be "unpredictable" like the moronic rock of the day, but because it emphasizes a consistent and evolving state of mind.
Soft discotheque vocals with a sourdough British accent contrast some rasping distorted rants in the style of Amebix, but mostly this is sung and remains mellifluous despite the use of heavy distortion. Boxy percussion frames each phrase, with bass taking a more active role than in metal or punk, and songs carefully set up melodies toward which they direct conclusion complements later. Where it is beautiful is the sense of melodic falling away in transition between surly chanted verses and fully sung choruses, bringing hope within the drudgery.
Keyboards comment on riffs but are less evident than later in the history of this band. Obviously the fundamental influence on later work in this genre from Ministry to Godflesh, Killing Joke pioneered a style by seeing the compatibility in vision between electro noire and the darker styles of metal and hardcore. Both genres were dissident believers in hope, and eschewed the verse-chorus songwriting style for a sense of dynamic change within fixed boundaries, a metaphor for much of their message. With this combination, Killing Joke laid the groundwork for new expansion.