There are a few bands that have been an influence for many others but still manage to sound like no one else. Motorhead is a good example. Motorhead influenced all of the metal and a lot of the hard rock after it. They influenced bands in punk and in metal. Metallica owes Lemmy and his crew a great deal. But despite all of this, no one sounds quite like Motorhead. The minute you hear them you know who they are.
Killing Joke are exactly the same way. They are the one and only. Despite having a huge influence on industrial, goth and metal music, the minute you hear Killing Joke hit the speakers, there is no denying the band you’re hearing.
Born from the late 70’s, Killing Joke is a band of anger and intelligence. If I were to describe their sound, when the apocalypse happens, the music of the tribes left behind will sound remarkably like Killing Joke. They came around when Margaret Thatcher began her reign over England. They were loud and aggressive and knew what they were talking about.
Oh, and there was rumors that they were into the occult.
This means they are ripe for a documentary and much like the band themselves, there isn’t anything usual about the film covering Killing Joke’s history.
Part band documentary, part film about the occult, The Death and Resurrection Show is an incredibly interesting documentary on a band that has never really gotten their due from the press but whose influence still reverberates to this day.
As a fan of the band, the film is great. While it does tend to revolve around leader singer / keyboardist Jaz Coleman, we do get a fair amount of time with the other members of the band as well. We journey from the band’s humble beginnings to the reformation of the original members decades later. We get the occasional anecdote about life on the road and recording sessions. As someone who loves music, I love hearing about why and how the band got their big sound and how the lyrics were incorporated into it. You realize that despite their differences over the years, the band’s members still have quite a healthy respect for one another especially when it comes to their playing. Jaz even says during the film that there is no one like his guitarist. “The sound that comes out of this man Geordie. It strikes terror into every guitarist on the planet….”. You discover that Jaz is a symphonic composer and has been a composer in residence for a number of countries over the years, winning Grammys for his work. But you also have stories like the time Jaz and Geordie ran to Iceland to escape the end of the world.
Interspersed with that narrative, we find out that Killing Joke didn’t just dabble in the occult and magik, but used it as a tool to help shape their lives and careers. How the four men were brought together by a ceremony and have a had a deep connection ever since. While this sort of thing may be against your belief system or what have you, by the end of the film, you are not only sure that the members of Killing Joke believe in the rituals and practices but that they clearly work for them as well. This is a band that recorded vocals in the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid in Egypt.
Now, I tend to find that when a filmmaker kind of splits a film like they’ve done here, once side tends to get the short end of the stick. Either it becomes all about the occult or it becomes a standard band documentary. Either is fine. Lord knows I’ve watched a few of each and the subject matter is strong enough here that either path would have made a good movie on it’s own. What director Shaun Pettigrew has crafted is a really interesting balance where we get the best of both worlds. We see all facets of the band including parts other bands might not be willing to talk about.
Love Like Blood, for example, is the most commercial song Killing Joke has had. I imagine a few of you listing to the clip I’ve provided might not be able to tell that it’s Killing Joke with the exception of Geordie’s guitars in the beginning. Their time as a Top of the Pops band was short lived and eventually, the band returned to a more aggressive sound. A number of bands and filmmakers would just kind of sweep that under the rug. But here, Pettigrew and company not only talk about it, they talk about what that period did to the band and how it would actually inform their later sound.
Pettigrew also uses visual effects like mirror images and jump cuts and not shooting the current interviews with Jax from above his nose. Nine times out of ten, this unconventional style irks me. For whatever reason, not only does it work in The Death and Resurrection Show, it has an almost hypnotic effect, drawing the viewer into this world of music and madness. He blends new footage and old with care and purpose. As far as I can tell from his IMDB page, this is his first feature. After watching it, I’d love to see more from this guy.
Watching the film for the second time, my first thought was “I’d really like a montage of big bands that count Killing Joke as an influence”. It’s standard documentary stuff and I’d honestly love to hear James Hettfield’s take on The Wait (which Metallica have covered) or some words from Trent Reznor on how an important a band they are.
But I came to the realization that if you start doing that, then it becomes like ever other band documentary and that takes away from what makes this such a special and unique film.
So what’s my recommendation? Killing Joke are not a band for everyone, nor do I think they’d ever want to be. But oddly, I think this story of a band combined with the tidbits you get about the occult and the band’s practices, might make them more interesting to a broader audience.
I’m thinking I want the DVD (which you can pre-order now) to see extended interviews and what might have been left out from the finished product.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!