Killing Joke recording inside the Great Pyramid
1991, Pachyderm Studios in Canyon Falls, Minnesota. With arch-geek Steve Albini twiddling knobs and faders now and then, a pack of aging Anglo-Punks bash away in a serviceable if somewhat routine manner in the recording studio. Aping then-current Industrial Metal sounds in addition to the work they have done in the past, the sound is perfectly acceptable, if not a bit unoriginal. Pretentious Scottish poet Chris Connelly comes in and lays down his best Bowie imitations over the din.
Then, he comes in.
Impeccably dressed in expensive Italian clothes and bearing an uncanny resemblance to Rutger Hauer, he calmly sets up his rack in the center of the room. He tunes up his guitar, dons a pair of headphones, and waits for the playback. As the first string is struck, the air seems to shredded by
burning shrapnel. A sound that seems indescribable fills every corner of your consciousness, and thoughts of savage possibility rush by in a blur.
You look through the control room glass into the studio, and the man sits on a stool, motionless, impassive, and yet obviously possessed by a grim state of absolute concentration. The primal, subconscious contents that lay dormant in your brain, the hot buttons of fear, rage and awe well up in you. It's dredges up an ancient and atavistic landscape, flashes of ancient twilights, a black-purple sky, impossibly huge, being torn apart by thunder and crackling bursts of fire from heaven.
As the playing stops, you tremble and wonder what could have possessed you. As you ponder what you have heard, you realize the man only played one or two simple patterns over and over again.
Later as the folks in the control room do their best to completely bleach the music of any color or complexity, you think back on those riffs. The murderous rush of "Hole in the Wall", the wall of terrifying noise in "Uninvited Guest", the tribal swing of "Motion Sickness", the galloping thrust of "Mania" etc etc. and you wonder how such simple little phrases can be so evocative. How so few notes can tell you so much about yourself, about the deep-seated instincts that must be suppressed in order to insure the very survival of civilization.
As the man walks into the control booth, quietly sipping a cup of tea, laughing almost inaudibly at a bandmate's joke, you wonder, does he realize what he is doing? Does he realize what he can unleash?
You go to the record store, to investigate what this man has done before. You find his band's most recent album, because that's the only thing the crappy chainstore in the strip mall has available. You go home and put it on. The first two songs do nothing for you, just plodding rants. The third song, appropriately entitled "The Beautiful Dead," is something else. As the band pounds out a savage syncopation, the guitar flies like quicksilver, the aural equivalent of a flamethrower. The man plays multiple variations on the song's main riff and you wonder, what in God's name is he playing?
As the last bar of the measure is sounded, those hot burning chords fly out of everywhere, and you sit stunned. What is he playing? You can hear the notes, but there is something else there, something dark and unknowable. The whole album is full of this dark, unknowable presence. Summoned by this unlikely shaman.
For over 30 years, Gregory "Geordie" Walker has been an unsung hero of rock guitar. Scores of guitarists have hijacked his riffs, from Kurt Cobain in 'Come as You Are' to Mick Mars in 'Dr. Feelgood' to Kim Thayal in 'Fourth of July' and on and on. Artists as unlikely as Van Halen, and Green Day have grafted trademark aspects of his playing onto their own styles. Dozens of alt-rock guitarists claim him as inspiration.
But his circle of admirers is limited to other guitarists, for the most part. It is stunning to note that a guitarist who unleashes such unbridled aural savagery with his instrument seems so oblivious to its effect. What drives him? He seems totally disinterested in the rock star circus. His longtime partner does all of the talking to the press. His near-silence creates an aura of mystery that deepens the impact of his art.
All we have is 30 years of ferocious, incantatory guitar magic. All we have is a sound that for 30 years has dug into the listener's consciousness, pulling up primal instincts from the genetic morass.
I remember seeing Killing Joke in 1989 in an outdoor concert. As shrieking ethnic noise poured out of the PA, the band walked down the adjacent street to the stage, accompanied by a bunch of kids carrying torches. I will admit, I was frightened. I know the potential for mass hysteria. It was a potentiality they seemed to be actively courting.
The feeling in the crowd was palpably apprehensive. The primal fears dredged up by a torchlit procession are unmistakable, no matter what the time or setting. The taped music sounded like the soundtrack to some Lovecraftian human sacrifice. As the band took the stage, Geordie looked around and smiled, mildly of course. He was enjoying this. The potential of three thousand drug-addled kids going insane and rioting didn't seem to faze him at all.