Killing Joke's dark masterpiece.
Michael Stack | North Chelmsford, MA USA | 08/09/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Killing Joke's followup to their debut album is in many ways a superior effort-- the sound worked on the first album is honed and refined for this one-- "what's THIS for...!" FEELS like the followup to the debut, but there's a bit more consistency-- the material doesn't quite reach the peak of the first album but all of it is of a higher quality.
Opening with a tribal tour-de-force, the first three songs-- "The Fall of Because", "Tension", and "Unspeakable" are one after another more and more compelling-- with Geordie's swirling punk guitars, Youth's funky bass lines, and Paul Ferguson anchoring everything on the drums, vocalist Jaz Coleman can paint his picture of the collapse of society. "Unspeakable" in particular, about a housewife commenting on the "color scheme" of a mushroom cloud, is totally brilliant and begins introducing variety in vocal styles-- the first shades of things to come. The record in general is actually a bit smoother than the followup, maintaining the tribal/dub/dance feel that was so well illustrated on the previous record but losing some of the sort of proto-industrial sounds.
Admittedly, the album for me dips a bit after this, a couple of the songs are a bit overlong and drag (the otherwise superb "Butcher" and "Madness", which would have benefited from an outside producer pulling the plug 2-3 minutes earlier), but there's still the superb, tribally driven "Follow the Leaders" on the album, another Joke classic.
This remaster, well worth the investment, upgrades the sound to superb effect-- the record is much louder and in-your-face and direct, but more to the point, a lot of subtlety and sparkle in the playing comes forth-- as I write this, I've got "Unspeakable" playing right now and the roundness and detail of attack to Youth's bass tone is something I've never heard before. Ditto for the high pitched synth in the background of "Butcher"-- I don't think I even knew it was there. This is pretty prevelent throughout the album-- the mud has been cleaned up in the sound. The recording is augmented by three bonus tracks, two dub mixes (of "Follow the Leaders" and "Madness") and an old b-side, "Brilliant". I'm not much one for remixes (dub or otherwise), but "Brilliant" is gem well worth having. I'd never heard it before, its quite uncharacteristic for Killing Joke, a breakneck beat and funky bass groove and odd-ball grunting and squealing noises on top that I think is a guitar (its really quite hard to tell). It is kind of curious that it was included on this album as it was the b-side to "Empire Song" from "Revelations", but whatever, I'm glad to have it. Add to this expanded artwork by the original artist, and you've really got quite a nice package.
This album is a real gem, and one of the best the band ever put out. The band was way ahead of their time, and like their debut album, this one could have been recorded yesterday. Maybe not as good a place to start as the debut record, but ultimately a more satisfying recording."
Less polished than most KJ, but lasting quality
Zhimbo | New York City | 01/17/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"One of the least "catchy" Killing Joke albums. The disturbing and alienating sounds, and the often lengthy songs, may take a little getting used to at first. But after years of being a fan, this is usually the first album I turn to when I'm in a Killing Joke mood. Only "Fire Dances" is clearly better in my opinion.
"Tension" is prime Killing Joke, and will be familiar-feeling to those who know other albums from this period (meaning everything pre-"Night Time".) Beyond that things are tougher going, but highly rewarding. KJ-Newbies may want to start with the debut album instead, but any fan needs this album eventually.
What's THIS for...! (3,25 stars)
Olav M. Björnsen | Norway | 10/13/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Killing Joke is an English band that started out towards the end of the punk movement. "What's THIS for...!" was their second release, and it was a truly original release back in 1981.
Musically the bands roots seems to be quite related to the punk movement, where especially the guitar sound ows a lot to the punk movement along with the generally fast and aggressive music here. Killing Joke have taken the punk influences and heavily evolved them though, creating a sound that was rather unique back in 1981, and highly influential as well.
The guitar do have a sound that oozes classic punk. What sets it apart is the way the guitar is played, where repated riffs are combined with complex and melodic riff patterns, unlike the classic repetetive punk approach to riffing.
The drums are played in a unique manner here. Most times fast and always very aggressively played, many of the songs have what most would call a tribal drum sound. In this case the playing is so complex and fast that the songs may well be described as drum assaults - the drums are loud, fast and everywhere; truly dominating the sound on this album.
In addition to the distinct way drums and guitars are used here, the at times very angst-filled vocals and the sparingly but effective use of synths to enhance the angst and aggression on display here adds up to a very dark and disturbing sound, influencing many later bands - especially in various forms of industrial and thrash.
As for the songs here, they are a very mixed lot. Most of the songs here do suffer from being too long. The scope of the songs here are limited, and after having passed the 3 minute mark there is generally too much repetition going on. The sheer intensity, angst and brutality keeps some songs interesting past the 4 minute mark as well, but rarely any longer.
Halfway through the album the band seems to run out of ideas as well; thus the second half of the album is much weaker than the first.
Still, it's an album worth purchasing on the strengths of the first 5 songs here, all of them to a greater or lesser degree representing something rather original and unique."