It’s a testament to the band’s vitality and creative development that there simply IS no definitive Killing Joke album. Ask a group of fanatics to name their favorite album, and you’re likely to get a wide variety of answers. Although the band’s seminal 1980 self-titled debut serves as a default answer of sorts–it’s as good as anything they’ve done and they did it first–most of its successors, including What’s THIS For…! (1981); the quirky, more melodic turn of Revelations (1982); the dark yet more accessible Night Time (1985); the meditative, ritualistic Pandemonium (1994); or even 2003’s snarling self titled effort could end up either on the top, or bottom, of any fan’s list. For this writer, 1990’s Extremities, Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions is among the very brightest lights of Killing Joke’s long and varied career. When they’re good, they’re absolutely magnificent, but Killing Joke has occasionally fallen flat. Part of what makes Extremities… noteworthy is its timing, as it was a night and day difference from its two predecessors. Opinions of 1986’s Brighter Than a Thousand Suns varied wildly, but it was easily the band’s least heavy album to date, continuing in the vein of the Night Time single “Love Like Blood”, and moving the band into dark, slightly progressive synth pop. It was followed by Outside the Gate—essentially a solo effort from frontman Jaz Coleman, and probably the lowest point in the band’s career. So when Coleman and guitarist Geordie circled the wagons and regrouped Killing Joke, now with new drummer Martin Atkins (Ministry, Pigface, Public Image Ltd.) and returning bass man (Paul) Raven, they delivered an eviscerating hammer blow with Extremities. Not only did this record annihilate with its quality, but also in its delivery, which spat contemptuously upon an unsuspecting public as a virulent, snarling indictment.
Inside Extremities, Mixes, Rehearsals, and Live is a two disc set that spotlights the Extremities era, and serves both as a celebration of the well-oiled Killing Joke machine circa 1990, and a rare glimpse into how some of the songs on the album took shape. The first disc, Mixes and Rehearsals, seems more intended for serious fans of Extremities, and diehard fans of Killing Joke in general. It offers some insight into the creative process of four of Extremities tracks: “Money is Not Our God”, “Intravenous”, “Slipstream”, and “Struggle”. Each is presented in multiple versions, in some combination of rehearsal, instrumental, and remixed versions. “Money is Not Our God” appears instrumentally, in a distasteful remix, and rehearsal form, while “Intravenous”, a standout Extremities track, is captured during two rehearsals. These early versions reveal raw blueprints of the material, and some of their development, but the versions of “Slipstream” and “Struggle” give the best insight into the formation of this collection of behemoth songs. These versions include alternate lyrics, unheard original arrangements, and abandoned plans. Fans will get multiple listens from this disc, but less invested listeners may become bored quickly. The disc is capped nicely by a live version of the unreleased “The Fanatic”.
Disc two contains an entire 80-minute set from a 1991 French gig. “Inside the Termite Mound”, a ten-minute slow burner that could be a guided tour of a subterranean Martian factory, seems an odd choice for an opening number–even for a band that has made odd a way of life–but it works quite well, and follow up “Money is Not Our God” puts the show on the fast track to disdainful aggression. The first half of the show is heavy on Extremities material, accounting for four of the first five tracks. A total of six of its songs make an appearance, with the majority of the remainder of the setlist culled from the band’s classic 1980 debut. It’s a slight disappointment that these two albums account for nearly all of the setlist, with only two songs (“Frenzy” from Fire Dances, and “Love Like Blood” from Night Time) represented from the six albums that separate Killing Joke from Extremities. The live setting casts the then new material in a suitably raw light, emphasizing Atkins’ pummeling drum work and the primal ethos of the band’s style. They rip through blazing renditions of old favorites like “Wardance”, “The Wait”, and closing number “Pssyche” as well as newer tracks such as “Extremities”, “The Beautiful Dead”, and the abusive “Age of Greed”. Production-wise, this recording is superior to the live No Way Out But Forward Go, and offers a slightly better setlist than the recent live effort XXV Gathering, but truthfully, the material offered on the three albums complements each other nicely. Similarly, this show finds the band in peak condition, and offers a slight leg up on the other albums from a performance perspective. It’s worth noting that May brings a massive load of live Killing Joke material in the form of two three disc collections titled Bootleg Vinyl Archive I and II. These releases look to be low cost sets that capture previously bootlegged demos and concerts from throughout the band’s career.
Inside Extremities gifts a trove of unearthed prizes from a golden period of a godly band. Fans of Extremities will gorge themselves on the two discs here, but more casual or new fans will find much to love in the concert performance. Lastly, it appears that Extremities, Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions is either currently out of print, or at the very least, not easily available. Much of the Killing Joke back catalog has been recently remastered and reissued, and it’s unclear whether this album will get the same treatment. At any rate: find the album. You will discover Extremities to be well worth the effort. In its absence, follow up Pandemonium is probably the closest thing, but has a slightly different aim. Whether Inside Extremities completes your Killing Joke collection or introduces you to this vitally important and influential band, it’s well worth adding to your wish list.