Geordie Walker’s 10 greatest Killing Joke guitar riffs

Geordie Walker’s 10 greatest Killing Joke guitar riffs

According to frontman Jaz Coleman, when Kevin ‘Geordie’ Walker wanted to join what became Killing Joke, he kept calling the singer and saying: “I’ve never been in a band before, I’ve only ever played in my mum’s bedroom, but I’m the best guitarist ever.” What was teenage bravado in 1978 is now, 45 years later, an argument countless fans earnestly make.

READ MORE: Nirvana’s 10 greatest guitar moments, ranked

Geordie’s intense playing and textured tone shaped a host of genres, from shoegaze to heavy metal, and his stint alongside Jaz as Killing Joke’s sole unchanging member yielded a generation’s worth of top-tier guitar parts. To commemorate Geordie’s sad passing this week at the age of just 64, and to celebrate his rich legacy, here are his greatest guitar riffs:
10. Requiem (Killing Joke, 1980)
On the first track of their first album, Killing Joke announced themselves as both fitting the nascent post-punk mould and smashing it over their knee. Although the bouncing synths at its outset echoed Joy Division and Public Image Ltd’s fascination with keys, the later intensity of Geordie’s matching, murky melody also signalled something new. Requiem proved the perfect opening, setting an adventurous precedent for a debut that went on to dabble in dance, industrial and funk. It’s also become one of the band’s signature songs, played live 400-plus times.

9. I Am the Virus (Pylon, 2015)
By the time they released Pylon, Killing Joke had almost 40 years in the game, with many bands of their vintage softening or splitting up. So this lot, ever the rebels, decided to be as heavy as a dropped bollock instead. The final Killing Joke album of Geordie’s lifetime is crammed with incensed moments, continuing the rejuvenation they found on 2003’s second self-titled album, but none of them stand against the fury of I Am the Virus. While Jaz’s lyrics build an iconoclastic manifesto, the riff is a cacophonous, muddy mixture of punk and metal.

8. The Death and Resurrection Show (Killing Joke, 2003)
2003’s Killing Joke is one of rock’s great comebacks. Seven years removed from their last album, the post-punk idols made their second return to form, booted up the arse by producer Andy Gill and drummer extraordinaire Dave Grohl. Combine those personae with the state of US politics at the time, and the band were reinvigorated by both new blood and new issues to rage over. The riff of opener The Death and Resurrection Show instantly signalled this newfound purpose, seething with growing rage before smashing into a wall of almighty sound.

7. Eighties (Night Time, 1985)
As Killing Joke’s most listened-to song (according to Spotify numbers, at least), Eighties contains one of the band’s most popular riffs and couldn’t not be on this list. As much as some may see this Night Time single as an obligation of an entry, though, it boasts a genuinely excellent guitar part. Geordie’s playing toes the fine line between forceful and tasteful, bursting right out the gate without ever being so overwhelming as to deter a mainstream listener. Also, if Nirvana source such strong “inspiration” from something you’ve done, you’re doing it well.

6. The Great Cull (Absolute Dissent, 2010)
Killing Joke (2003) heralded a second, under-praised golden age for the band, with follow-ups Hosannas from the Basement of Hell, Absolute Dissent, MMXII and Pylon maintaining its ferocious spirit. Even in that rich pantheon, though, The Great Cull is a truly special song, thanks in large part to its all-consuming riff. Geordie is on dense yet melodic form during Absolute Dissent’s second track, a brief, introductory screech followed by layer after layer of thundering guitar. The production, the dives from open strings to high-pitched chords, the calamitous percussion underneath – it’s all perfect.

5. Wardance (Killing Joke, 1980)
After Requiem gradually evolved from playful synths to guitar playing, Wardance marked the first time a Killing Joke riff immediately knocked the door down and demanded your full attention. Geordie’s angular, staccato chords at this song’s outset leap flawlessly off Paul Ferguson’s percussion, then shaped the future of industrial music for years to come. That opening also makes for the perfect contrast to the punk playing that smoothly underlines Jaz Coleman’s hook, “A wardance!” Even though Killing Joke has a gallery of magnificent riffs, both of these deserve to be framed in gold.

4. The Fall of Because (What’s THIS For…!, 1981)
Killing Joke’s debut was an instant hit, reaching the UK top 40 while making a deep impact on many facets of rock. Could such excellence be recaptured, especially by a follow-up released a mere eight months later? Turns out… yes. What’s THIS For…! proved Jaz and the boys were no one-and-done, spawning their first UK-charting single, Follow the Leaders. The Fall of Because telegraphed the album’s excellence from the off as well, beginning with a sharp, distorted riff whose force only weakens to let Paul Ferguson’s snare bludgeon you in the ear.

3. Pandemonium (Pandemonium, 1994)
In 1991, Killing Joke’s commercial standing had plummeted (then-latest album Extremities, Dirt and Various Repressed Emotions was their first to not chart anywhere) and they abruptly went on hiatus. That break seemingly re-energised the band, however: 1994’s Pandemonium proved they could hold their own against the up-and-coming crop of industrial and metal bands, using riffs like the title track’s. Pandemonium plugs the gaps between the hefty, chord-powered guitars normally associated with Killing Joke by busting out a slick lead line. That fresh, fist-pump-inducing technique declared the band were driven to earn relevance anew.

2. Love Like Blood (Night Time, 1985)
Three notes. With just three basic notes, Geordie was able to announce the start of one of the 1980s’ most era-defining anthems. That’s how good he was. That progression quickly becomes the backbone of Killing Joke’s megahit as well, with all of the song’s later flourishes – Jaz’s vocals, the synths, even Geordie’s own stomping chords – being built around it. The perceived “ascending” sound that the riff brings also establishes the single’s dreamy aura, feeling like a lift off the ground into somewhere otherworldly. Proof positive that simplicity often births greatness.

1. The Wait (Killing Joke, 1980)
The Wait lays claim to not just Killing Joke and Geordie Walker’s greatest riff, but arguably the greatest riff in all of rock. It’s one of the most effective sonic cocktails for adrenaline that you will ever hear, the guitar notes rising until they’re smashed back down by the oomph of two snare smacks. Its brilliance is reaffirmed by the fact that Killing Joke continue to perform it at every show without fail, while heavy music superheroes Metallica covered it in 1987 and briefly added it to their setlists as well. In one riff, The Wait collided the best of post-punk, industrial and metal, and all three genres have struggled to make something as exciting as this in the decades since.

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