There are three “eras” of Killing Joke albums- their first run of 80s albums (which did include a break-up, but it was less than a year so it doesn’t count), a 90s regrouping for two albums, and the most recent reunion starting in 2003, which resulted in their second self-titled effort being available in Circuit Cities and Best Buys across America. Why? I have no idea! Anyway, the very last album from the 80s period (which was actually 1990) and their stuff after that kind of just sounds like Ministry, with a couple of OK songs thrown in, so it’s not that great. Out of the 80s efforts, 1980’s self-titled debut is revered as the classic album- and it probably is their best- it’s all minimal and angry and weird. Then, 1985’s Night Time gets a lot of praise, particularly for including the very 80s sounding “Love Like Blood” and (surprise) “Eighties,” which were apparently (at least) minor hits, though I certainly have never heard either of them anywhere except for my own home. Between these two albums, there is no room for anyone to talk about 1983’s Fire Dances, which is sad! So, now, I’m going to laboriously highlight it as a public service.
In a surprisingly logical turn of events, Fire Dances sounds like it was made right in the middle of Killing Joke’s transition from “kinda scary pounding noise” to “smoother melodies with vocals drenched in 80s reverb” because it was! Normally, transitional albums aren’t so great because it results in 40 minutes of songs that don’t sound like they should go together, but this is not the case- they did it the correct way. Each song has elements of both sounds, so it actually sounds like one band recorded it.
The whole “homogenized, yet transitional” sound for Killing Joke results in the album having a very distinct mood, which is what makes it especially worthwhile- and no, the mood is not “Enya at a BBQ” as the cover may mistakenly cause you to assume. It still has pounding, repetitive percussion on essentially every song, but this paired with the slightly more melodious guitars and (much more so) vocals, giving a lot of the songs a celebratory feel. However, the guitar lines seem to constantly be moving throughout each song- there aren’t really a lot of “riffs”- and when it hits a lower register, often gets arpeggiated and dark/nervy, so, overall, it’s a little bit like Christmas Day minus the sleigh bells, but with the threat of a family brawl in the background. The two extremes are highlighted in the (sort of) title track, “Let’s All Go (to the Fire Dances),” which may be the best song on here (listen to that guitar line about 1:44 in!) and the perpetual tempo increase at the end of “Frenzy.”
So, if you’re too lazy to read three paragraphs, Fire Dances may not be the best Killing Joke album (it’s the 2nd best), but it’s worth your time and attention because of its mood and consistency. TELL ALL YOUR FRIENDS!
Watch the sort-of-weird, sort-of-medieval, not-sure-what-the-point-of-the-video-is-but-it’s-the-album’s-only-single video for “Let’s All Go (to the Fire Dances)” on Youtube:
Download the whole durn album here: