A couple of people have been asking me to weigh in on the recently released remastered editions of the first four Killing Joke albums (well, technically, they're the first three albums along with their live mini-LP, Ha!, released on compact disc for the first time). I could cut right to the chase and provide the predictable and -- for all intents and purposes -- entirely accurate answer by succintly saying: They're brilliant, of course, and if you don't already own them, you face a bleak and unliveable future of suffering the eternal torments of the tastelessly damned! Being that I've been somewhat outspoken in the past about my unflinching alleigance to all things Killing Joke, I can't imagine why anyone would expect me to write anything different. But, in all seriousness, I am capable of being somewhat objective on the subject, so here goes.
Nine times out of ten, I'd say you have to have a pretty sophisticated ear (or a significantly souped up sound system) to discern any major differences in remastered albums (beyond simply being able to pick out that they've been made louder). Remastering an album doesn't equate to sonic alchemy. While you can occasionally exhume the odd pithy nuance, you can't conjure sounds that weren't already there. Those in favor will invariably cite the 1997 remastering of Raw Power by Iggy & the Stooges, given the arguably muddy original production by a then coke-addled, judgement-impaired David Bowie. While the contrast in editions in that particular case is striking (the remastered version of Raw Power positively assaults the listener where it once used to only threaten), often times remastering an album is merely a crass way for record companies to syphon further monies from dorky completist record collectors and shameless fanboys (like myself).
I never really had a problem with the production (by the band themselves) of Killing Joke's debut. I mean, it definetely sounded of its era (1980) production-wise, but in no way would I have considered it sorely in need of a remastering (or at least less so than other albums by the band, notably Fire Dances, supposedly to be remastered and re-released later in the year). Likewise, I wasn't under the impression that What's THIS for..!, the band's more groove-oriented second album, was in any way hurting in the production department. After remastering, both of these records now boast new horse power in the volume department, but their signature apocalyptic wallop remains largely the same. But louder. Much louder.
It's the band's third album, aptly titled Revelations, that has really been rescued by the remastering process. Helmed by lauded Krautrock pioneer Conny Plank, the original recording was was never marred by shoddy production, but the remastering has cleaned up the sound to such an extent that it sounds as if it was recorded only last week. Despite the success of the single, "Empire Song," Revelations is thematically the band's darkest album, rife with an uneasy sound to match the tense malaise of the subject matter. Put simply, where once Revelations was somewhat scary, after being cleaned off and pumped up (nice usage of layperson's terminology, eh?) it is now inexplicably terrifying. And that's exactly how it should be.
Ha!, meanwhile, is simply a joy to behold. I'd only ever owned the recording as the b-side of the Fire Dances cassette, so to finally hear it rendered in sparkling digital sound (especially the brutal stride of "Pssyche" and the onstage rendering of "Unspeakable") is a long overdue pleasure. It might not be the perfect starting point for the unintiated, but it's a vital entry in the catalog (as it marks the first appearance of Raven) and I'm glad it's finaly gotten its proper treatment.
Regardless of the arguable needlessness of some of these remasters, I heartily applaud them simply because they came appended with expanded artwork (courtesy of original sleeve designer Mike Coles of Malicious Damage), a smattering of bonus tracks (though more would have been nice) and they herald further activity from the band in question (who are supposedly putting the final touhces on a new opus as I type this). The pump has been primed, so more is expected. Ready yourselves.
Anyway, there you have it. Now go snap those rinky-dink Ryan Adams discs that are stinking up your stereo in half and go buy these at once.