Or to give this its full title and let you know exactly what to expect Magna Invocatio – A Gnostic Mass for Choir And Orchestra Inspired by the Sublime Music of Killing Joke. And why not indeed? At the start of the year nobody seemed quite sure if there would be a new Killing Joke album in 2019 and although it has not appeared the band have been more than busy touring like crazy for the band’s 40th anniversary and have most recently been tearing US arenas apart as support for Tool. Jaz Coleman, always a bit of a nomad is prone to wander and if you don’t keep a firm eye on him, he could be travelling all over the place hatching plans and working relentlessly on projects of his own. One of his loves is classical music and here he has teamed up with Russia’s oldest orchestra the St Petersburg Philharmonic, complete with choral accompaniment on tracks like opener ‘Absolute Descent Of Light.’ Interpreting Killing Joke’s massive oeuvre of well loved songs obviously needs some serious thought in this respect as it did with Youth’s dabbling with dub. Some songs are going to fit into this grand scheme of things much better than others and you will probably not be surprised that the anthemic barnstormers and the group’s more manic tracks such as for instance Psyche, Wardance, The Hum, Whiteout are not included here; nor somewhat surprisingly is Love Like Blood but I guess that would have been a bit too obvious. With 13 tracks spread over 2 discs and 90 minutes of music this is particularly perfect listening on a Sunday morning, the time I am sitting down to put pen to internet paper about it; frankly all that is missing is a glass of sherry.
Tracks seem to be as personal as the necessary regime to interpret them for classical arrangement. These are songs with pathos and indeed ‘Absent Friends’ in mind. There is no way you could imagine this without numbers such as ‘The Raven King’ in tribute to the late Paul Raven, an orchestral elegy in form. ‘In Cytheria’ is another one that strikes full of poignance and respect for its origins but not everything here is quite what you might expect. I would never have guessed to see a song from fiercest album ‘Extremities, Dirt And Other Repressed Emotions’ included but ‘Intravenous’ works perfectly as a symphonic mass and near devilish rite with baroque choral accompaniment giving it a feel of a horror film soundtrack. The classicism of ‘You’ll Never Get To Me’ is an emotional heart-wrencher and despite the Russian side of things there is something quintessentially British about this and certain other tracks here that could well have the listener drawing comparison to the great composers of our green and pleasant land (when it was) such as Sir Edward Elgar and Vaughn Williams. There’s something wholly pastoral about this and it’s definitely enough to have a fan of the original close to tears of joy. At the other end of the spectrum ‘Invocation’ is more rooted in pomposity due to the operatic vocal parts but stays on the right side of things with the drama being stirring but not completely overblown. This is certainly not like the work of a symphonic metal or black metal band playing their songs with full-blown orchestra as seems to be de-rigueur at the moment but more subtle and genuinely more in the classical vein than any rock genre.
The spread of numbers chosen may not include the hits and there is perhaps more focus on albums of the more modern era but then there is a classic in the form of ‘Brighter Than A Thousand Suns’ number ‘Adorations’ and for me this is a definite highlight as the perhaps overlooked album is a firm favourite of mine. The string accompaniment to this is absolutely perfect and its another hugely poignant number. The use of harp on some songs should be mentioned too adding a splash of romanticism to a song such as this. Most recent album ‘Pylon’ gets the most modern sounding representation via ‘Into The Unknown’ here we get xylophone and some more rapid flurries surrounding the more swaying main chorus that if anything else remind me of a film score artist such as Christopher Young, there’s definitely a macabre vibe about it and a touch of the old Hellraiser. It seems fitting that there should be something sounding to me a bit more Russian included as things are drawn to a conclusion and Magna Invocatio (Gloria) has more of a Shostakovich, Stravinsky etched solemnity about it at first making it the fitting way to go out. The choral singing on it is simply divine too, I think everyone from Mozart to Verdi would be impressed and far from turning in their graves at this.
I guess the question here is will Killing Joke fans be flocking to this like the birds of a feather that they are? I guess so although the less open minded may find it a bit too far from the norm for comfort. For someone like me who grew up on classical music and then onto Killing Joke themselves it is a great meeting of musical minds. Ambitious but certainly accomplished Magna Invactio has pretty much achieved everything that hopefully its conductor and fans could have hoped for. What next Jaz Coleman at The Proms, well I wouldn’t dismiss the idea?
(8.5/10 Pete Woods)