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Kevin ‘Geordie’ Walker, Killing Joke’s Influential Guitarist, Dead at 64

Killing Joke guitarist Kevin “Geordie” Walker’s influence is vast: Metallica attempted to emulate his guitar snarl on their cover of “The Wait”; Kurt Cobain admittedly ripped off his riff to “Eighties” for “Come As You Are”; LCD Soundsystem synthesized his riff on “Change” and turned it into “Losing My Edge.” Other artists who praised Walker’s playing and Killing Joke include Jimmy Page, Trent Reznor, My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields, and all of Faith No More. Yet Walker himself never became a household name before his death on Sunday at age 64, which Killing Joke announced on social media.

“It is with extreme sadness we confirm that at 6:30 am on 26th November 2023 in Prague, Killing Joke’s legendary guitarist Kevin ‘Geordie’ Walker passed away after suffering a stroke,” their message said. “He was surrounded by family. We are devastated. Rest In Peace brother.”

“No man was cooler than Geordie, one of the very best and most influential guitarists ever,” the band’s bassist, Martin “Youth” Glover,” wrote in an Instagram post after Walker’s death was announced. He was like Lee Van Cleef meets Terry Thomas via Noel Coward. Very charming, inscrutable and gracious, with a gentle effortless touch, (both on the guitar and making you feel welcome) that is, when he wasn’t shredding you with his razor-sharp articulate shrapnel.”

Walker, who was born Dec. 18, 1958, earned his nickname “Geordie” due to the thick Geordie accent he acquired from growing up in northeast England. He got his first guitar at age 15 for Christmas in 1973. He met singer-keyboardist Jaz Coleman when they were both teenagers and quickly bonded over what they didn’t like about each other. “I hated everything he listened to, he hated what I listened to, but we both liked fishing so we talked about that for three hours,” Walker told Uncut in 2018. The two men formed Killing Joke, with Youth and drummer Paul Ferguson, in the late Seventies; Walker and Coleman would be the only two constant members of the band during its 40-plus–year career.

The guitarist, who played a hollow-body guitar like Elvis sideman Scotty Moore rather than a solid-body electric like most heavy rockers, had a knack for adapting his guitar to fit the mood of a song, making it growl and gasp on the band’s 1980 self-titled debut, which contained “The Wait” and “Requiem.” The album set the tone for industrial metal in the future with its mechanical, savage fusion of post-disco and post-punk rhythms. The album’s “Wardance” was so good that British radio DJ John Peel thought it had to be a more famous artist recording with a pseudonym, and that song, as well as “Follow the Leaders” from Killing Joke’s second album, made it onto the disco charts in the U.S.

Walker adopted his guitar to gothier sounds for the band’s Night Time album, which contained “Eighties” and the band’s biggest pop hit, “Love Like Blood,” in 1985. By the Nineties, they returned to a heavier sound that fit in perfectly with industrial music’s burgeoning pop moment with their Pandemonium and Democracy albums, which found Walker playing tightly palm-muted guitar riffs like he was choking his guitar strings, as well as folky acoustic guitar. Nirvana “paid back” the band in 2003 on another self-titled album that featured Dave Grohl on drums, supporting Walker’s chugging guitar lines on “The Death & Resurrection Show” and “Loose Cannon.” Ever productive, the group issued many EPs and “dub versions” of their songs — which influenced the industrial metal group Godflesh — throughout its career. “The only music we’d listen to without arguing was dub,” Walker told Uncut.

“He was a virtuoso gunslinger, both with his music and verbosity,” Youth wrote in his Instagram tribute. “He wouldn’t hesitate to throw his flicknife into the mixing desk and demand a two bar count, not four, for his drop in, which always managed to focus the engineers attention! He understood that the chemistry was the rub and that’s actually where the magic and soul was … in the conflict.”

The band put out its 15th album, Pylon, in 2015, and its most recent release, the EP Lord of Chaos, last year. A single, “Full Spectrum Dominance,” came out in March, featuring the full spectrum of Walker’s playing: metal riffs, gothy murk, and memorable moments of melody.

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Outside of Killing Joke, Walker played in the industrial supergroup Murder, Inc., alongside Killing Joke’s Ferguson and bassist Paul Raven, as well as Chris Connelly. They released a self-titled full length in 1992. He reunited with Connelly and other Murder, Inc. members in 2000 to form the Damage Manual, which leaned more into pop punk on a handful of albums.

In 2013, Walker said that it was the human touch that made Killing Joke’s music special. “When we started making records, playing gigs wasn’t that much different,” he told Metal Assault. “You’d rehearse, you wrote the songs, you mic’d it up and you played it! And now if you’re not careful, you might not even see the fucking drummer and the maker of the fucking record. It’s all bits of this, cut-and-paste. It can sound impressive on first listen but after subsequent listens, it’s lacking human imperfection. The imperfection is what makes it magical somehow.”

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