What with the riots, the depressed economy and the shrinking empire, all is not right in Britain. The atmosphere seems to have affected the island's rock groups, many of whom have gone fairly potty from the despair of it all.

Last night at the 9:30 Club, Killing Joke erupted with its own version of English working-class angst rock. Menacing lyrics that dealt with madness, tension and food shortages were yelled above a screeching, crashing electronic wall of sound. No melodies. No harmonies. In fact, Killing Joke sounded rather like a synthesized equivalent of a chain saw.

The four musicians exuded a kind of manic charm, casting anguished glances and militant poses at the frenzied crowd. While these were no doubt intended to heighten the effect of the music, the result was nonetheless hilarious. And the music -- well, it was in the finest rock-for-shock tradition, with blaring, amateurish riffing and screaming singers trying to purge some sort of demons from their souls. It was so bad that it was supposed to be good -- except it never got past being bad.

Killing Joke. The joke is on the group as well as its listeners. And it isn't very amusing.