The album was self-produced, and was considered an underground record. It was recorded in early 1980, shortly after a small tour promoting the Almost RedEP. The lyrics of the album were written by frontman and vocalist Jaz Coleman, which expressed his opinions on issues such as politics, death, hypocrisy, human nature, pollution and exile.
The 2005 and 2008 reissues of Killing Joke featured several tracks such as previously released as B-sides and demo tracks. The tracks were listed in addition to the UK original release, being that "Change" was track nine instead of track seven, as it was in the original US release. The 2008 reissue was dedicated in memory of bassist Paul Raven who performed his last album with Killing Joke in 2006. Raven died of heart failure in October 2007. Since then, every reissue of Killing Joke's studio albums have been dedicated to him.
AllMusic praised the album, writing, "Since 1980, there have been a hundred bands who sound like this, but before Steve Albini and Al Jourgensen made it hip, the cold metallic throb of Killing Joke was exciting and fresh", calling it an "underground classic" that "deserves better than its relative unknown status."