So much about Killer Be Killed initially gave off the impression they’d be a one-and-done prospect. They came around at a time when metal supergroups of their pedigree never really went on to do much beyond a single appearance, and with a lineup as stacked as theirs – centred around the triple-headed front-team of Mastodon’s Troy Sanders, The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato and Soulfly’s Max Cavalera – they simple felt too big in stature to stay around for that long. As for their output, their self-titled album in 2014 was a lot stronger and more adventurous than what a lot of metal collectives will muster, and a genuinely terrific song like Wings Of Feather And Wax under their belts meant that could easily bow out when necessary and still hold firm as something to be remembered positively. And for a long time, that seemed to be the case; this follow-up album was recorded in secret, and the lengthy period between it and its predecessor would only make it reasonable to believe that Killer Be Killed wouldn’t make another album.
If anything though, Reluctant Hero has them doubling down on what made their debut so excellent in the first place. Their already overwhelming star power has only been made that much potent with Converge’s Ben Koller joining the fold on drums, but as a unit, there’s so much personality and metal acumen brought to the table that clearly has its roots in each member’s respective projects, but also feels like its own thing when everything is brought together. Rather than just hitting the supergroup benchmark and coasting by on brand recognition, Killer Be Killed are actually a great band full stop, and while there’s perhaps nothing as immediate as Wings Of Feather And Wax was, what’s here instead is a body of work that could go blow for blow with any of the best metal releases of 2020. Again, the pedigree on show might make that seem obvious, but it’s rare that even a band like this will come together this well.
It’s in the three-pronged vocal approach that Killer Be Killed display the most robust example of how they fit together too, especially when each vocalist doesn’t so much have a set role, but a key asset that they each bring to keep everything held up. It mainly comes from the relationship between Sanders and Puciato here, with former’s grizzly bear bellow used to carve out vast chasms through the land in front of him, while the latter’s more precise and acidic voice sharpens those edges and gives the whole thing a sense of sharpness. Cavalera plays more of a sideman role in the operation, but whenever he lends a more feral tone to proceedings, it’s always welcome, like in moments of voracious build and climax on Inner Calm From Outer Storms and The Great Purge, or simply for a dose of full-blast hardcore on Animus. It makes for a good amount of variety across the album; apart from Puciato, there isn’t much vocal flexibility here, and that’s neatly circumvented by everyone being able to play a role whenever they need to. It can alleviate some of inherent struggle with the writing that generally falls into the ‘metal lyrics’ camp, with lots of elemental struggles and clashes between diametric forces that might be broad, but succeeds both in interesting lyrical choices, and the fact that the combined power that Killer Be Killed have is more than enough to see it all through. Even on the touring song Filthy Vagabond or the more emotional closing title track, the paradigm pliability is just enough to get there, and is subsequently sent over the top by just how strong the overall execution is.
It also goes without saying that Killer Be Killed have the sound to back them up and then some. The DNA of hardcore and death metal can be easily be picked up on (again, Animus makes that rather blatantly known), but having that influence condensed into a pretty straightforward metal package hits a really great note when it’s done so consistently well. Obviously the technical chops are there in spades, but it’s the mix that gives Reluctant Hero its sense of might, where Josh Wilbur totally seems to get the need for the dirt and grit to come through to get the full experience and benefit. This isn’t one of those soaring, widescreen modern metal projects, nor does it has the levity or intrinsic fun factor that side-projects tend to bear, and that feels totally by choice. It makes for a rougher and more volatile sound overall, still being able to reach the highs of modern metal composition like on Left Of Center, but also with the space to hit crawling, downbeat notes that can go on for more extended lengths, like with From A Crowded Wound and the title track. It also makes it so the clear underground angle can have room to soak in, with the untamed quake of the guitars and drums leaning deep into a punk energy that mightn’t be in its creators’ direct wheelhouses, and a bass tone from Sanders that feels genuinely enraged as it snaps across each track. It’s one hell of a sonic force that Killer Be Killed really do keep a hand on well, the sort of carnivorous amalgam of various stripes of punk, hardcore and metal that’s equally as ragged as it is big and imposing.
That might be where Killer Be Killed come into their own the most, especially as a supergroup. There’s a defiance of expectation that’s built into this band, but to run with it to the extent that they do and create something that mightn’t be entirely indicative of their combined size is an impressively brave move to make. Of course, it’s the sort of project where failure isn’t really on the table, especially when considering the status of who’s involved, but Reluctant Hero never gives off that impression in terms of output. This still feels like a hungry band with something to prove, and to see Killer Be Killed chase that so doggedly and to succeed as resoundingly as they do really does verge on something special. Ultimately they don’t quite hit upon the moments as – for lack of a better word – killer as their best, but for everything that this album sets out to do and everything it offers in return, this is really something. It’s about as concise and violent in destroying the supergroup stigma as efforts go, and the result offers thrills in absolute spades.
For fans of: Soulfly, Machine Head, Fear Factory
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Reluctant Hero’ by Killer Be Killed is released on 20th November on Nuclear Blast Records.