When Killer Be Killed formed in 2011 to start making music together, there was a collective holding of breath from their fans. So-called “supergroups” rarely succeed as a sum of the parts compared to the individual members’ day jobs, but when they do, it’s usually both a welcome addition to the global discography and a bit of a surprise. Max Cavalera (ex-Sepultura, Soulfly, Nailbomb, Cavalera Conspiracy), Troy Sanders (Mastodon), Greg Puciato (ex-The Dillinger Escape Plan), and David Elitch (ex-The Mars Volta) proved to be one of those few supergroup success stories when they dropped their self-titled album in 2014, a record brimming with groove metal finery that smacked of each member’s influences.
Most folks considered this a once-off exciting project as the members went their own way thereafter, so imagine the shock and positive reaction when Nuclear Blast announced a new album to be released in 2020. Elitch had prior engagements, but his replacement is the infinitely talented Ben Koller (Converge, Mutoid Man, All Pigs Must Die), a percussionist worth his salt in all departments, and he feels like the true final piece of the puzzle here on the new album, Reluctant Hero.
Once again, each of the musicians brings their own dish to the table, but it’s the seamless way that they integrate these different directions that truly astounds. The dominant element seems to be Mastodon all the way, with Sanders bellowing that signature wail and the choruses hitting epic territory more often than not. Within that, the aggression from Cavalera’s camp, the tight math-love of Dillinger, and the outright hardcore and melodicism of Converge all mash together in a way that almost shouldn’t work, but absolutely does in every way. The ethereal moves dramatically into pounding metal and twists around an eclectic Maypole with so much passion that even if the songs weren’t terribly strong (and they really, really are), the interesting stew is so entertaining and enlightening that it would be worth the listen alone.
Big single-worthy songs such as “Left Of Center,” “Dream Gone Bad,” and the title track sound completely timeless and instantly modern all at the same time, and it’s down to the interaction of the individuals involved and the strength of the music. Opener “Deconstructing Self-Destruction” wastes no time in introducing the band back to the world, with Koller giving a full 110% behind the kit. His lively and intricate attack on the skins takes the group to a completely different level of wow (not to take anything away from Elitch who was a vital piece of the original puzzle), his fills and tone electric to the ears throughout. The three vocalists mix and match their vastly different talents in each of the songs, creating a colourful tapestry of sound and emotion that only a handful of bands can claim, and each of them fire on all cylinders without pause.
“From A Crowded Room” and the title track are the long centrepieces of the album, epic journeys that cement the record together, but a personal favourite is “Filthy Vagabond” – at just shy of four minutes, it rages like a son of a bitch and sits firmly in a punky, Motörhead place with a chorus that will simmer in the head for days on end, and it simply cooks. But that said, there’s not a second of filler to be found anywhere on the album – whether it’s down to the strength of the material or simply good editing, the music is lean and powerful from top to bottom, and it rips so damn hard.
2020 has thrown some amazing music at us and compiling one’s top albums of the year is a mammoth task considering the nominees. Should Reluctant Hero not make the majority of these lists (and I mean way, way near the top), then there is no justice in the world. This is modern metal without the genre trappings or flash, aggressive music for the thinking man that is an obvious labour of love for the four people involved, and it shows in every second of the emotional barrage of sound. If Reluctant Hero is the last we hear of Killer Be Killed, it would be very sad but still an incredible high point to attain, but I have a sneaky feeling that the band love playing together too much to let the project fade away, and I, for one, cannot wait to see where they head next. This is essential, important listening that will totally and utterly mess you up in all the right ways.
Reluctant Hero Track Listing:
1. Deconstructing Self-Destruction
2. Dream Gone Bad
3. Left Of Center
4. Inner Calm From Outer Storms
5. Filthy Vagabond
6. From A Crowded Wound
7. The Great Purge
8. Comfort From Nothing
10. Dead Limbs
11. Reluctant Hero
Run Time: 47:36
Release Date: November 20, 2020
Record Label: Nuclear Blast Records