Review Summary: Reluctant listener.
On paper Killer Be Killed is the greatest supergroup assembly since Them Crooked Vultures. After all, Them Crooked Vultures takes three of rock’s most venerable musicians, plonks them in a room together and attempts to kindle the creative juices of, arguably, the most important contributors in rock music today. However, the problem with these almighty team ups is that the music almost never amounts to anything of significance. Indeed, looking at the calibre involved with Vultures in particular, the band’s eponymous debut album should have been thirteen tracks graded at “Stairway to Heaven” levels of exceptional; what reality really offered us was a concoction of airtight hard-rock jams with a glaringly obvious competence and virtuosity – albeit not the greatest rock compositions ever devised by man, like they should have been. In a similar scenario, Killer Be Killed could be considered the metal genre’s equivalent to Them Crooked Vultures: Max Cavalera (Soulfly), Troy Sanders (Mastodon), Greg Puciato (Dillinger Escape Plan), and, before Ben Koller of Converge fame replaced him for this record, David Elitch (The Mars Volta). With a line-up like that, I need to be frank here for a moment; back when Killer Be Killed unified its omnipotent powers in 2014, I was ecstatic with the prospects. The problem was, like Them Crooked Vultures – and the inherent problems associated with supergroups in general – when Killer Be Killed released their debut album six years ago, it landed with okay-ish results but fell prey to the dreaded problems almost every supergroup falls victim to: a lack of the right synergistic chemistry needed to knock their sound out of the park.
The harsh truth is that Killer Be Killed
just didn’t do a great deal of anything outside of being competent. In fact, if it weren’t for “Wings of Feather and Wax” being such a damn good song, Killer Be Killed
, and the band in general, would have long been forgotten about. With that being said, and to Killer Be Killed’s credit, Reluctant Hero
is marginally more consistent than its rudimentary and flaccid predecessor, but even that praise is marred by a lot of the same problems left over from their debut LP. At nearly fifty minutes in length, the most overt problem here is the bloated run time – and the annoying thing is, it could have easily been amended with the removal of some deadwood, or a few splices here and there from the songs that generally work well. For every “Deconstructing Self-Destruction” there’s a “Filthy Vagabond” lurking behind it to hinder the record’s brazenly apparent potential. There are a number of noteworthy moments to be had here – the catchy, ascending riffage on “Left of Center” being one of them, with Troy’s smoke-y, baritone growls being used to set up Greg’s melodious and infectious choruses. It’s a track that has a succinct vision and executes its ambitions well. For the longest time I could never quite put my finger on what Killer Be Killed were lacking in order to make their sound more vigorous and effective. After hearing what works well here, I think I have sussed the issue, and I’m not entirely sure it’s something most people want to hear or will agree with, but I find the evidence irrefutable; Killer Be Killed are at their best when they’re offering benign ambience and melodic accessibility.
A lot of the songs here try too hard to shoehorn in thrash-y riffs, raging tempos, and Cavalera’s thunderous roars, but these moments only elicit ennui. It’s when the album reveals a window of ethereal opportunity and let’s Greg present his delicious melodies over a cosmic backdrop – mainly in parts of “From a Crowded Wound”, “The Great Purge” and “Dead Limbs”, as well as augmenting these moments with some undeniably awesome guitar solos for good measure – where the LP tends to flourish the most. Sure, the bone-grinding breakdown in “Comfort from Nothing” and the track’s overall thrashing sensibilities provide the band with some success in this breakneck style, bringing with it some semblance of intrigue to the table. However, I found myself far more transfixed by Reluctant Hero
’s moments of respite. “Reluctant Hero”’s post-rock introduction and its booming mid-section pay-off delivers one of the crowning highlights for the entire album, while the rest of the record is peppered with great reverb-y, ambient soundscapes and really well-executed vocal performances from all parties involved, unearthing the squandered potential here. Unfortunately, these aspects are definitely overlooked in favour of the aforementioned thrash-y, hardcore sound.
Despite Reluctant Hero
’s shortcomings, overall, this is still a much more solid offering than their first attempt, and as far as supergroup records go, this is certainly one of the better ones. The issue I have with this band’s abrasive tendencies is when they use this sound, it just comes across like a Mastodon/Soulfly/DEG mashups, rather than a balanced, fully formed sound. When the band breaks away from these confines and focuses on what they’re clearly good at – i.e. effective hooks and serene, spacey instrumentals – there is a far more interesting side to this record. It’s just a shame these elements are used more as an appendage here, but here’s hoping for next time…