Supergroups can be a tricky thing to get right on record. Will star names blend on a full length LP, or should it have just remained a studio jam session? Luckily for them (and for us), this is a problem that Killer Be Killed have never had to reckon with.
Their self-titled debut was one of the great surprises of 2014 – not only did it seamlessly blend three iconic metal vocalists together, it did so on an album that was critically acclaimed. Max Cavalera (Sepultura, Soulfly), Greg Puciato (The Dillinger Escape Plan) and Troy Sanders (Mastodon) got together to produce an excellent metal record and that seemed to be that; the members went back to their day jobs, and apart from a few minor hints here or there, it seemed like Killer Be Killed was a ‘one and done’ project. So, when the band announced their comeback in 2020, it came as a surprise, but ‘Reluctant Hero’ proves that their debut was no fluke – and that Killer Be Killed should be considered among the best supergroups of recent times.
The band aren’t re-inventing the wheel, but they don’t have to. Everyone involved in the group has a background in creative and experimental bands, but this project is an opportunity to strip things back and create a straight-up metal record by design. The sound hasn’t changed too much since their debut; they’ve maintaned a fast pace, and this album is just as heavy and full of killer hooks, with almost every song featuring soaring guitar solos, huge riffs and searing vocals. It makes you miss live shows even more, as these songs are crying out to be played live, the huge choruses being screamed back at the band in the kind of rooms Mastodon normally sell out. Maybe one day.
That’s not to say this is a one-note album. ‘Reluctant Hero’ changes in tone and mood almost song-by-song, and the relentless pace makes the 11 tracks fly by. Maybe it isn’t quite as crazy as Dillinger or early Mastodon – but this album does far more than simply rip your face off for an hour like some metal records. It blends thrash, hardcore punk and even some alt-rock moments together, making for a varied and dynamic listen, further highlighting each member’s experience in the industry.
All three vocalists are given their time to shine, showcasing real chemistry throughout record, and it is genuinely exciting to hear the trio play off each other. Converge drummer Ben Koller plays his part too – an excellent addition to the band, taking over from The Mars Volta’s Dave Elitch – but it would be a lie to say the three vocalists aren’t the highlight of this record. It’s a close run race, but Puciato is probably the MVP on the record as he shows off his huge vocal range on tracks like ‘Left of Centre’ and ‘The Great Purge’, switching between his Black Queen croons and blood curdling screams in a matter of seconds.
‘Reluctant Hero’ isn’t a perfect album. It’s a bit too long, and the title track, alt-rock closer is another example of the ‘slow song to close an album’ trope that is overused in modern metal.
That said, Killer Be Killed continue to be far better than they have any right to be. ‘Reluctant Hero’ is jam packed with metal ragers, from four masters of their trade. They have built on the strong foundations they laid back in 2014, creating a heavy and fun record that subverts expectations for a supergroup album. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait six more years for the next one.