“A perfect blend of a legend, a freak, a beast and a wookie.” – Troy Sanders.
A strange thing happened today: unusually I was stumped at an appropriate way to start this particular review and was mutely & vacantly staring at a blank document, but the Mastodon frontman and Killer Be Killed protagonist has provided a fitting rubric for me… thanks Troy. On paper at least, the prospect of this debut album from KBK is surely one of the most tantalizing of any metal supergroup ever and has metal fans worldwide practically slavering over its imminent release… with very good reason. Allow me to introduce the participants:
Greg Puciato (The Dillinger Escape Plan)- Vocals
Max Cavalera (ex- Sepultura, Soulfly, Nailbomb, Cavalera Conspiracy)- Guitar/vocals
Troy Sanders (Mastodon)- Bass/Vocals
Dave Elitch (The Mars Volta)- Drums
Ok… so with a lineup like that there’s no way it’s gonna suck, it’s just not possible… is it? Well…
The record launches with the surprisingly melodic “Wings of Feathers and Wax” which displays a disquietingly harmonic chorus reminiscent of contemporary melodic metalcore or even pop-punk which wasn’t what I was expecting… raised an eyebrow that did, maybe even both of them. However after a couple of minutes the track quickly grows fangs and the band launch into material that’s more representative of the rest of the album. Thrashing heavy-as-fuck riffs, characteristic vocals from all three singers… and Dave Elitch battering his drum kit within an inch of its life… yeah, you never heard him like this in The Mars Volta. It’s a strong, if partially unexpected start certainly, though to be honest there aren’t many early highlights and the album takes a little while to make an impression. This is indicative of its biggest weakness (yeah might as well get it out of the way): there’s not a lot in the way of scream-along, punch the air, loungeroom-moshpit inducing moments. Don’t get me wrong, the material is tight and well executed but memorable? Not so much. I expected a bit more given the personnel… Filler Be Filled?
Having said that, by the halfway point things begin to pick up. “Fire To Your Flag” and “IED” display the kind of hardcore-punk ferocity and juggernaut riffing I was expecting from the record: it’s definitely a disc of two halves, the latter part being far more energetic and explorative.
Well, so what does it sound like then? In terms of overall feel, the album is rooted firmly in hardcore punk & crossover with nods to the glory days of thrash metal and downtuned chugging riffs reminiscent of a heavily distorted Black Sabbath. You can definitely hear the Mastodon and Sepultura/Soulfly influence, but not so much Dillinger Escape Plan (besides Puciato’s signature screech) or The Mars Volta. It would be obtuse to call it a cross between Mastodon and Sepultura however and there are moments of inventiveness and ambiance which defy such categorization, particularly in the later tracks.
From a musical performance standpoint, all three vocalists provide excellent contributions with Cavalera in particular delivering some unfathomably guttural roars. Instrumentally, the six string work is pretty darn good too, with plenty of crunchy riffs and tasteful leads thrown in. Max has never been one for virtuosic lead work but his efforts here are among his best. Sanders’ bass parts are not given a lot of time to shine, but when they do, they’re excellent, particularly in the final two tracks. Elitch’s drumming is terrific: pummeling yet focused, with just the right combination of brutality and finesse.
At this point I must give a nod to producer Josh Wilbur. The production is superb and for a heavy release it’s crystal clear and provides some of the most thunderous bottom end I’ve heard since Sepultura’s classic ‘Roots’.
Standout tracks are the surprising melodic/brutal/melodic shifts of the opening track “Wings of Feathers and Wax”, the ripping hardcore intensity of “Fire to your Flag” & “IED” and the slower, more ambient & introspective final two tracks “Twelve Labors” and “Forbidden Fire” which still manage to provide some crushing heaviness as a stylistic contrast.
To sum it up in a rather simplistic fashion, Killer Be Killed is a good heavy metal record. No, it doesn’t come close to the finest moments its members have achieved in their progenitorial bands, but it’s still unarguably meritorious and any fan of heavy music should definitely check it out.