A circle-jerk of bloated egos with nothing better to do with their time in between touring with their main bands, or a meeting of the minds between established musicians who share a common desire to create discernible art together? Generally, the much discussed “supergroup” falls into one of these categories, with money versus artistic vision and individual band members’ egos versus collective chemistry usually determining the end results. There have been plenty of instances of both kinds of supergroups ever since Cream formed in the 1960s, and when it comes to rock and metal, no other genre has produced such polarizing results when a group of known musicians form a band and tell the world: “This is NOT a side-project. This band is of equal importance, goddammit!”
We’ve seen the supergroup successes and we’ve seen the failures, and for every Down there are 10 Chickenfoots clucking around. The latest collaboration between respected metal musicians is Killer Be Killed; the band comprised of guitarist/vocalist Max Cavalera (ex-Sepultura, Soulfly, Cavalera Conspiracy), bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders (Mastodon), vocalist Greg Puciato (The Dillinger Escape Plan), and ex-the Mars Volta drummer David Elitch. Their self-titled debut album for Nuclear Blast lands in the failure-end of supergroups.
Killer Be Killed is aimed squarely at Soulfy’s fan base and fans of contemporary mainstream metal at large, so if you’re hoping for a wildly progressive hardcore record given Sanders and Puciato are involved, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Instead, Killer Be Killed neuters the creativity/ability each member possesses and favours a dumbed-down, sum-of-its-parts approach to appeal to a wider metal audience. However, this direction would not be problem if the songs displayed some ingenuity and genuine staying power, but for the lion’s share of the album’s run-time, Killer Be Killed relies on tired and transparent structures with stale riffs and ideas lifted from Roadrunner Records’ ‘90s roster.
Such dross is sorely disappointing considering how great the album begins with the Icarus-inspired “Wings of Feather and Wax”. Ironically, the heights scaled by Puciato’s choruses and the music that propels him is never reached again. From here, it’s much of a downward descent. “Face Down” runs the not-quite-hardcore-not-quite-thrash-metal grey middle ground until the band tries to reach out skyward again with Sanders’ vocals at the forefront. “Melting of My Marrow” utilizes nu metal’s ham-fisted, sloped forehead songwriting style, containing a Sanders’ chorus reminiscent of the kind of music Spineshank peddled to fleeting success circa 2001, albeit with better musicianship as its base.
The mediocrity continues through to the post-Roots metal-by-numbers “Curb Crusher”, replete with Cavalera’s blunt and stunted shouts of “Crush your demons / Crush!” Elsewhere, “Save the Robots” fails to show any lasting merit, sounding like a song Stone Sour would love to add an actual hook to if they weren’t busy trying to distance themselves from their original mistakes. While the faux political ire of “Fire to Your Flag” comes across as out-dated and childish more than anything resembling incendiary, and “Twelve Labors” and “Forbidden Fire” end the album on an uneventful note: the latter’s attempts at introducing space and dynamics to an album that has already proclaimed how one dimensional it is is almost laughable.
The major focus point of Killer Be Killed is not the actual instrumentation but the curio that is the band’s three-pronged vocal attack. Cavalera’s brutal bark, Sanders’ Lynott-caught-in-a-wind-tunnell-isms, and Puciato’s adenoidal cleans and banshee shrieks all compete with each other, and more often than not their contrasting styles grate rather than compliment. Cavalera—who has become a parody of himself in recent years, both musically and lyrically—is guilty of interrupting the flow in the majority of instances. The problem being, he can’t scream over music that doesn’t sound prototypically Cavalera. For example, the previously mentioned “Wings of Feather and Wax” is a success overall, but the success is in spite of the pointless inclusion of the Soulfly-esque breakdown during which Cavalera brings the song back to the primitive.
This occurs time and time again throughout Killer Be Killed, but on the rare occasion there is the odd spark of prime Cavalera, the musician responsible for metal milestones like Sepultura’s Beneath the Remains, Arise, and Chaos AD. “Snakes of Jehova” sees Cavalera scream his lines threateningly over a series of venomous hardcore-tinged thrash riffs and rattling rhythms, and he even pushes Puciato and Sanders to up their game when their vocal parts slither into focus. Unfortunately, Cavalera ruins the momentum near the song’s conclusion with one of the dumbest lines you’ll hear this year: “Murder, let me hear you scream it louder / Murder!”
In addition to the positive however, the trio of vocalists really gel well on “I.E.D” and “Dust Into Darkness”. The shifting tempos of “I.E.D.” barrel forth with some real aggression with Puciato, Cavalera and Sanders moving in and out of the fray effortlessly (another glimpse of what could of been), and Puciato’s gutter-scraping, sleazy vocals during “Dust Into Darkness” produces the second best chorus of the album. However, there are not enough positives overall to make Killer Be Killed an album worthy of more than a couple of spins to curb your curiosity. Like Axewound and Primal Rock Rebellion before them, Killer Be Killed were a tantalizing proposition on paper, but once the original intrigue dissipates, the reality hits that their combined efforts have produced a dull and contrived collection of songs. Killer Be Killed is another record that adds further fuel to the argument that supergroups are a waste of your time.