WORDS: TOM COLES
Supergroups are good, actually. In a year like this the spirit of collaboration is a Good Look, which has been explored everywhere from collaborative music videos to channels like Two Minutes to Late Night’s celebration of bands performing feel-good material with tight pals.
There’s more to this spirit of solidarity and collaboration than just Fleetwood Mac covers of course, and there’s more to friendship than just celebrating the good times. Killer be Killed exist on the other side of things, presenting a furious album full of difficult, spiky concepts and ferociously heavy music from some of the most gifted and driven experimental metal artists of the last two decades. The man with the most storied past here is Max Cavalera, who has worked through several epochs of heavy metal, helping to pioneer a decent chunk of it himself.
The key to Killer be Killed’s success, he states, is genuine friendship and constant excitement to be part of something with people he deeply respects. “I enjoy it very much because I’m playing music with [the] guys,” he notes, taking stock of their latest release. “I’m a fan of their stuff besides the friendship, which is great – I love them, I love to be friends with them […] I’m a huge fan of Mastodon and Dillinger Escape Plan and Converge and it’s a dream come true to create music with these guys – and it’s actually so easy, it’s actually mind-blowing how easy the stuff comes out. Of course there’s an effort to make it really good, as good as possible, but the deliverance – how it comes out when we’re together in a room – it feels very natural, very organic and very satisfying.”
“Of course there’s an effort to make it really good, as good as possible, but the deliverance – how it comes out when we’re together in a room – it feels very natural, very organic and very satisfying”
The first outing since 2014’s self-titled debut, it’s no real surprise that there’s been a wide gulf between releases. With Mastodon, Converge, and Soulfly all releasing music regularly – not to mention Greg Puciato’s solo project, whose debut dropped only a month before this.
Given that record was leaked before its release – to the dismay and disappointment of Puciato and widespread scorn from the press, it’s no wonder that this project was kept under wraps, as Cavalera notes. “We kept it very secret all the way through – all these six years” he reveals, “so it came out as a surprise to everyone which was really exciting – that we were able to keep it a secret in these technological times that we are living in – there are no secrets left in the internet era.”
Release schedules, locked in place for years, have been turned on their heads this year, with bands suddenly scrambling around in the archives for new material – exhausting their vaults, bands across heavy subgenres have turned out a huge supply of new material. This was a year for wild experimentation, but release schedules have always been less than normal under the surface, with things being pushed back due to touring schedules or behind-the-scenes chaos. More complicated still is joining several musicians together.
This raises questions – surely there are clashes? Cavalera suggests not, which he puts down to sharing writing responsibilities and enthusiasm. “Sometimes Troy will have a melodic riff and then I get to sing on it,” he notes. It works fantastic, it’s cool the way it works – and sometimes you claim the riff too, Greg is very good at claiming riffs! You hear riffs and right away – “I wanna sing on that, that’s mine!” You know man, it’s all good, it’s your riff you can sing on that. So it’s a very cool democratic band that we don’t get in too many fights over riffs – there’s plenty for everybody to sing and enjoy.”
“The idea of bringing different people from different areas of the heavy metal world is not just possible but its actually enjoyable and its actually really exciting”
Collaboration is tried and tested in the studio. Times are changing, as we’re reminded every day. And as Cavalera’s career has progressed, there have been natural expansions of the studio experience. Reluctant Heroes was recorded pre-pandemic, using traditional methods, his preferred way of working:
“I think that some of the magic that is captured in those records is captured because of us together in a room – there’s moments on the record where you wouldn’t have that if another person was on a computer in a different part of a world […] I’m really kinda against that, I don’t like some of the production that feels so digitalised and feels so futuristic, I’m old school!”
He elaborates on this approach through his history, explaining his preference for an organic experience: “going all the way back through my career, my records – all the Sepultura records were done like that, all the Soulfly records were done like that. Of course it’s not analogue any more, it’s not on tape but it’s as close as you can get with everybody in a room jamming – you do the drums first and then you start layering the bass and then you start layering stuff – but it does have the feeling of a real band pulling together and I think that’s part of the charm of this record.”
This organic writing practice has led to a complex record, more coherent and fluid than their 2014 debut. Clearly they benefit from years of experience at putting complicated albums together. Indeed, where this could so easily be a mess of ideas, instead it is varied and nuanced, and touches upon disparate genres without getting overwhelming or self-indulgent. Cavalera reveals this was the result of years of stored ideas, and that this had been brewing for a while: “some of the stuff was songs that we had for a long time. Greg had – probably ten years had been written – a riff that was kinda like his baby, and so took special care on that song […] and the same with some riffs from Deconstructing Self Destruction – some old riffs of mine that I had not used, and the opening riff of Inner Calm from Outer Storms – an old like black metal riff that I had laying around for many years.”
“At the end of the day just a big variety and it feels very refreshing to have this kind of music come out right now.”
“I think that’s just the way it comes out naturally – it grows in that way because if I write a more kinda thrash riff when Troy or Greg sings on it, it changes,” he elaborates, noting the mix of genres. “My role a lot on this record is to bring some of those more angry kind of vocals – more like kind of energy, more on the side of the energy and the aggression […] I love everything they’re doing on the choruses and the verses so its a good mix – at the end of the day everybody wins because you get a record that doesn’t feel like a full-on thrash record and it’s not full-on progressive and it’s not a doom record but it does have elements of all of those mixed up. At the end of the day just a big variety and it feels very refreshing to have this kind of music come out right now.”
Having established the band over several years, they clearly have their own personality and voice: busy, taught and complex. Being a band with so much history, it begs the question that, going forward, how they approach the legacy of Killer be Killed as separate and distinct from their myriad main projects.
But Killer Be Killed aren’t trying to establish themselves – not with so many musicians with so much of an existing history. Rather they’re trying to encourage other bands to follow their example. “The idea of bringing different people from different areas of the heavy metal world is not just possible but its actually enjoyable and its actually really exciting – and hopefully there’ll be more groups,” he notes, summarising a lot of what we’ve spoken about. “I think that’s the cool thing about heavy metal, that we throw the rulebook away – that’s the reason I started playing metal, because there’s not really a lot of rules and I like that rock and roll, heavy metal – really you get into it because you hated the rules, you hated school rules, you hated society’s rules and finally there’s a kind of music that’s not really rules, you make your own rules. That’s what I like, there’s not a rule to say you can’t be in a bunch of bands, in a bunch of projects […] Being a fan of the music I get to work with my heroes and that’s priceless. Nothing comes close to that – it’s a really great, rewarding situation.”
RELUCTANT HERO IS OUT NOW VIA NUCLEAR BLAST RECORDS.