Let’s be honest: if they wanted to, Killer Be Killed could rest on their laurels and still do just fine. The band’s line-up is comprised of Soulfly frontman Max Cavalera, Mastodon bassist Troy Sanders, The Dillinger Escape Plan vocalist Greg Puciato, and Converge and Mutoid Man drummer Ben Koller — a rogue’s gallery of metal stardom that’d have any fan intrigued. But rather than allow this new project to be a sum-of-its-parts supergroup, the four members of Killer Be Killed put every last scrap of energy and influence they had left into their new album Reluctant Hero — and it shows. In spades.
“It’s always great when a record is finished and mixed and mastered, and me and my bandmates contact each other every day for the past month, every time we spin it, and we’re still super into it from top to bottom, and really proud of each other,” says Sanders. “It’s the ultimate reward for being in a band.”
Sanders may be biased, but his satisfaction is merited. Reluctant Hero is a beast, powered by a mixture of far-reaching hard rock and churning groove metal that strikes a perfect middle ground between listenable and savage. At the same time, the album is an animal all its own, never blatantly ripping off the full-time projects of the dudes behind it. That unique sound and vibe is what kept Sanders and his bandmates obsessed with making this record happen for the six long years between the release of Killer Be Killed’s debut and now. Time was precious for these hard-working musicians, but for this project, they found it where they could.
“In 2015, we did our short, one-and-only tour across Australia,” outlines Sanders. “We left on a really high note, and the four of us vowed to continue. We knew it was going to take a long time. I believe we got together physically all in the same room once in 2016, once in 2017, once in 2018. We recorded all the music for the album in 2019, and we went back in for eight or nine days in early 2020 to write lyrics and record vocals. That is pretty damn accurate to the reality of our timelines. There was never a question of will there be another Killer Be Killed record, it was just when.”
Did you guys write parts for Killer Be Killed in your spare time, or did you sit down and say, Okay, this time HAS to be for Killer Be Killed?
It’s a little of both — almost half and half. We weren’t going to do this remotely, or with file-sharing, whatsoever. So even though it took nearly five years to chip away at this, we only did it in a room with one another. Sharing energy and feeding off each other, feeding on the vibe — that was most important to us. We’d meet in Phoenix, AZ for our writing sessions, and a lot of stuff was created right there on the spot. But the first half of it was brought in — I’ve got this idea that I think could work, do you guys like it? And Max would say, ‘Great I have part two for that,’ and boom, we’re building a song. Greg would bring in a song, Max would bring in a song — we all brought in ideas, and then the other half was completed right then and there.
What makes a Killer Be Killed song it’s own thing? What does Killer Be Killed have to include?
I think collectively, we agreed to embrace the simplicity. From day one, Greg didn’t want any of the music to be brutally similar to anything Dillinger Escape Plan or Mastodon-esque — which worked out fine, because Greg and I are not the main songwriters in either of those bands. The band was put together by Max and Greg under the premise of, This needs to be reminiscent of the very first bands we were all in, meaning we found a group of friends we enjoy being around and making music with that pleases our own ears. There’s no stress, no drama, no ego — only the fun. That was the idea they had before I’d heard any of the music they were working on in 2013 or so. And that attitude is still very much intact. That’s the reason we’re all not only in this band, but why we want this band. When we’re together in that room, whether it’s writing in Phoenix or in the studio working on arrangements, that’s the attitude we all share. No one’s a jerk, no one’s above one another, we all share a lot of appreciation for each other. Bottom line: stress free, drama free, ego free, fun.
Ben Koller played drums with you guys in Australia, but this is Killer Be Killed’s first time recording with him. What did he bring to the table?
Ben brings a multitude of pleasures into the Killer Be Killed world. Converge, Dillinger Escape Plan and Mastodon have all toured together many times over the years, so first of all, we knew he was a great dude with a giant heart and super forward-thinking positive attitude. We knew that chemistry would work. Drumming-wise, he can go from extremely bombastic to very mild, all the while maintaining excellent pace. He’s an all-around talented person who’s incredible to be with inside and outside of the studio environment. There wasn’t even a second thought of, Do you think this’ll work? Will this fit? We just asked him, and he jumped at the chance to be a part of the band. He shares the same appreciation for us as we do for him, and the tour we did across Australia was mind-blowing.
You guys are all from hard-touring bands — was there a topic about whcih you all found yourselves uniting? Were all four of you like, There’s a venue bathroom in Germany that can go fuck itself?
I think that’s almost an unspoken bond that we all share. We had some fun in the studio — we wrote this song called ‘Filthy Vagabond.’ Max, Greg and myself each took a verse, and it was all about the fact that we’re all lifers and touring enthusiasts, dedicating our lives to be in bands and sleep on floors and do whatever it takes to become what we consider successful. Max’s verse just took the cake: ‘Getting hammered, playing loud/What life is all about/Dirty clothes, shitty food/Hell — I’m in the mood.’ I’ve counted 12 active bands that the four of us are all in, so it only pleases me further to know that we’ve shared the persistence and dedication to continue this band as well. I know a lot of us appreciate our homes, and it’s gotta mean a lot to each and every one of us to leave home again. The reward has to outweigh the risk, and outweigh the sacrifice.
“Filthy Vagabond” was a track I wanted to ask you about. The rest of the songs on Reluctant Hero are pretty mid-paced, but that one’s a balls-out thrash song. Is that something Killer Be Killed always want to add to the mix — that sudden, breakneck song in the middle of everything?
No, there’s nothing ever preconceived or spoken of beforehand. The music just comes naturally, and whatever comes out of the body and through the fingers, that’s what we’re gravitating towards. If we’re digging on the vibe and the energy, then we’ll move forward with it. So music is always first; lyrics and vocals comes last. It wasn’t until we were recording lyrics at Hybrid Studios in Santa Ana, California, that that one came together. It reminded us of High On Fire or Motörhead, and we thought, Let’s have some fun with this, and we told everyone to take a verse about being a lifer in this filthy industry. It’s dirty, it’s fun, it’s unpredictable, it’s rare, and we’re four people who are truly cut out for it.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s the track “Reluctant Hero,” which is much more somber and emotional. Was that one always going to be the title track?
That song was the very last track that we put together when we were recording the album. I kind of grabbed ahold of it and took charge of that one, because we had three loose parts — one was mine, one was Max’s, one was Greg’s — and I was able to piece them together. It was very slow, and it was very dark, very sappy, and not necessarily in line with everything else we recorded up until then. But I had some lyrics that I really wanted to pen, and I felt like this music matched it perfectly. So we were able to arrange the song itself on the last day in the studio, and I penned the lyrics, which were very heartfelt and personal for me, reflecting on two friends’ deaths. I was shedding some light on this super-dark situation, when I was referring to them as ‘reluctant hero,’ because of what they had fought through, how hard they had worked, and the legacy they’d left behind.
I said, I wanna call this song ‘Reluctant Hero,’ and all the guys said, ‘That’s beautiful, that’s really fitting, the imagery really pops in my mind — we should call the album that.’ Which I was very humbled by. And they started riffing on ideas of the album cover — ‘It’s just simple and stoic, a statue that represents something mortal, but that statue, like how hard you’ve worked and what you’ve left behind, will carry on forever.’ So that all tied in together to become the title track. It’s dark, yet sincere. It’s sad, yet it’s heartwarming. Was your struggle and your fate fair? Absolutely not. Did you handle it as best as you could? Yes, you did. Did you love and leave everything on the table? Yes. Did you work until your entire existence was exhausted, and you passed? Yes, you did. So it’s recognizing the beauty of someone’s love and work once they’ve left.
After five years, you guys finally made this awesome album — and then COVID-19 spat in the face of live music. What are your plans in terms of live shows and new opportunities presented by quarantine?
The one thing missing. For better or worse, we’ve kept to ourselves over the past five years chipping away at this album. We didn’t mention anything because we knew it was going to take a long time, we didn’t want to put any teasers out there — Hey, look what we’re doing!. We didn’t want to invest in any of that hype, we just wanted to put together an album until we’re ready to release it. Then boom, we’re back, here’s the date. The only thing missing was the accompanying list of tour dates. But we understand, everyone understands. Everyone wants to tour — we’re still high from our tour in Australia five years ago. It’s just a matter of time. We still live by the calendar, counting down the days until we have three days off, two weeks off, and then we pencil it in for Killer Be Killed. We don’t intend on doing any livestream activity, because we’re all in the studio working with out other bands. We’re definitely going to stay active and tour when we can, but like many other things in life, it’s To Be Determined.
Killer Be Killed’s Reluctant Hero comes out Friday, November 20th, via Nuclear Blast, and is available for preorder.
Words by Chris Krovatin