Album Review

Killer Be Killed

Released May 13, 2014
Lisa Sanchez
The lineup of Killer Be Killed is the epitome of the word "super group". The band is comprised of metal all-stars, including Dillinger Escape Plan's Greg Puciato, Mastodon's Troy Sanders, former Mars Volta drummer Dave Elitch, and Max Cavalera of Soulfly and Sepultra fame. Considering the individuality and raw energy of each contributing member, it seems the end result would be a cacophonous dirge of spitting and smashed guitars. However, in reality, Killer Be Killed is a fine-tuned and precise assault of unending melody and groove.

In the sometimes incestuous atmosphere of metal bands, swapping and switching band members on a carousel of rotating performers, it's somewhat uncommon to be able to pick out distinguishing traits of a singer's voice, let alone particular intricacies that indicate a musician's style. But, Killer Be Killed has such stand-out members that it is occasionally difficult to not subconsciously compare their self-titled album Killer Be Killed to the sum of its parts.

Troy Sanders and Greg Puciato contribute to the vocals on Killer Be Killed, along with Max Cavalera featured on various tracks. Three dominant, well-known vocalists on any track sounds like a bad idea; it's just too much to take in. I feared it would be too muddled, forcing the audience to choose one voice to follow and not allow the listener to focus on the actual song. But the singers' voices are so unique and play off of each other so well that Puciato, Cavalera, and Sanders overlay, mix and blend with unprecedented clarity. Troy Sanders has a unique, smooth, voice that lends itself to both clean and screamed vocals. Max Cavalera's gutteral bellow is recognizable from anywhere, punctuating choruses and providing a satisfying low end to songs like "Wings of Feather and Wax" and "I.E.D". Every time I hear Greg Puciato's raspy, mad man's howls I always get chills. On Killer Be Killed he is perfectly paired with Sanders' vocals, and coupling the trance-like singing with Puciato's urgent screams creates a perfect synergy. The mix of these immensely talented musicians could come off as water and oil, but, instead it's all milk and honey.

The first track on Killer Be Killed "Wings of Feather and Wax" is a good introduction to the album, because compared to the following ten songs, it's the equivalent of a soft ball to the audience. It features all three vocalists, mostly with Sanders and Puciato trading off verse-chorus style and Cavalera contributing about halfway through to give "Wings of Feather and Wax" a little extra bite before cresting up to the song's finish. It's a solid track, but it pails in comparison to the crazy ensemble of "Face Down" and "Snakes of Jehovah" a little later in the album.

"Face Down" starts off with Puciato's signature vocal assault, seguing into Sander's clean melody, then straight into Cavalera's fast-paced, death-metal repetition of "face down, face down, face down, to the ground". The track melds precise drums, and bending guitars with a combination of vocal styles that may seem incongruous if they didn't come from such metal behemoths as Puciato, Sanders, and Cavalera. It seems with the resurgence of nu-metal, more people are looking down on "Good cop/bad cop" vocals, which are featured to a certain degree on Killer Be Killed. The difference is, the dudes in Killer Be Killed have their vocal trade-offs down to a science, it's not just playing off of one another, they're having a conversation.

There are times when the album leads you into a false sense of security. You think you know what you're getting into within the first 30 seconds or so of the song, then Killer Be Killed turns on you with a complete 180 and the song ends after mixing in different time signatures and styles. "Melting My Marrow" starts with a mid-tempo intro featuring Puciato harmonizing, presumably leading into a semi-ballad, only to be shattered by Cavalera coming in singing: "We are what we are, death unto us all" and setting a resonant, chugging declaration of self-awareness.

"Snakes of Jehovah" actually starts out with some minor guitar picking and dissonant turn-table noise. The guitars sound like something straight off of Dillinger Escape Plan's Miss Machine, with their relentless din overlaid with furious and screamed vocals from Puciato and Cavalera. But, the song mixes up the tempo and delivers an ebb and flow of guitars and drums.

"Fire to Your Flag" is one of my favorite songs on Killer Be Killed. It features an initial hardcore-influenced rant from Puciato and Cavalera about injustice and liberty coupled with the chorus "Set fire to your flag!" It's a short song at 2 minutes and 30 seconds, but it packs such a volatile punch it's hard to get over. The last 30 seconds slow down considerably and are layered with pounding bass and drums, only to reach a fevered pitch.

There are some songs that are less complicated, but simple, infectious, head-bangers on Killer Be Killed, like "Curb Crusher", "Dust Into Darkness". Then, "Twelve Labors" a reflective, mellow contribution at points punctuated by tantric chorus, and digital effects. Killer Be Killed pulled out all of the stops on this album, but even if they recorded it in somebody's basement using guitars made from box springs and tin cans, it would still be better than most of the albums that have been released this year.

It's pretty difficult to entertain the idea of a stand-out song on Killer Be Killed because they're all top-notch. There isn't a single song on the album where it seemed like the musicians in the band decided to phone it in. Considering they had already delivered enough combustible songs to power a rocket far past our understood knowledge of the universe, it would be forgivable if they let one slide by. But, no, Killer Be Killed gives 100% on every single track and keep you guessing through the whole, weird sideshow of musical delights. Super groups may be old news by now, but the gentlemen in Killer Be Killed just rewrote the book on it.