Let’s be serious here – if you were told to write down what you thought the combined sound of Soulfly, Mastodon, the Mars Volta and the Dillinger Escape Plan would be, what are the words that come to mind? Irascible, scratchy, virile, pummeling, cacophonous, noisy, and a thousand synonyms.
What if I told you that you’d be wrong? What if the potentially caustic combination of those bands turned out the unlikeliest of products? What if they were tuneful, slightly pop-y, hook-laden, accessible and generally well-rehearsed and orderly? Furthermore, what if I told you that was a damn good thing?
Well, that’s what’s happening for Killer be Killed, the combined side project of Max Cavalera, Greg Puciato, Troy Sanders and Dave Ilitch. People who knows those names know that those artists have occasionally seen fit to stretch their knowledgebase and clean out their musical closets in a grand experiment. Killer Be Killed’s eponymous record does just that, allowing each member of the partnership to express himself in a comfortable but new direction, blending together to produce an album of capable singles that is immediately disappointing only because everyone seems to think it’s a one-off.
It’s a bizarre phenomonen to listen to “Killer Be Killed,” only because the music, no matter how many times it passes your frontal lobe, is never what you’re expecting. From the jump, the album comes to play with big, sweeping riffs, the giant sing-along chorus of “Wings of Feather and Wax” immediately annihilating the conception of what was believed to be contained within. While the music is appropriately aggressive, it lacks the thick, dense overgrowth of each musicians’ idiom, which actually works in the album’s favor.
“Killer Be Killed” could have easily gone off the deep end of heaviness into nonsense; it balances precariously over the precipice, but similar to the halcyon days of Fear Factory, songs like “Snakes of Jehovah” stayed firmly rooted, never in danger of plummeting to the depths.
Yet, there’s still plenty of heavy material to be had, as the band shows some flexibility and dives back and forth from the friendlier material at the top of the record to the real hardcore-influenced stuff stacked immediately behind it. Beginning with “Curb Crusher,” Killer Be Killed gets down and dirty into the mire of brutal heavy metal, upping the intensity without losing the rhythm or flavor. The ability to crank the dial like that, then come back for a ponderously droning but still hammering “Save the Robots” is a testament not only to the ability of the songwriters but the confidence they demonstrate in their materials.
Like all side projects, there are some misfires here and there as the band spreads their wings in unusual directions. Towards the back half, “Fire to Your Flag,” “IED” and “Dust Into Darkness” don’t resonate way in the same conclusive way that the earlier cuts do. There’s nothing about these tracks that strikes as particularly novel on an album that prides itself on versatility of punishment. But a few dry stretches are hardly worth degrading the entire effort. Particularly when the selections in question are backstopped by the impressive percussive force of “Twelve Labors,” a tune as arduous as the title implies.
For many, this will sound like an insult, but I promise I mean it as high praise – “Killer Be Killed” in many ways is the album that Five Finger Death Punch should have made last year. The songs pop with easy to recognize rhythms and bang-your-head cadences, plus the assembled artists are more than capable of injecting some venom into the pieces. This isn’t a perfect record, but if you need some down and dirty heavy metal that succeeds in the attempt, “Killer Be Killed” is a great start.