Tight N Shiny
Supergroup. Is there any word more thrilling to the human soul? It immediately conjures childlike fantasies of luminaries coming together and worlds colliding. What if Hercules, Superman, and Eleanor Roosevelt teamed up to fight Apocalypse? What if Iron Man, Siddhartha, and Harry Houdini got together to defeat Megatron? What if Greg Puciato (Dillinger Escape Plan), Max Calavera (Sepultura, Soulfly), Troy Sanders (Mastodon), and David Elitch (The Mars Volta, M83) joined forces under the name Killer Be Killed, and recorded an album?
Expectations rise when supergroups assemble. They appeal to a happily innocent belief in the power of addition, i.e. great + great = doublegreat. However, in a curious twist, standards also become relaxed in the course of such fantastic collaborations. The work becomes unimpeachable simply because of the stature of those involved. Audiences tend to vindicate the new project based on fond memories of the members’ respective past work.
And so Killer Be Killed’s self-titled debut arrives with a lot of hype swirling around it, but how does it sound? If the same album was released by a bunch of nobodies, would it be any good?
Kind of. Killer Be Killed is an orderly arrangement of highly-polished, tightly-performed songs that combine punk, sludge, thrash, alternative metal, and a few other styles. Most immediately noticeable are the vocals, which are a hydra-headed affair. Calavera, Puciato, and Sanders all contribute screams, howls, keens, and croons to practically every song. What is this, a boy band? There are a lot of vocals on this album, including an abundance of hooks and choruses. Some are catchy and memorable, others contain facepalm-worthy lyrics. Truth be told, sometimes Killer be Killed just feels like a three-way battle for two vocal microphones.
And to paraphrase the Kenyan proverb, “When vocalists fight, it is the guitar that suffers.” It’s as if Killer Be Killed used up all the melody and interplay on the vocals and left almost none for the guitars and drums. Yes, there are plenty of punk progressions and chugging metal parts, as well as alternative, P.O.D./Deftone-ish chords, but they’re inescapably generic—it sounds like they were bought by the pound and carried to the studio in reusable cloth bags.
Still, you can’t keep all the assembled talent down. David Elitch’s drumming provides consummate, unobtrusive accompaniment throughout Killer Be Killed. Calavera’s barked anti-police sentiments on “Face Down” will make you want to punch a cop in the face. The changes in “Fire to Your Flag” are so abrupt and crushing that they’ll knock you flat every time. “I.E.D.,” besides having a provocative name, is a sort of mini-epic, progressing with grace through a number of dramatic sections. Puciato’s singing is often charming, particularly when he finds his comfort zone on “Dust into Darkness” and “Twelve Labors.” Album closer “Forbidden Fire” has a languid, bass-led ambient part that sounds so warm and viscous you’ll want to swim in it.
It can be hard to evaluate a supergroup’s music when one is familiar with the satellite bands. One is always listening for echoes of the other music, as if trying to taste individual ingredients in a stew. One also imagines the play of personalities in the studio—who’s brash, who’s the joker, which guy wrote which part and which other guy refused to play it just so. It’s nearly impossible to confront the music dispassionately—but maybe that’s the point. Heavy musicians like the ones in Killer Be Killed have to scrimp and fight for every bit of prestige they can get. If they want to get everyone excited with a supergroup, and maybe rest on their hard-earned laurels a bit while they do, maybe it’s not such a bad thing if audiences let them.