The 50 greatest albums of 2020
The only countdown that matters: Kerrang!’s 50 greatest albums of 2020.
2020 has been a brutal year for music fans. Between cancelled tours, a wiped-out festival season and the general lack of fresh material with so many artists reluctant to drop records in the current climate, there’s not been much to cheer for. Against the impending winter darkness, however, there is a beam of hope as one of modern metal’s greatest collaborations – Killer Be Killed – has been rekindled for a breathtaking second album.
That’s not to say there’s much light about upcoming LP Reluctant Hero, mind. Bringing together the massive talents of Mastodon bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders, Sepultura/Soulfly legend Max Cavalera, The Dillinger Escape Plan/Black Queen’s Greg Puciato (on guitars and vocals here), and Converge/Mutoid Man drummer Ben Koller (having replaced original sticksman Dave Elitch in 2015), the album is deep and dark, with the layered-up vocals of Troy, Max and Greg completing a soundscape to be helplessly sucked into.
Rather than a misery trip, however, this is a raucous journey driven by the brotherhood in pursuit of the high-octane good times that made the band’s constituent members fall in love with metal in the first place.
“After six years, the magic is back!” raved Max as the November 20 release was announced. “Reluctant Hero, full of riffs and catchy melodies.” Greg was equally effusive: “This has been a long time coming. It feels great to be getting this out. Go for a drive and roll the windows down and crank this thing up. Also can I say that Troy’s verse vocals are fucking insane?”
We sat down with Troy himself for a deeper dive into their massively-anticipated return…
So, how does it feel to be back with Killer Be Killed?
“It only really hit me when the announcement officially came out. It felt amazing to see those posts that we’re back with this new song, new album cover and artwork, new T-shirt and all that. My cup runneth over with elation (laughs).”
It's been a long time. What was the impetus to come back?
“Our first record came out six years ago. We ended up only ever playing that one short tour of Australia, but it left us on such a high note that in the five years since, amongst the four of us it’s never been a question of if there will be another record, but when. We’ve stayed in tight contact, living by the calendar, and every time the four of us had five or 10 days free at the same time, we would meet in Phoenix, Arizona and work on new music. In our hearts, this was just too damned good to let go after one album and one short tour.”
Reluctant Hero isn't a spontaneous 2020 lockdown release, then?
“No. We had one writing session in 2016, then another in 2017. We went into Hybrid Studios in Santa Ana, California, in 2018 to record all of the music. Then in 2019, we went in and recorded all of the vocals. We managed to do it in those four chunks, just staying on top of each other in terms of when we could get the work done.”
What are the bonds that keep drawing you back together over that relatively extended time-frame – especially with so many other acts to focus on?
“It’s about the camaraderie, musically and personally, which is so important to us and which feels so healthy. It’s an environment and an atmosphere when we’re together that’s just purely enjoyable. People ask, ‘Why would you nee to be in this band?!’ or, ‘Why would you need to do this with another group of guys?’ The energy and excitement is very particular. It’s just a fabulous experience to get to do it with those guys. They’re wonderful to be around. They make me laugh. They’re all very humble. If jamming with those guys didn’t mean the world to me, I just wouldn’t do it.”
You make pretty tasty music together, too…
“Now that it’s seeing the light of day, there’s [that other] dimension to it, too. Any time you sink a lot of energy and effort and that dedication of years of writing into a project, getting to see it reach its full fruition gives me this massive sense of pride. It’s an album that I’m very happy with and very proud of.”
The term 'supergroup' feels like a crude way to describe such a fulfilling collaboration, but the pedigree carried by you and your bandmates can't be denied. Is there any of that supergroup mentality?
“We’d all toured with each other over the years and it eventually came together with the four of us jamming. It’s like with any other group of musicians, except that we’ve got marginally famous friends. Someone will say, ‘I’m looking for a drummer,’ then someone else will pipe up, ‘I know this guy, who’s hilarious, and a bad-ass drummer. Let’s call Ben and see if he wants to do it!’ It’s just our circle of people. We never consider ourselves bigger or better than anyone else – ever. The humility between this group of people is one of the things that most makes me want to be around them. At the same time, we push each other artistically. We’re able to pull off this triple tag-team vocal thing that isn’t a feature of too many other bands. Every time we leave the studio together, it’s high-fives and hugs.”
For fans looking at the album title and listening to the sounds within, there seem to be darker themes of struggle with one’s self at play. How does that fit with the atmosphere of high-fives and hugs?
“It’s more about summing up the lyrical material that we’ve crafted together. The album closer is a song I called Reluctant Hero – reflecting the mortal memory of someone who’s strong and stoic but exhausted from the fight – which was picked up by my three bandmates after a matter of hours as a theme which fitted the feel of the whole album. It’s haunting, but in a warming way.”
How does lead single Deconstructing Self-Destruction fit in?
“Deconstructing Self-Destruction wasn’t really intended as a reflection of the times we live in, more about ignoring the static and that background horseshit that can really gobble up your time. Within KBK we have found this niche of guys whose time together is short but meaningful. It’s about making the most out of the time we’ve got. But as the album opens up with those lyrics, ‘I close off the madness, block out the unseen’, it feels fitting more than ever to the world we live in. It’s easy to spiral with negativity, whether that’s personal or looking at all these things going on in our wider world, but if you dig through all this negativity you can come out on top. Weed out the bad, focus on the good. That’s the real meaning behind those lyrics.”
In the wake of COVID-19, next year – or whenever we get back to normal – will already by a log-jam for touring. Are we likely to see any KBK live dates?
“We have always talked about touring more. Now that this album has been released into the world, we are trying to focus on finding at least a small window of time together to focus solely on Killer Be Killed shows. At the same time, all four of us have three bands that we’re currently active in, which may make the reality of that time together skewed – especially when we still don’t even know when touring will be logistically possible. In a nutshell, though, we all desire to make it happen. We have the time of our lives every time we’re together!”
Finally, what would you like the album to achieve?
“When the four of us in Killer Be Killed listen back to this album, we’re super in love with it. We’re banging our heads, smashing our feet, rolling the windows down and driving a little faster. It’s about finding that pleasurable energy. I hope that people find something in the record that’s as pleasurable to their ears as it is to ours.”
Reluctant Hero will be released November 20 via Nuclear Blast
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