Revolver has teamed with Killer Be Killed to launch the band's new official store. Get badass exclusive merch, limited-edition vinyl and more now.
"Planet virus is ... livable," Troy Sanders says with a laugh as he pulls over to speak with Revolver. We've caught him on his weekly seven-hour drive from Mastodon headquarters in Atlanta to his home in Florida. With the world in the cross hairs of a deadly pandemic as America writhes in political acrimony, Mastodon's bassist and co-vocalist is surprisingly upbeat.
"I've been realizing that I'm very lucky to have been very busy and productive over this past year, so that's pretty great," he says. "It'd be easy to complain and whine about stuff, but overall things are good."
Sanders has every reason to look on the bright side. Mastodon just celebrated their 20th anniversary by dropping Medium Rarities, a collection of covers, live tracks and instrumentals punctuated by the all-new banger "Fallen Torches."
As if that weren't enough, the supergroup Killer Be Killed — in which Sanders is joined by Sepultura's founding frontman Max Cavalera, Dillinger Escape Plan vocalist turned solo artist Greg Puciato and Converge drummer Ben Koller — have just surprised the shit out of everyone by suddenly announcing the release of their second album. Titled Reluctant Hero, the record comes six years after the band's self-titled debut, which had all the looks of a lightning-in-a-bottle one-off.
The fact that KBK managed to keep Reluctant Hero a secret for years — in the social media age, no less — is an accomplishment in and of itself. "We decided to not talk about it to anyone outside of our families so we didn't build ourselves up with over-anticipation from people that like the band," Sanders explains. "We didn't want a situation where it was like, 'You guys have been talking about this for years!'"
All four members convened at Cavalera's compound in Phoenix for a pair of writing sessions in 2017 and 2018 before tracking their instruments in Santa Ana, California, in 2019. Vocals were completed earlier this year, pre-pandemic, with Sanders, Cavalera and Puciato all tracking their parts together.
"I wish we had a time-lapse camera from that vocal booth," Sanders says with a laugh. "It would look like a revolving door in a Three Stooges episode, the way we were all running in and out and feeding off each other's energy. Without trying to, we were pushing one another and elevating each other's efforts."
Similarly, the addition of Koller — who joined KBK for a brief Australian tour in 2015 — has helped take Reluctant Hero to the next level. "We recruited Ben for those shows, which were the only shows we ever did, because his energy and heart and talent would make anyone want to be in a band with him," Sanders says. "After that, we all knew in the depths of our souls that this band had to continue because we had the time of our lives out there. It brings us back to the way we felt when we had our very first bands."
It's 5 p.m. on a Wednesday, and Greg Puciato is just getting up. "I usually wake up around 11:30 or 12:30, but I could tell by where the light was in the sky today that it was much later," he says. "But whatever — sometimes you gotta sleep."
Nearly 20 years of touring have put Puciato on a permanent nocturnal schedule. "I usually go to bed right when the sun is coming up," he explains. "I was trying to go to bed earlier, but last night I randomly stayed up until, like, seven in the morning so it fucked up all my progress. So I'm gonna try to reset but, also — who fucking cares? It doesn't matter."
Like Sanders, Puciato has been busy this past year. After closing out 2019 by performing with Alice in Chains' Jerry Cantrell at a couple of intimate solo shows, during which Puciato sang departed AIC vocalist Layne Staley's parts, he completed worked on his first solo record, Child Soldier: Creator of God, launched a record label, Federal Prisoner, with visual artist Jesse Draxler, and wrote a ton of material — including guitar leads — for Reluctant Hero.
"I wrote a bunch of the music on the first KBK record, but I was thinking of myself as more of a singer because Troy and Max already play instruments and I wasn't sure where I fit," he says. "But this time I just went into it with way more guitar stuff written and way more confidence in that realm. I wrote some whole songs — every guitar part, everybody's vocal part, everything."
In fact, he says his favorite part of the process was writing vocal parts for Sanders and Cavalera. "We were all really confident about writing for each other's voices this time, which to me was the most fun part of the record — hearing a vocal in my head and going, 'Hey, Troy, I've got this melody I think you should do,'" he explains. "In the same way, there are a lot of riffs that Max wrote that are not things most people would associate with Max at all. The second song on the record, which is arguably the most melodic one on the record, was 90 percent Max, musically. So it's interesting to see what people do when they have other avenues available to them versus what they do in their other bands."
In a sentiment that echoes Sanders, Puciato sees KBK as his teenage dream band. "I've known Troy since I was 23, when Mastodon was opening for Dillinger and we were playing to 150 people," he says. "Ben and I would be playing fests when Converge was touring [2001's] Jane Doe, before Dillinger even had [Puciato's debut LP with Dillinger, 2004's] Miss Machine out. We're all still here and we get to do this thing together where we draw on our earliest influences. And then we get to look over and be like, 'That's the guy from Sepultura!' It truly feels like you're in a band with your friends when you're a kid, jamming out in the basement. I mean, there's a riff on this new album from the thrash band I was in when I was 13. This is the metal record I would've wanted to make when I was in high school."
With the pandemic closing schools all across Los Angeles, Ben Koller is feeling the squeeze. "It's crazy here with three kids and homeschooling and trying to balance everything and be productive," he says. "This is nothing like we've ever experienced, so we're just trying to figure out how to make it work. A lot of days are just pure insanity."
Koller and his wife have an eight-year-old, a six-year-old and an eight-month-old baby born right before the pandemic. And if you think that sounds like a lot of work, the world-class drummer has more bands than kids. As of this writing, Koller is a member of at least four active groups: Converge, Mutoid Man, All Pigs Must Die and Killer Be Killed. Still, like all touring musicians, he's stuck at home for an undetermined amount of time. For Koller, the pandemic is just the latest episode of a multi-season shit show. In December 2018, he broke his elbow and was out of action for four months.
"This KBK record was actually the first thing I did after that," he explains. "I was healed, but not really fully healed. I was in so much pain, but there was also no way I wasn't gonna do this record. But the last tour I did was over a year ago, because I took some paternity leave for myself. I was actually about two days away from getting on a plane to go back to Massachusetts to write some new music with Converge and go on tour in South America, and that's when the lockdown happened."
Koller got the call to join KBK when the group was asked to play Australia's traveling Soundwave Festival in 2015. Dave Elitch, who played drums on the first Killer Be Killed album, couldn't join them due to scheduling conflicts with another project. "I was surprised when Greg called me," Koller reveals. "I was obviously aware of the band because I'm such a fan of everyone in it, but I wasn't expecting to be involved. So I just immediately said yes, no questions asked."
The shows were a massive success, and the rest of KBK asked Koller to join the group on the spot. "I'm such a fanboy of this band, it's crazy," he beams. "I'm pretty sure Mastodon played their first show with Converge, and I've been on board ever since. Dillinger, too: I remember being 19 when [1999's] Calculating Infinity came out, and I've been a superfan this whole time. And Sepultura? When we were in Australia, Max told me he likes to listen to All Pigs Must Die late at night. I couldn't even believe the band was on his radar. It blows my mind constantly. It will never not blow my mind."
The last time we saw Max Cavalera, he was in Los Angeles showing Revolver his battle vest, a well-loved garment covered in patches from some of his favorite bands. "I found a guy here in Phoenix that does crazy cool battle vests," he tells us today from his home in Arizona. "He's an old-school fan from Mexico, and he's really talented. I've got, like, 10 different ones that he made for me!"
Cavalera's enthusiasm for all things metal is palpable. Few musicians who have been at it as long as he has — he started Sepultura in Brazil with his brother Iggor back in '84 — even pay attention to new music. Fewer still start bands like Killer Be Killed, with players from the next generation — guys like Puciato, Sanders and Koller — who grew up listening to Sepultura.
"Man, I love metal so much and I'm totally into the whole underground scene," he says. "I love the new stuff that's coming out — Creeping Death, Necrot — I'm on that train a hundred percent, man. And in Killer Be Killed, I'm a fan of those guys, too, you know? I'm a huge Troy fan. I'm a huge Greg fan. I'm a huge Ben fan. I think it works because we are all fans of each other, but without the ego part, without the 'I'm the shit' part. We get so much satisfaction out of the creative process, and it's different from the other stuff we do. It's very refreshing."
Despite all the big names involved, Killer Be Killed doesn't seem like a supergroup. Those types of bands tend to fall into two categories: the kind that sounds like a bunch of dudes stepping on each other's toes in a fight for center stage, and the kind that sounds like a bunch of dudes trying desperately to not step on each other's toes — and serving up weak sauce in the process. To their collective credit, no one in Killer Be Killed is a fan of the term.
"It applies to us when you look at the parts involved — people coming from successful bands," Cavalera concedes. "But it doesn't feel like a supergroup. It feels like we're 16 years old — and that's what makes it cool. We have fun, we tell jokes. Nobody is that serious. I remember when we started recording, I said something like, 'We're gonna bring our A game to this B movie!'"
But Reluctant Hero is hardly a B movie. "The first Killer Be Killed record was really exciting, but I think this one tops it," he says. "It feels more like a real group."
It probably didn't hurt that they demoed the tracks with Max's old drum machine from the early Nineties. Channeling that classic Sepultura mojo, even indirectly, can't possibly be a bad thing. "I bought that drum machine on the Arise tour," he says with a laugh. "I'm not good at updating gear. People tell me all the time, 'Just get a computer — you can do everything!' But I have a system, and it works."
Now, all that Killer Be Killed need to make the comeback complete is the ability to play some shows behind Reluctant Hero. "I think this album deserves a tour, so hopefully we can do that in 2021," Cavalera says. "I can't wait for this year to be over, man. Fuck 2020. I just want to get out there again."