“We weren't like, ‘Let's create a metal supergroup,’” Greg Puciato tells Apple Music about what is, whether he likes it or not, a very impressive metal supergroup. “It just happened. That’s part of what makes it so fucking cool.” He’s one of three vocalists in Killer Be Killed—another thing that makes it cool. Having three singers allows for collaboration usually reserved for genres like hip-hop or jazz. Rather than trading fiery verses or spindly brass solos, Puciato, Max Cavalera, and Troy Sanders take turns singing, screaming, and harmonizing over songs they almost entirely wrote together. Puciato and Cavalera also play guitar and Sanders is on bass, while Ben Koller, the only non-singing member, provides drums. And they had a ton of fun doing it—perhaps the coolest part of all. Reluctant Hero comes six years after their self-titled debut. They only toured their debut album once, for the 2015 Soundwave Festival in Australia, where they realized they were loving it so much that they couldn’t just leave it at one album.
It had all started with a casual conversation between Puciato—who has fronted The Dillinger Escape Plan and The Black Queen, and released his solo debut just weeks prior to this album—and Cavalera, founding vocalist of Sepultura, who went on to sing in Soulfly among other groups. “We got in a room like little 13-year-olds,” Puciato says. “We didn't use a computer, we put our phones aside, we were just riffing and playing for like a week.” Then, Dillinger was touring with Mastodon, for whom Troy Sanders sings and plays bass. He’d heard about the project by then. “He asked who was playing bass and I was like, ‘I think Max and I were both going to play bass and we’re just going to hire a drummer or something.’ He was like, ‘No, I'm playing bass.’ I said, ‘Oh, all right. Well, I guess you're going to sing too, then. So we'll have three singers and that'll be fucking cool.’” The final addition was Koller—who plays with Converge, All Pigs Must Die, and more—who officially joined the band at the end of the Soundwave shows. “It’s easily the most fun I've ever had in a band,” Puciato says. “Which is why we choose to live together when we’re working on it. We could easily get separate hotel rooms, but we got an Airbnb every time. The recording took two months, so we lived in a house that entire time together: We’d wake up, eat breakfast, go to the studio, get food, go to the bar. It was like summer vacation sleepover when you’re a kid and you just want to stay at your friend's house. That's the only other time I've acted that way.”
The constant vocal baton-passing is a genuine thrill to hear. “Troy and Max have really distinct character voices,” he says. “I'm more of a free roamer, so I feel like I can shape-shift a bit.” You can hear him switch between light melodies and cataclysmic shrieking throughout. Tracks like “Dream Gone Bad” and “Comfort From Nothing” show off the full range of each vocalist, to almost dizzying effect, as they take turns leading verses and choruses, singing and screaming, solos and riffs. Elsewhere, such as on “Left of Center,” they’ll harmonize, creating some of the most exciting moments on the record. Those harmonies were directly inspired by Puciato’s 2019 work with Alice in Chains’ Jerry Cantrell, but more than that, they allowed each singer to experiment with stuff they couldn’t usually do as the only one holding a mic. “It was like, ‘What can I do to embellish this thing that Troy's doing, or this other thing?’ It’s fun to not be the primary vocal. It was really nice after having my whole career as the guy that has to come up with all of it.” Sometimes, they didn’t even need to sing at all. “I really got off on a lot of the guitar playing on this record,” he says. “I’m really stoked on the solo in ‘Inner Calm From Outer Storms.’ It’s this fucking Pink Floyd-y type of thing in the middle of nowhere. Just because you're a singer doesn't mean that you want to be in the front of the goddamn picture the whole time. None of us are like that. I think we all really got off on being in the support role as often as we could.”
“From a Crowded Wound” was one of the only tracks that wasn’t written together. Puciato first penned it in 2010, and considered keeping it for his solo work. “That's my baby, it was me the whole way through—everyone's vocals, all the guitars, the drum pattern. But I couldn't write the vocals and I didn't want to force it.” He eventually realized it wasn’t his voice he needed. “To be able to actually write with someone else's voice was really fucking cool,” he says. “The parts that Max and Troy sang, I heard in their voices. It’s like being a director and you know what actor is playing the role and you can write with them in mind.”
Like the best hip-hop collaborations, there was healthy competition and admiration in each recording session, which, again, can be heard throughout. “Max would do one line and then I’d be like, ‘Oh shit, I want to double that.’ So then I would jump in and double it, and then Troy would be like, ‘Okay, cool. Now that you did that, I'm going to go back and change this thing that I just did.’ It was really organic and exciting and competitive, but productive. You’re fanning out on one another and it’s like, ‘Oh my god, dude. Fuck, that was sick. Thanks, Troy. Now I need to fucking go back and redo that pile of garbage I laid down five minutes ago that I thought was shit hot.’ We just had a really good time with it.”