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Monday 23 November 2020

Reviews: Killer Be Killed, Kepler Ten, Hello Operator, Highwater (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Killer Be Killed: Reluctant Hero (Nuclear Blast)

Supergroups on the whole don't tend to stand the test of time, they are mostly one-and-done groups coming together for one album and then going back to their respective bands, and that dear reader is the point as supergroups are invariably side/collaborative projects between musicians that tour and record with other bands. In the case of Killer Be Killed bands such as Mastodon, the home base of Troy Sanders (vocals/bass) and Soulfly/Cavalera Conspiracy, Max Cavalera's (vocals/guitar) babies are rarely off the road and while Greg Puciatio (vocals/guitar) is no longer touring with The Dillinger Escape Plan he has his new project Black Queen to keep him busy. No wonder then that the follow up to their 2014 self titled album has taken so long to come, but according to Sanders the band have been coming together sporadically and writing this record in secret to take a little bit of the pressure off, leading to a surprise release. 

In this instance surely the pandemic has helped allowing the members to concentrate on this new record without the rigours of touring with their 'main' bands. Back in 2014 Paul H gave Killer Be Killed an 8/10 calling it: "an impressive album which combines the talents of four excellent musicians" singing the praises of all three vocalists along with the drummer Dave Elitch who doesn't return on Reluctant Hero replaced by Ben Koller of Converge/Mutoid Man (a member of the band since Killer Be Killed's debut show in 2015). He's no slouch either bringing a varied drumming style on the sludgier tracks like Inner Calm From The Outer Storms which opens with some Mastodon-esque grooves and Sanders' vocals taking the lead before things speed up ready for Max to spit with that aggression we all recognize. 

Vocally the most expansive is Greg who screams, snarls and sings across the record which like the debut straddles numerous genres from Filthy Vagabond which shifts from has a punchy hardcore power into thrashier realms while From A Crowded Wound is a throbbing spacey track with an unstoppable groove riff that close it out meanincingly. They have carried over all of what made their debut so good but added to it with Reluctant Hero it's a much more calculated release, diligently trying to explore more soundscapes than their debut meaning that this record is beyond a mere fusion of the three vocalists' own styles with a healthy amount of differentiation from their collective influences to make this album one of the pleasant surprises 2020 has given to us (about time right?). 8/10  

Kepler Ten: A New Kind Of Sideways (White Star Records)

Finally! After what seems like a long time (though it's only been four years ) Kepler Ten return with their follow up to 2017's Delta V. I fell in love with the bands mix of AOR-meets-prog rock which reminded me of Grace Under Pressure-era Rush (the band are also still a Rush tribute) as the songs are heavily led by synths, with a rock edge, however they still have epic run times, moving things towards the earlier sounds of Rush and American prog metal band Dream Theater. A New Kind Of Sideways is a semi-conceptual record with the trio of James Durand (vocals/bass/keys) Steve Hales (drums/piano) and Alistair Bell (guitars) concentrating on the fact that “as human beings we are all the same and have a duty of care and responsibility towards each other regardless of age, race, gender or sexuality.” 

A heady concept that is worked through the emotive nature of each track with the album having numerous reflections on what has come before especially on the 18 minute closing number One And The Same which makes reference to opening instrumental Universal. Having had a successful time after Delta V the band have played Lonely Robot (featuring White Star Records bossman John Mitchell) , Von Hertzen Brothers and HRH Prog VI, the wait for a second album has been very anticipated by myself and other prog fans, so what has the intervening years meant for this second album? Well we open with the instrumental as I've said however Clarity is the first song proper and it's the ideal introduction to what Kepler Ten do with a melodic edge to some powerful prog rock backing, it's radio friendly dare I say poppy, but with a heavy rock punch to it. 

Following this things get a bit more old school on Falling Down which is very much more AOR-flavoured song with lots of bubbling synths, clean guitar lines over driving lead bass and the soulful vocals that bring to mind some of the Frontiers acts, Icarus Eyes does the same with a powerful  Weaver takes a much more progressive, darker, route full of lush orchestrations ala Lonely Robot, with the darker tones continuing on the albums big ballad These Few Words. The musical dexterity here is belied by the catchiness of the songs, and yeah ok they do half inch the bass riff from Distant Early Warning on A New Kind Of Sideways as the rest of the song shifts into Yes realms. For prog fans A New Kind Of Sideways is a tour-de-force of technically proficient, but more importantly totally accessible modern prog rock with all the classic traits, it's magnificent. 9/10            

Hello Operator: S/T (Aviator Entertainment)

I'm unsure if Hello Operator were named after The White Stripes song of the same name but there is a distinct indie/garage rock sound to the band that brings in the pounding fuzz thump of Royal Blood on I Created A Monster, some The White Stripes-like riffage on King Solomon as well as big heap of The Arctic Monkeys when things slow down on Strangers In The Rain and The Choreographer much of this comparison comes from the voice of the singer who has that Alex Turner sneer. The band have been called ferocious by other publications and they really bring a massive riffs to more mainstream songwriting, I'd go as far as to say that Toronto band are very much Radio 1 fodder and will get a lot of airplay on the 'alternative' radio stations that deal with the guitar driven music that balances pop and rock. With just one EP before it this self titled full length gives the band numerous chances to show off their differing styles and their obvious musical talent. Expect big things as they will be playing everywhere soon I'm sure, for me though it's all a bit familiar to be overly entertaining. 6/10

Highwater: Mother Nature (Self Released)

Retro blues rocking? Must be Swedish! Yep yet more 70's inspired blues rocking from the Scandinavians who follow up their 2018 EP with this full length debut that has the choppy hip shaking blues rock of Free on Falling (In Love Again), The Allman Brothers (Roll On Down) and a little bit of Stevie Ray Vaughn on the skuttle-buttlin title track. There doesn't seem to be a huge amount of information on the band but from what I can seem they are a tight four piece of vocals/guitar/bass/drums harking back to the 70's rock hayday of blues influenced bands such as Mountain, where steady rhythm sections brought groove and power, the guitars were channelling the influence of those bluesmen with a bit of distorted rocking with the exception of Someone To Blame which is 'proper' blues that reminds me a little of Gary Moore as the vocalist brings a soulful presence moving from a low croon to a higher delivery. It does make you beg the question does the world need another Swedish blues rock band with lots of retro imagery and sound? Well probably not but Highwater deliver the good well enough if you've never stepped out of the past. 6/10 

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