KEN Mode might be one of the most unique bands of the last two decades. Starting in 1999 as a hardcore/noise rock band by brothers, Jesse (guitar/vocals) and Shane Matthewson (drums), the group now encompass a full-time saxophonist/keyboardist and retain the services of their seventh bassist (who joined in 2014). If you’re new to KEN Mode, be prepared – this is the heaviest music your mind cannot imagine. Album number eight will take you to a place beyond suffering, where the trauma is too entrenched to register the pain. Indeed, the Canadians show what can happen when the hysteria locked away inside erodes your ego.
Those of you familiar with Swans’ 1986 album, Greed, will have an idea of the intensity levels on display here. Like M. Gira of the New York no wave legends, Jesse Matthewson performs like a demented madman in the advanced stages of psychosis. “I am a student of predators – it was a mistake to ask me for help,” he roars over the top of Scott Hamilton’s sludgy bass frequencies on opening track, ‘A Love letter’. His guitar work is just as violent. Dissonant chords and out-of-key sequences add another layer of unsettling noise to the mix. This is more unhinged than a junkie in the final throes of cold turkey. Every second of this music throbs with eye-expanding rage. Listen to the jagged guitar shapes of ‘Throw Your Phone in the River’. You can’t accuse Jesse Matthewson of using studio wizardry for his vocal techniques – this is the sound of a man roaring until his mouth coughs up blood. New York experimentalists, The Body, would be proud of the industrial snuff music they serve up on ‘The Tie’. Show this to the person on your next date and see what he/she says. “We should meet up again,” will be the furthest thing from their mind.
Despite the harsh noise samples and eerie saxophone, you can still hear a clear post-metal structure to this music. What else can you call the eviscerating terror of ‘But They Respect My Tactics’ other than avant-garde metal? The only thing missing is a cameo from Greg Puciato (Dillinger Escape Plan). Jesse Matthewson hacks away at his guitar like he wants to snap his strings. Have you heard anything as violent as ‘Not My Fault’? You must be in a dark place – or capable of getting in the mindset of a dark place – to write something like this. The ten minutes of ‘Lost Grip’ should be a struggle, but the paranoia and spectre of insanity keep you engaged like the sight of bodies at a car crash scene. Shane Matthewson’s determination to accent the belching bass notes with a marching snare rhythm only adds to the unease. Kathryn Kerr’s minimalist piano interventions will go unnoticed if you let the band suck you in to their abyss with their screams of “I don’t believe that you mean well.”
KEN Mode try to avoid melody where possible. You’re not supposed to have a good time. If you want entertainment, listen to an AC/DC album. This is the audio equivalent of visiting a Holocaust awareness exhibition. You don’t choose to be a spectator – you do it because you need to be there. It isn’t a sacrifice; it’s a duty. Closing track, ‘Unresponsive’, is your chance to drop to your knees in the snow as you clutch the slash of your wrist and watch the blood stain the white particles. The obsessive industrial loop of the bass and drumbeat is the sound of cabin fever poisoning your mind.
We know not to expect a party album from the Matthewson brothers, but their vision of extreme noise rock is every bit as imaginative and visceral as Botch and Neurosis. There’s a reason why many people are unaware of them – listen to their music. The mainstream would be a dangerous place if KEN Mode were part of it.
Release Date: 23/09/2022
Record Label: Artoffact Records
Standout tracks: A Love letter; But They Respect My Tactics; Lost Grip
Suggested Further Listening: Kollaps – Until the Day I Die (2022), Swans – Greed (1986), Oar – The Blood You Crave (2022)