KEN MODE- ‘NULL’
I know the last few years haven’t been much fun for any of us, but somebody needs to check in on the members of KEN Mode immediately. If the sound of this, the Canadian outfit’s eighth album, is anything to go by, their spirits might be well and truly broken.
While the band’s last full-length was a fast, furious, Steve Albini-assisted return to top form, ‘NULL’ is something else. This is ultra-effective, utterly uncompromising, relentlessly intense music cut loose from scenes or trends- the sonic equivalent of a splinter that you just can’t get out from under a nail, the soundtrack to some horror movie that should never be made, eight tracks of contemporary-living terror.
Opener ‘A Love Letter’ is anything but. It starts with a few seconds of what sounds like distant lullaby singing, just quiet enough to get you to turn up the volume and lean close before unleashing a feral howl and biting your ear off. The opening squall is overtaken by a squirming, scorched earth riff which incorporates shrieking saxophone and eerie radio static before the track ends with frontman Matthewson screaming what might as well be source code for his band, “Something is broken. Something is fucked”. It’s a visceral, exhausting listen that feels like the kind of song other bands would finish an album with, but, for today’s KEN Mode, it’s positioned right up front. It sets the tone.
Where before it has felt like there were two bands fighting for dominance, no, fighting for survival, within KEN Mode- a hacked-off hardcore outfit and arty noise rockers- now the two have joined forces. Even the most sparse, discordant moments here possess poisonous and striking weight. And even the sub-three-minute ragers possess a lumbering, lurching, truly disconcerting quality. Devastation in sync. ‘NULL’ is so effective in fact that the only issue might be that no one will want to listen to it more than once.
’Throw Your Phone in the River’ isn’t just a solid gold song title, it’s a tense, sinewy track that very well could have clawed its way off of an unreleased Converge album. ‘The Tie’ is a Trent Reznor fever dream, a jabbing, jarring, industrial dirge. And ‘Lost Grip’ layers eerie feedback, sparse piano and dread rumble into what might be a paean for the death of the planet. “This is a dying land, and we don’t care”, howls Matthewson, sounding as hopeless as I feel. It is compelling listening for its entire 10-minute runtime, but the urge to pull your headphones out and escape to something slightly less terrifying is undeniable.
It’s pretty damn impressive for any band making this sort of music to still be kicking out their jams some 20 years after forming, but KEN Mode aren’t simply keeping on keeping on here, they’ve just released their best ever record, a defining statement of frustration and fury and fuck-you noise.