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KEN mode

KEN mode - Success album art


16th June 2015 – Season Of Mist

01. Blessed
02. These Tight Jeans
03. The Owl…
04. I Just Liked Fire
05. Management Control
06. A Passive Disaster
07. Failing At Fun Since 1981
08. A Catalog Of Small Disappointments
09. Dead Actors

Success is the sixth album from hard-working Canadian noise monsters KEN mode. This brings their album count close to the number of bass players that have joined Matthewson brothers Jesse (guitar/vocals) and Shane (drums) in the line-up since their inception in the nineties.

Their relentless touring has seen KEN mode carve themselves out a distinctive niche all of their own – albeit one that might not have brought them many of the trappings of the traditional notions of Success, itself the loose theme tying this album together.

Taking a step back from the more metal sound of their last effort, 2013′s outstanding Entrench, the band instead chart a course through noise rock territory – a point neatly underlined by their recruitment to the producers chair of Steve Albini, a bona fide living legend who, depending on your age, is either best known for his seminal work with Big Black and Shellac, or for handling the knob-twiddling on Nirvana‘s In Utero. Either way, it’s pretty big news.

And ‘less metal’ should not necessarily be read as ‘less intense’ or ‘less furious’; Success is filled with jagged discordance and artfully marshalled angst, often propelled by a fearsome and filthy bass tone. There’s no track on Success that one could confidently describe as a ballad, despite some quieter moments like languid album closer “Dead Actors“.

Success starts off, however, with a beating. “Blessed” – as testified in the band’s live shows and by the video for the song – sees Jesse swap out his guitar for a second bass, with the results every bit as sludgy and sleazy as one might hope from so much low-end.

With the template laid down, KEN mode are free to tinker with it a bit. “These Tight Jeans” barrels along like a runaway train and is bolstered by guest vocalist Jill Clapham trading lines with Jesse. “The Owl” carries an infectiously swung rhythm and a surprising cello solo that works far better than it has any right to on paper.

The overall results are tremendously exciting, coming across like a cocktail of The Melvins, Unsane, Jesus Lizard and the Dead Kennedys. A good chunk of the distinctive nature of KEN mode’s sound comes from Jesse’s vocal style, which somehow sits between talking, singing and screaming, often simultaneously. This rather unhinged persona adds to the underlying sense of danger that pervades the entire record.

Success is not an entirely straightforward listen, but it is still more accessible than one might initially expect. The songwriting is mature and well-rounded, with plenty of diversity across the track list that still retains a clear and unifying identity throughout – particularly thanks to Skot’s satisfyingly sleazy basslines.

Whilst Success may not be trying to rip your face off as overtly as its predecessors, it is nevertheless a thrilling, compelling, white knuckle ride, – “a stubborn battering ram of perpetual loss” – with only scant moments of respite. So whilst the usual trappings associated with the term may not be strictly relevant, this album is an unqualified success.