Album Review: KEN mode – Void

Album Review: KEN mode - Void
Reviewed by Dan Barnes

Canadian alternative Noise Rock act, KEN Mode, follow up last year’s Null album with the inevitable Void record, this one taking a more melancholic direction than its predecessor. Once again, the brothers Matthewson and bassist, Scott Hamilton are joined by multi-instrumentalist, Kathryn Kerr, whose piano and saxophone add nuanced flourishes throughout the eight song, forty minute duration.

The inclusion of Kathryn does not signify KEN Mode are changing direction wholesale but are benefitting from the inclusion of more varied scope. The Shirke kicks things off in a typically unsettling manner, drawing comparisons to the likes of Today Is the Day and Unsane with its stark Noise approach and screeching vocal delivery. Jangling chords combine with thick, crushing lines, supplemented at bass level and sets Void up nicely.

This is the blueprint used by KEN Mode throughout, yet the band don’t shirk tweaking the machine as they go: whether that’s juxtaposing the driving anger of We’re Not Small Enough with flights of keyboard fancy and introducing spacious passages akin to Salvation-era Cult of Luna; or rumbling hardcore and avant-garde progression of the fantastically named, He Was a Good Man, He Was a Taxpayer.

Album Review: KEN mode - Void

One of Void’s longer tracks is These Waves, which embellishes its extended run-time with ambient touches of slow arpeggios and soft piano, allowing the music to rise and fall, while having an unmistakeably Mike Patton kind of flavour to the mid-section.

Kathryn’s full talents are used throughout Void, her saxophone appearing to contradict the edgy hardcore noise of Painless; to complement to the squealing, tortured guitars of the dissonant I Cannot; and to give a sense of brooding darkness to the ominous fuzz and hypnotic, judgemental drums of A Reluctance of Being. I’ve rarely heard saxophone used in such a way, and to such an effect, since Jørgen Munkeby’s Norwegian blackjazz theoreticians, Shining. And, while not as upfront, Void’s application of woodwind instrumentation is equally experimental.

To further confirm the unfettered ideology of the record, KEN Mode end with Not Today, Old Friend, a haunting – and haunted – jazz-based, psychedelic tune that borders on being almost a conjuring of sorts. Whereas elsewhere on Void there are complimentary moments when harsh noise and ambient passages form an uneasy union, here the aggression is forsaken in favour of emotion.

Taken as a whole, Void is a fine record and acts as a sibling piece to the earlier Null; and, if possible, listen to both back-to-back for the most rewarding experience.

I’m sure you’re wanting to know which one is Ken. Brace yourself, for there is no Ken! Rather it is a comment on the how Black Flag’s Henry Rollins would describe his band’s state of mind during the seemingly eternal touring cycle of their My War album: He’d refer to it was a Kill Everyone Now Mode; though I do like the idea of Kenneth Mode forming and naming a band after himself.

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