I was already excited to review this album, but after reading Patrick Lyons’ article about “hipster metal” I had to step in and make this post a priority today. The article examines the shrinking gap between indie rock and heavy metal and how this has resulted in numerous bands who may be shunned by the metal community for their questionable influences. The point of the piece is somewhat difficult to identify, as it reads like a meandering endorsement of KEN mode’s newest album, Entrench, while playing devil’s advocate, suggesting that “true” metal fans are weary of an “indie-friendly sound.” If snarky Brooklynites are tickled silly by abrasive, jagged, brain-bruising heaviness, then yes, this is “indie-friendly.”
According to the social scientists over at Reader’s Digest, Canada is the third most polite country in the world. KEN mode’s music is one of the chief reasons Canada didn’t land the top spot. If there was ever a soundtrack for a post-traumatic stress breakdown followed by a multi-territory baseball bat rampage this is it. KEN mode has been a model of intense consistency and this album still achieves an even more dynamic and barbed sound than previous releases.
From the opening, quivering strings of “Counter Culture Complex” there’s an uneasy, unhinged quality to this collection of songs that immediately engages the listener. “No; I’m In Control” delivers Entrench’s most lethal breakdown, threatening to smash the album itself under the weight of it’s own power. At its most ferocious the album compares favorably to pre-Relapse Dillinger Escape Plan; the songs twist just enough that you can’t fully identify what sort of animal is ripping you apart, but it’s working on its third limb. Other highlights include “The Promises of God” and “Why Don’t You Just Quit,” which both snarl and stare you down with a glare that could gouge eyes.
There are also moments of restrained anger on this album, from the slimy, Deadguy-esque crawl of “The Terror Pulse,” to the whispered electro-goth charm of “Romeo Must Never Know.” KEN mode also weave unexpected sounds into these songs (like the subtle MicroKorg hum leading into “Figure Your Life Out” and splashes of shoegaze) to build inspiring moments of contrast, which is the whole reason the album closer “Monomyth” works. The bleak, elegiac string arrangement feels like it’s tucking the album into its coffin and kissing it goodnight. it’s a surprisingly gentle conclusion to such a punishing album, and it also allows me to consider the word “monomyth” while feeling like an accomplished English minor with my Joyce VS. Campbell deconstruction of the word’s purpose. Wait, did name-dropping James Joyce just make me a hipster?
I’ve never understood the need to separate metal fans into different factions or bands into a million sub-genres. If there are talented people playing heavy music (as the Matthewson brothers and Andrew LaCour are doing so well in KEN mode) then I won’t hold it against them if a few skinny-jeaned Williamsburg residents watch with folded arms at one of their shows. The fan base does not define the band, and a small sample of the fan base especially does not. This is vicious, complex music that transcends post-(insert genre here) classification and kills everything, now.
Listen to the album to form your own opinion and purchase it here: http://kenmode.bandcamp.com/album/entrench
(Their whole discography is available on Bandcamp. Say goodbye to your afternoon.)
Or head over to Season of Mist, their stellar record label, and check out tour dates and merch: http://www.season-of-mist.com/bands/ken-mode
And check out their official website over at: http://www.ken-mode.com/