KEN Mode, Canada’s Answer to …

I like to tell people I’m not a heavy metal fan, but it’s not strictly true. First I was. Then I wasn’t. Now, I’m secretly a fan. I can trust you with that secret, can’t I? My metallic history starts right before hair metal, when Iron Maiden and Judas Priest were on top, just before the LA-based hair metal wave broke. I got sucked in to spandex-clad, teased-hair brand names of that period. Now, I’m a cyclist, a spandex-clad helmet-hair user of brand names, completely different. Hair metal bored me, eventually, since each new LA-based hair metal band seemed different only in their custom-painted, oddly-shaped guitars. I left heavy metal behind. Hardcore punk didn’t quite satisfy either. It was aggressive, but where hair metal was about looking the part, hardcore was about yelling the part. I can’t yell that much for fear of being addicted to cough drops. If neither one works, what’s next? How about both at once: metallic hardcore? Count me in! That brings me to KEN Mode, specifically, their recently released album Entrench.

Entrench by KEN Mode

Entrench by KEN Mode

In my very first blog post many weeks ago (it felt longer), I wrote about Converge. Converge left me smelling white pepper. KEN Mode leaves me about to sneeze. That comparison tells you nothing about the music, but everything about my mildly scrambled brain. Converge is from Boston. KEN Mode is from Winnipeg. Obviously Winnipeg puts more allergens in their metallic hardcore.

So what, really, is metallic hardcore or metalcore? From hardcore, it takes a kind of yelled/growled vocals that are more human sounding than shrieks or Cookie Monster vocals. Hardcore also provides the general rhythmic structure, fast-ish and regular, but riding on top of this is another metal-derived rhythmic structure made up of the emphasized bass notes or drum beats. In other words, polyrhythm. Basically, the hardcore portion gets you jiggling while the metal-emphasis gives you reason to whip your hair back and forth. Add in guitars that sound like dissonant power tools the size of jet planes and topics that are full of personal anguish or anger and you’ve got metallic hardcore, along with 4.5 billion related metal subgenres. To my ears, the key difference is the genuine specific emotion in metallic hardcore as compared to the more generalized vaguer emotion for other styles of metal.

So, who/what is KEN Mode? It’s a band of two Canadian brothers, Jesse Mathewson (vocals/guitar) and Shane Mathewson (drums), and one American bassist, Andrew LaCour. They’ve won the Juno award, album of the year in Heavy Metal/Hard Music, for their fourth album Venerable. Here, Juno is not the eponymous teen from that cute movie, but a prestigious award for Canadian bands. The “KEN” part of their band name stands for “Kill Everyone Now” … hold off on the eye rolling … inspired, perhaps, by the song by fellow Canadian brother-based punk band Nomeansno. To be fair, “fellow Canadian” is about as precise as saying Hüsker Dü (from Minneapolis) shares something with the Dead Kennedys (from San Francisco).

On their fifth album, Entrench, KEN Mode improves upon the prior album, Venerable (produced by metalcore god Kurt Ballou). For a one song overview of the album, “No; I’m in Control” gives you the aggressive fuzzy guitar/bass, a personally-anguished non-Satanic vocal and a defiantly chantable lyric (also the title). Immediately afterwards, you’re greeted by a more conventional extreme metal song “Your Heartwarming Story Makes Me Sick”. More conventional is not bad, it’s just a little less distinctive. More distinctively hardcore is “The Terror Pulse” where a dissonant guitar chord sounds enough like a train whistle that I panicked about a train that would have been several miles from the nearest track. “Romeo Must Never Know” shows the virtuousity of the band, not in any flamboyant runs, but it in the way they translate a harsh sound into a more contemplative song complete with acoustic guitar and piano. It’s many, not all, of the above-mentioned metallic hardcore elements, but at 3, instead of 10. It should terrify me, but “Secret Vasectomy” infects me sonically and neurologically, leaving me both exhausted and sneezy.

On the whole, this reminds me of a metallic version of Pissed Jeans where actual adults sing about actual adult things, using a genre thought to serve rebellious youth. If I were me, I’d buy it, but not again. One copy is enough.

8 thoughts on “KEN Mode, Canada’s Answer to …

  1. You’re a better music lover than I am. (I haven’t given this band a listen. Instead, I took some syrup of ipecac and I’m going to carry on about the good ol’ days.)

    There was artistic expression in the metal I loved. Metal musicians were performers and artists. When I went to see a metal band, I went to see artists perform. Iron Maiden and Judas Priest were among the bands I loved to watch perform. I wore out my JP cassette tapes but I’m listening to Sad Wings of Destiny in the boombox in my head as I type my crotchety old dude babble rant.

    Performance and expression in metal morphed into something that really turned me off. By the end of the 80s, I stopped giving metal my eyes and ears. And my money. It wasn’t on purpose. I didn’t decide. I just didn’t sense that many performers were artists. And it was still expensive back then to bother to listen to a band’s music. As a broke artist, I couldn’t gamble with what little money I had.

    I still don’t bother with much new music. Not so much because I’m crotchety, rather because I’m old. I’m old and I keep buying remastered versions of other old people’s stuff as well as their new stuff because I want them to be afford to keep their teeth as we age together.

    Crotchety Old Dude
    /end babble rant

    • I left metal for awhile, too. Now, that I’m back (I’m a part-time fan), I like some of what I see. I think there’s artistic expression, but it can be more emotionally creative — full of darkness and anger — and not quite as musically creative, strictly speaking. It’s not pretty. It’s not clarifying. It’s not wisdom, that I can see. It is a specific emotional visceral connection. That’s where it works for me. Also, I do like that it’s a little obnoxious, so that I have a fairly good chance of being the only one to like it in my circle — it won’t get boring as quickly and I’ll feel ‘special’ a little longer (childish, but true).

      I wouldn’t claim to be a better music lover than anyone. I do seek novelty, and newness can be novel. Also, listening to some of my old well-loved music puts me mentally exactly where I was when I first found it. I don’t want to go back there. It was icky! The Pixies, for example, are awesome, but I remember being alone in an apartment, with my best friends having moved away or died, and having to both work full time and go to school full time. It was such a lonely empty time and the Pixies bring me back to that.

      In the future, I’ll probably remember this time as one where my creativity erupted, sometimes painfully, and might hold a grudge against whatever I listen to now.

      • I thought I replied but I could tell when I hit submit something was wrong… /sigh. [profanity. lots and lots of profanity]

        Anyway, to summarize, a new soundtrack for a new life sounds brilliant to me.

        (Funny how losing a long response can take me straight to the point.)

  2. Why are you only telling me about KEN mode now?!! I need them. I need them. I need them.

    Another copy sold – go claim your commission!

    • Time for the truth
      Version 1: I’ve been holding out on you. I’ve been stringing you along with stories of goats and polka, just knowing you’d love these guys.
      Version 2: I just discovered them myself when I spent 5 minutes scanning a site full of reviews, looked at the album cover, read the first sentences of the review, shrugged my shoulders and bought it. I found out later I had heard of them when I was trying to find a band like Converge.

      My commission is on the way: a dirty sweat sock with some strangely placed crusty substance. Should I forward it to you instead?

      • Call me paranoid, but it’s version 1 all the way for me. As for the commission, mail it to your nearest manifestation of government, that should smash the system (or maybe just repulse it a little); either way it’ll save you the trouble of disposal.

    • I didn’t. At the time, I lived in a very conservative part of the country. In our isolated cave, there was only one non-boring haircut: a guy with a Mohawk. When I last visited, there were tattoos and piercings galore.

      Also, I overheat spectacularly. Imagine taking off a suit jacket to have sweat pattern look like a second suit jacket (true story).

Am I wrong?