01. Counter Culture Complex
02. No; I’m in Control
03. Your Heartwarming Story Makes Me Sick
04. The Terror Pulse
05. The Promises of God
06. Romeo Must Never Know
07. Secret Vasectomy
08. Figure Your Life Out
10. Why Don’t You Just Quit?
[Season of Mist]
It took four albums and more than a decade’s worth of waiting but Winnipeg, Canada’s KEN Mode have finally broken out. They hit it big with their fourth LP Venerable, which won the Juno Award for Heavy Metal album of the year in Canada; since then, they have toured with the likes of Revocation, Kylesa, and The Atlas Moth. Although they’re leagues away from selling out arenas, what success they have achieved lately is by all means well deserved, as the band deliver a unique and explosive performance both on record and even more so live. This is most certainly evident on their newest effort, Entrench, which is not only an exemplary showcase of the trio’s talents, but a perfectly timed icing on the cake and the full stop to an impressive chapter of their career.
Much of this record’s excellence stems from the fact that it is a well-balanced amalgamation of all styles the band had previously delved into. The noise rock-meets-post-hardcore jams are present in spades, and sound just as energetic and punishing as always. KEN Mode live up to their name (an acronym for Kill Everything Now) right from the get-go, as opener ‘Counter Culture Complex’ is perhaps the heaviest song on the album, both in its freight-train verse riffs and agonizing chorus. On their own, the songs that follow suite with this formula do run it a bit into the ground. However, they contain enough standout moments that somewhat neutralize this effect, such as the frantic guitar leads in ‘Why Don’t You Just Quit?’. What’s more, they are sandwiched in a roughly fifty-fifty split by the sludgier, more melancholic tracks like ‘Daeodon’ and ‘The Terror Pulse’.
Experimenting with tempo is not new for the band, but Entrench sees it done as effectively as ever. Actually, this is one of the most crucial factors that make Entrench a resounding success, since it manages to be aggressive, heavy, and maintain a high level of energy without constantly pummeling the listener in the face with loud riffs, angry shouts, and fast-paced rhythms. This doesn’t mean that the slower ambient moments provide much of a relief, because they just offer an alternate approach in generating intensity through suffocating suspense. Even the track ‘Romeo Must Never Know’, which flirts with post-metal soundscapes and whispered vocals , still remains eerie at all times and creates a feeling of constant unease.
Strangely, in addition to being the record’s high point, its variance may also be its greatest weakness. While the different songs do complement each other, they also might divide the listener’s attention. Those seeking a quick blast of chaotic hardcore, as well as those that yearn for the dreary sludge sound, will likely see only an EP’s worth of quality material on Entrench. This is weird because there really is no filler on the album whatsoever, yet by splitting their album in two in an effort to better utilize dynamics, KEN Mode chops up the album’s flow and, ironically, makes it a less accessible listen. The band does sometimes succeed in connecting each successive song with the previous, but Entrench doesn’t manage to grip the listener firmly throughout its entirety like a Converge LP would. Which is a shame, seeing as the band does the ‘slow-burner’ archetype just as well as Converge themselves.
Alas, this is where pretty much all criticism stops. From a production standpoint, for example, the band is spot on, delivering a completely fitting sound that is also distinguishable from that of 2011’s Venerable. Whereas Kurt Ballou created a heavier tribal sound for the latter, new producer Matt Bayles (Mastodon, Alice in Chains, Isis, etc.) makes Entrench sound sharper and much more like a punk album, while drawing a fine line between clarity and warmth. Furthermore, looking purely at instrumental performances, it’s pretty apparent that KEN Mode are much more talented than a large portion of punk – or punk-inspired – bands out there, what with all the syncopated drums and angular riffage. Even the lyrics are, for the most part, crafted masterfully, as they separate the band from the traditionally brute angst of most of their contemporaries. Though, at times, it does seem like the ‘sophisticated’ approach at spewing out hatred is a bit too forced and gimmicky.
On that note, gimmick is probably the worst word to use when it comes to KEN Mode. This is a band that has, since their very inception, thrown all nonsense out of the window. Yes, even this late in their careers, they have come up short in designing a perfectly palatable record, but perhaps that is just the nature of their sound. After all, they take cues from a lot of genres infamous for being abrasive and chaotic. However, that’s where KEN Mode’s beauty lies, since they are one of the very few bands that successfully combine the intricacy and heaviness of metal with the energy and aggression of hardcore, even adding a bit of good ol’ rock’n’roll fun. Entrench might not have its full running time to offer in terms of enjoyability, but whatever it does offer holds enough substance to propel it as one of the year’s true highlights.
KEN Mode – Entrench gets…