The definition of success varies from individual to individual. Some view the obtaining of material belongings and financial clout as the pinnacle of the term. Others, more in touch with humanity and it’s wildly unpredictable nature, find success at the end of the creation of art. Whatever. KEN mode can count their fifth album, Success, as a triumph, regardless of the words meaning. Much has already been said about the “new” direction that the Canadians have taken but the fifth in a long line of sublime releases could very well be the crowning glory of this bands career. So far.
This stripped back sound is the culmination of years of tinkering with dynamics, tempo and dissonance. It doesn’t hurt that Steve Albini was the man behind the control panel. The engineering legends trademarks can be found throughout Success, without ever domineering the music itself. The booming snare drums and jangling, analog guitars have more impact than any modern trope. Superior Drummer and eight string guitar fans take note: this is how music should be recorded. It’s so obvious that this is an organically performed record. Going back and listening to other metal albums released this year will be a chore. Albini’s influence can definitely be attributed as an additional member on this album. His behind the scenes work blends perfectly with the instruments and vocals, creating a new beast. A snarling, furious beast at that.
“Blessed” has a gargantuan double bass guitar attack that knocks riffs from wall to wall, showcasing exactly how much noise three musicians can make. The blood curdling strings that help close the track are also eerily similar to the opening notes of Entrench. There are enough bombastic, bass heavy riffs present to draw comparisons to the last album, but the new jams veer pretty far from familiar ground. “These Tight Jeans” and “Management Control” have an urgency and energy that mashes punk attitude with post rock structure. The somber strings in the latter pull together a hushed sense of anticipation before blowing up. There are countless moments where the band riff on repeated motifs, toying with the quiet to loud dynamic; no overdubs or layers of effects here, just the abuse of stringed and skinned instruments. Dissonance and angular rhythms pollute the airwaves, staples of the Winnipeg band’s discography that “The Owl” loves to lay onto the listener. The new sound of the band has them playing their hearts out, leaving bloodied strings and sticks all over the shop.
This record is completed by a vocal display so raw and impressive, it’s hard to imagine that a more personal or scathing performance will be heard for years to come. Matthewson’s voice cracks on lines delivered with gusto and venom, his raconteur poetry seething with sharp tongued wit; again, a performance devoid of studio wizardry or manipulation. His blend of spoken word and cutting screams is one of the most recognizable across all of the heavy genres, delivering lines like “I can’t stop thinking about your skin” in a manner like no other.
It’s blatant to see why their home country saw fit to award them with one of their top accolades. KEN mode reach into a part of themselves, drawing from influences that have shaped them into the beings that they are. This is a love letter to bands with a do it yourself, fuck everyone else motto. Success more than lives up to its title, a shining example of what can be done when all frills are left at the door. Some of the chaos and hardcore is absent, true, but an open heart approach to writing loud, brash music is far more bold than sticking to the same old tricks.
Ken Mode’s Success gets…