I don’t think anyone is arguing that the pandemic has sucked and took a lot out of people psychologically. A lot of people just gave up caring and did whatever they wanted, other folks’ lives (and their own!) be damned. For others, it was a period of necessary isolation where our existence turned into monotony and worry, often taking a severe toll on our well-being.
Winnipeg-based noise beasts KEN mode felt it too, perhaps more than some other people because their artistic outlet essentially was shut down completely. Being in a music scene and having regular activities around making music created a sense of community for the band, and losing that took a toll psychologically, creating darkness where the despair already was thick. The band eventually broke out of that and ended up on a creative tear, the first portion of that arriving with their monstrous new record “Null,” the first of a two-album arc. The second will arrive in the future, but for now the band—vocalist/guitarist/synth player Jesse Matthewson, his brother and drummer Shane Matthewson, bassist/backing vocalist Skot Hamilton, and new member Kathryn Kerr, who plays saxophone, synth, and piano, and does backing vocals—absolutely delivers a stinging, destructive, violent collection of eight tracks that are the most varied musically of their entire run and contain some of their most direct, blunt lyrical content. If you’ve been following along with KEN mode, you realize how serious that.
“A Love Letter” gets things off to an unsettling, bludgeoning start, Jesse’s vocals taunting and snarling, Kerr’s sax feeling like an unhinged jugular convulsing and puking blood. “It was a mistake to ask me for help,” Jesse wails as things continue to collapse both musically and mentally. “This untasteful place, something is broken, something is FUCKED,” drives home the dagger, the violence of hopelessness angling and gushing, ending this thing in warped gears of machine. “Throw Your Phone in the River” follows that up with mauling intent, the vocals scratching at the throat, guitars burning and striking, giving you no time to take control of your emotions before it’s directly into “The Tie” and its warped pit of noise. Jesse calls over the soundscape as the sax returns like a beast at night watching you, always returning to chill your blood. The warped experience climaxes with further disillusion, Jesse begging, “Let this never actually matter at all.” “But They Respect My Tactics” trounces and tangles as guitars heat up, and the humidity is so thick that breathing turns to gasps. “I’m just trying to keep myself from drowning,” Jesse levels soberly as your senses are battered, and your brain is permanently rewired.
“Not My Fault” brings fluid guitars and an uncharacteristic tempered pace even as the vocals scrape fresh wounds. Things get moodier as the blisters rise, and then the agitation overflows, shouts pummel, and your well-being suddenly is called into question. “Lost Grip” runs 10:02, easily the longest song here, and it lurks steadily, Hamilton’s bass making the scene even more harrowing, the menace starting a slow boil. “I don’t believe that you mean well,” Jesse hisses, a sentiment that keeps popping up throughout this creature, also admitting, “We deserve this.” Desert heat thickens as the pace begins to swagger, slashing senses and bones, rolling in somber soil, letting keys drip as everything finally rests in pulsating ash. “The Desperate Search for an Enemy” wrenches as the vocals attack, the bass flattens, and the guitars carve away. Kerr stalks with her sax playing, your nerves are frayed, and the band keeps punching back, letting the disturbed energy take complete control. Closer “Unresponsive” brings gurgling bass and a clubbing pace that sets the perfect stage for Jesse realizing, “I’m unraveling so much faster than I used to.” That sentiment festers, cold sweat lines palms, and Jesse, almost in a trance recites, “Forgotten, erased, unresponsive, replaced, abandoned,” like it’s been beaten into his head. That devastation manifests itself as the sounds thrash, and the essence disappears in filth and noise.
KEN mode records never are easy terrain nor a place where you want to go feel better about yourself and/or humanity, but “Null” takes that to an even higher, scarier level. This record feels like the end of a long period of mental torment, where the recipient has taken on damage so deep and severe, there may not be any climbing out of that hole. Most of us have been there, some of us still are, and for those settling on the brink, these eight songs prove the tension is real, tangible, and something to lash back at with absolute bloodlust.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/kenmode
To buy the album, go here: https://ken-mode.com/products/ken-mode-null
For more on the label, go here: https://artoffact.com/