KEN mode, at the core, are two brothers, Shane (drums) and Jesse (guitar/vocals) Matthewson, from Winnipeg, Canada, who have been making music together for all of their adult lives. They formed their band in 1999 and have since gone through quite a few bassists. Currently they are working with Scott Hamilton. Their genre of choice is already visible in the band’s name. KEN mode, or Kill Everyone Now mode, is an expression legendary Black Flag front-man Henry Rollins used to describe his band’s state of mind during their endless touring cycle. Hardcore is to a great extent about anger. KEN mode’s band name thus defines one of the genre’s prime motivations in a nutshell and simultaneously raises expectations about their sound. This is not something you put on to help you fall asleep.
Loved is KEN mode’s first album after a break of about a year, from 2016 to 2017, following a burnout caused by excessive touring. “Nomen est omen”, or history moving in circles. Prior to the burnout, the band and their music, metal and hardcore infused with noise rock, had gained quite a following and received a lot of attention, even internationally and from renowned institutions. The band’s career experienced a major take-off after their album Venerable (2011) won the JUNO, the Canadian music award, and resulted in them playing with big names like Today Is The Day, Kylesa and Deafheaven, appearing at major festivals like Roadburn, and doing a live session for BBC Radio 1.
Their new album is a bit of a turnaround. It shows a departure from the indie/noise punk focused Success (2015) album. And while that makes sense – you can hardly continue like you did before after a burnout – it remains to see how fans will react. The element that contributes the most to a change of the band’s sound is, in my opinion, the addition of a saxophone, played by Kathryn Kerr. The tracks and passages on Loved that feature the sax bring KEN mode’s sound closer to the experimental post metal of Colin Stetson’s Ex Eye than to anything else they have been connected to so far.
Thematically, the new album is a statement of despair. Possibly ironically titled Loved, it deals with consequences of not being loved. You have song titles like Doesn’t Feel Pain Like He Should or Fractures in Adults that point to a lack of love in childhood, and titles like Not Soulmates or This Is A Love Test hinting towards dysfunctional adult relationships.
Musically, the album has a more extreme tone than its predecessors. While the first track, Doesn’t Feel Pain Like He Should, is angry and intense, it does not go beyond the expectations you would have of a band like KEN mode. But already the second track, The Illusion of Dignity, introducing the sax and finishing in crazy, experimental sounds, has the effect of a “Listen up!”, and right away you know that this album is much more than you thought it would be. Track seven, This Is A Love Test, even sounds somewhat jazzy in the spoken word passages. The most ambitious and complex track is probably the last one, No Gentle Art, lasting over eight minutes. If you want to get an idea of what Loved sounds like, give this track a listen.
As I’ve said above, I like the inclusion of the saxophone and the turn towards more experimental sounds. It gives the band’s music a more advanced character. And experimental music is the way to go in order to express the inexpressible.
Loved is not an easy listen. It is exhausting and intense. But if you’re currently in a similar state of mind, if you’re in KEN mode, this could be your soundtrack.