KEN Mode - NULL⠀

25 Sep 2022 - Thorsten

Blackened Noise-Rock | Artoffact Records | Release date: 23 Sep 2022 | Favorite song: Lost Grip

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Let’s imagine the following scenario: Band, founded the other side of the millennium; darlings of a small global niche scene; highly influenced by early hardcore and the Melvins, sounding like a crossover between Today is The Day and Converge – and then they finally, officially add a new member and hence change their Venn’s diagram completely. Might go wrong but for KEN Mode it definitely pays off!

Venn’s diagrams are a really nice thing if you want to describe a highly complex entity full of different components. With KEN Mode it was already a difficult thing to describe their sound before as their amalgam of influences and the way they took those and molded them into the characteristic KEN Mode song. But now it is even more complex and multi-faceted so one might need a new Venn’s as seen on the right. On their previous album Loved, Kathryn Kerr was already a guest musician and now, on NULL she has become an official member adding multiple instruments and elements to an even-before highly variable soundscape. Kathryn surely seems to like Blixa Bargeld and Einstürzende Neubauten and she plays (among other instruments) the saxophone, so one should not deny a kind of Zorn-ish vibe to some parts of NULL. For the latter, just listen to the mid-section of ”The Tie”.

Venn's diagram of KEN Mode's influences

Of course, Jesse’s lyrics always deliver on so many levels, but one thing that is striking about this record is the delivery and timing – just like Bargeld and many hardcore shouters of the early phase of North American hardcore, he is able to lead the audience astray by spitting out seemingly simple sentences and then countering them with a few words latter on. The perfect example would be one passage in ”A Love Letter”: “I’d like to congratulate you / I’d like to congratulate you” which might be seen as a compliment or something generally positive until he adds ”for buying into / the exact same narrative as everyone else” and just before topping it off with an often repeated ”something is fucked”. Simple language, some lines repeated several times to engrave them into the audience’s brains, then twisting around, spitting into the faces of the adversaries and revealing them as the source of negativity. When thinking of the quite noisey blackened hardcore that accompanies these lines (plus a short sax part as well), that makes for a perfect opener – this man doesn’t need a psychotherapist, he needs an audience for which he can write and perform, at which he can scream and be screamed at in return. Music as catharsis, perfectly executed.

The amazing level of execution on NULL also surely has to do with the pandemic and one change in the band’s recording procedure. As Jesse describes in our interview, he now recorded all the vocals at home because he spent a lot of time on getting to find the best possible setup and will now never again record the vocals in a studio, because he can now do it as often as he likes and whenever he likes.

One must also mention two tracks on the record that are ”The Tie” - this is a well-distorted, gritty electronic lament in the vein of Nine Inch Nails and with a pumping beat that one might also associate with Industrial pioneers Einstürzende Neubauten. Something similar could be said about ”Lost Grip” but here, it’s not the distortion of some electronic noises but rather the marching drums and then the few crying piano notes and its key-phrases ”So much life when all we bring is rot / I don’t believe that you mean well” - pure sadness in rowdy, feverish noise-minors. And when the track has a mid-level eruption later on it even gets better!

It might sound strange, but this record is a real step forward for KEN Mode – not only in recording and soundscapes but also in songwriting. The whole record is flowing along the noise elements that certainly add a lot of quality to every song, no matter if steeped in hardcore or industrial. And as Jesse said, a second album is basically waiting for release next year, so we can even see this as the first part of a double effort. Wherever this band goes next, I will surely follow them – no matter which scenario they arrive at!