Canada's KEN MODE has been doling out its unique blend of sonically and emotionally heavy music since the turn of the millennium. The band's sound includes elements of metallic hardcore and sludge wrestling atop a solid bedrock of noise rock. Sometimes dark and brooding, always ferocious, the group continues to shock and awe with a singular styled approach that is as immediate and visceral as it is pensive and sublime. The Winnipeg, Manitoba-based band instantly made waves with its debut, "Mongrel" (2003), before it burst into uncharted waters with vastly improved releases like "Venerable" (2011) and "Entrench" (2013). The ensemble returns now with its seventh long player: "Loved".
Subsequent to the aforementioned back-to-back barnburners, KEN MODE released "Success", an effort that stood head and shoulders above the majority of the competition, but it was lackluster as a KEN MODE release considering what the unit is capable of. Compared to the rest of the catalogue, "Success" is a more linear and sonically subdued. After a few years away from the fracas, the trio—including the brothers Jesse and Shane Matthewson as well as Scott Hamilton—returns the freight train from the detour back onto the tracks it was following on "Entrench", which preceded "Success". In a nutshell, "Loved" is less indie rockin' and more noise rockin', but it's more than that. Off-kilter grooves and metallic hardcore mesh with post-hardcore aesthetics and include a sense of urgency throughout. As the record begins with "Doesn't Feel Pain Like He Should", it's clear that the trio has indeed upped the ante. KEN MODE has become even more vicious. There's a tangible sense of rage that is presented with coarseness, a slight rough-around-the-edges feel and a spastic quality that encompasses confidence and more than just a little bit of competence in terms of technical precision and delivery. It's busy without feeling like an exercise in excess, nor is it a senseless blur. There is a method to the madness.
Elsewhere, "Feathers & Lips" proves to be one of the heaviest songs of both the album and the group's entire career. Jesse sounds like he's frothing at the mouth like a rabid, enraged dog while the surrounding cacophony comes across as though they are JESUS LIZARD on crack. Meanwhile, "Learning To Be Too Cold" plumbs the depths of post-hardcore atmospherics without sacrificing an ounce of heaviness.
KEN MODE, the first word being an acronym for Kill Everyone Now, most overtly dabbles experimentally with the tasteful, occasional employment of saxophone that adds an impressive layer of sound, texture and contrast. The instrument is used towards an explosive ending in punchy bursts in "The Illusion Of Dignity". Elsewhere, it is more appropriately woven into the calm ambience of "This Is A Love Test", augmenting the track's ominous jazz essence. Later, the instrument takes on a repetitive and hypnotic groove-laden shape in "No Gentle Art".
The trio's latest batch of songs can be utterly anxiety inducing, or anxiety relieving, depending on how one may wish to, or be able to, process what's going on. Collectively, on a musical and vocal level, there's a sense of struggle and survival underpinning "Loved". While plenty of heavy hitters in the hardcore arena have been content with driving tropes and clichés into the ground, as well as by attempting to impress with mindless, brute force, KEN MODE has stood apart because of its genuine quest to travel a unique path toward self-expression, one that can be ridden with angst as much as it can with fragility.