KEN mode – Success (3 stars)

It may be fresh and thrillingly noisy, but KEN mode's sixth outing is also heavily front-loaded

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KEN mode – Success

On their sixth outing, Winnipeg’s KEN mode boldly step away from the brutal, complex metallic style they’ve been plying since 1999. Instead, they opt for a stripped-back post-hardcore lean and lanky noise-rock sound that references the likes of Dischord and Touch & Go. Naturally, this requires the hiring of Steve Albini, whose presence guarantees raw, powerful and direct sonics.

From barbed feedback is born ‘Blessed’, an astoundingly monstrous opener and the album’s strongest track, based on a colossal, monomaniacal two-note riff, charred around the edges and barely holding itself together. Wiry, louche twin basses cycle beneath sardonic spoken word from Jesse Matthewson, while churning noise from Full of Hell’s Dylan Walker and horrifying howls from Oxbow’s Eugene Robinson further exacerbate the oppressive fury.

The frantic riffs of ‘These Tight Jeans’ nod vigorously in the direction of old-school Fugazi as Matthewson hollers: ‘I would like to kill the nicest man in the world’. Another nigh-spoken piece, ‘The Owl’, rides a louche bass rumble topped with jazzy, surf-gone-wrong guitar sprinkles, detouring into a mournful cello section before reaching a big, bouncy climax.

Manic, punky, scratchy, fidgety, ‘I Just Liked Fire’ finds Matthewson becoming increasingly feral as he worryingly informs an unidentified object of his affection (or possibly homicidal intentions) that he ‘can’t stop thinking about your skin’. And ‘Management Control’, a forceful stomp with a heavy post-punk feel that brings to mind early Killing Joke, forms a solid central pillar.

However, after this mid-point, the album begins to meander. The second half is almost as fiery and furious, but somehow lacks the character of its predecessor, becoming increasingly indistinct, perhaps a touch (& go) too close to its influences. As a closer, ‘Dead Actors’ is predictable, almost obligatory in its mid-paced build from wounded whisper to climactic roar. At its best, Success is potent, fresh and thrillingly noisy, but it’s also heavily front-loaded, making it a victim of its own … well, you know.

KEN Mode - Blessed (official music video)

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