KEN Mode – VOID Review

[Cover art by Randy Ortiz]

The current kings of heavy noise last graced our ears not even a year ago with NULL, which served two purposes: first, to continue KEN mode’s pretty flawless track record, and second, to bring saxophonist and keyboardist Kathryn Kerr into the fold as a full member. The move pushed the band’s bludgeoning sludgy noise farther into strange and more outright atmospheric terrain, even if the foundation was still their trademark Kill Everything Now mode with wickedly catchy riffs, Jesse Matthewson’s brutally determined vocals, and flawless rhythm section play (the most important ingredient of any noise rock band).

Release date: September 22, 2023. Label: Artoffact Records.
Well, the NULL session was also appropriately the VOID session, because here we are with the other half, and like NULL, it’s different, but just so. That aforementioned, unflappable Brutal Jesus Lizard foundation remains the band’s core, and Kerr remain a brilliant addition to the band, fitting in so well as an element of both melody and madness as if she’s been in the ranks all along. But where VOID really begins to expand boundaries is through its embrace of melancholy. This is KEN mode at their most melodic, but it’s also KEN mode at their most despondent and depressed. Like many of us over the last several years, these are humans trying to cope, and they aren’t always successful.

It’s this balance of desperate rage and profound dejection that defines the album, often trading off moods between songs. “I Cannot,” for example, is preposterously heavy, driven by Skot Hamilton’s throbbing bass, Shane Matthewson’s pounding drums, and an absolute beating of heavy riffs. Jesse Matthewson’s vocals scream rage at the perpetrators of our failing ecosystems (“I don’t think there is valour in making it to the other side with so many that you despise” is one hell of a biting lyric), while a climax of feedback and honking sax madness amplifies the destruction. A track like “These Wires,” meanwhile, uses piano and almost abject sadness (“Why would anything feel right again?”) to express another point on KEN mode’s wide spectrum of very, very negative emotions. Both songs offer intentionally terrifying music because they’re talking about terrifying real things.

Such is the case with the entire record. “The Shrike” is a fiercely rocking, hard charging opener of a style well-known to long time fans, while “We’re Small Enough” is defined by synths, that pulsating bass, and a ton of texture and melody in the guitars, feeling like the tiniest of respite from all the spite and misery. “Reluctance of Being” offers both sides, beginning rather soft but eventually building in a rather hefty beast, all while communicating the type of hopelessness fitting of that pretty great but very dismal song title.

KEN mode fittingly saved the darkest and most unsettling track for the end, not to mention one of the furthest departures from their usual sound. The instrumentation of “Not Today, Old Friend” is an admittedly rather gorgeous combination of piano, strings, saxophone, and an overall softer approach, but those lyrics, yowzer. The words target the types of insincere people that make a big show of the tiniest bits of kindness and charity, because appearing to care is more important than actually caring:

That kindness, no matter how grating
That concern, no matter how fleeting
That love, no matter how bloodless
Has been noted
And isn’t that what matters?

It’s positively creepy, and designed to not leave you feeling great after you listen to this album. Or maybe it’s a really horrible kind of solidarity and comfort. VOID is very much a headspace album, even more so than NULL, and it’s not necessarily a very healthy headspace. As such, and despite the setting still being some of the best noise metal currently available to ears, you might not be drawn to it as much as some of KEN mode’s more conventionally devastating albums. This has that side, sure, but it just as often decides to be devastating in other ways, and it’ll leave you feeling about as hopeful for the future as, well, looking at a newsreel for more than about half a second.

But then again, misery loves company, and KEN mode is very good company.

Posted by Zach Duvall

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; Obnoxious overuser of baseball metaphors.

  1. KEN Mode is just the best, at making you feel the worst. Kathryn’s an awesome addition, especially live. Can’t wait to see them and feel all my shitty feels again soon! (excellent review as always too)


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