The walls are closing in and the temperatures are rising.
Canadian noise rock outfit KEN Mode is as inventive a group as has emerged from the land of back bacon and snow since the mighty Voivod first sounded its post-apocalyptic yawp in the Quebec woods more than 35 years ago. On the band’s seventh album, Loved, Jesse Matthewson’s buzzing guitar noise, which opens first aural assault on “Doesn’t Feel Pain Like He Should,” could stop the heart of even the most fearless and faithful metal warrior. His brother Shane Matthewson pounds the drums in rhythmic patterns that lean hard into the unexpected. Each beat is a revelation, each bash of cymbal and snare pushing the boundaries of belief as the listener attempts to unravel the sonic savagery within. Is it metal? Punk? Hardcore? Some heretofore unknown amalgamation fused together by a futuristic race that puts mere human intellect to shame?
It’s been said that contemporary heavy music has mostly abandoned its blues-based roots. Indeed, somewhere in the 1990s or early aughts the notion of singing that most sacred of rural music with an amp turned up to 10 became almost alien. Meanwhile, urban dwellers began forging a new series of amalgamated music that didn’t recognize the heartbreak of failed crops and floods but instead focused their intensity on the anonymity of life in decaying concrete empires. It wasn’t quite punk because punk still carried a sense of optimism: You could always overthrow the government or give it a stiff middle finger. This new music suggested that there would be no government to overthrow and that we would have to revert to our most primal instincts to survive.
Those instincts are evident on Loved, an album that may carry one of the most ironic titles of all time. The whole intention here appears to be a prolonged reflection on fear and the impending collapse of reality itself. This is carried out across numbers such as “The Illusion of Dignity,” “No Gentle Art” and “Very Small Men.” There’s no sign of the gentle or genial in those grooves, no notion that we got to get it together and defeat a common enemy. There’s also no reprieve from the full-on assault that the Matthewsons and bassist/vocalist Skot Hamilton carry out across these nine noisy assaults on the senses. The closest, in fact, that the trio comes to a reprieve, to retreating to metal’s groove-oriented roots, is the early moments of “Not Soulmates,” which momentarily burns and shines like some kind of early Metallica exploration before exploding into the full-on KEN Mode composition it is at heart.
Loved, like many such noisy affairs, may not be the kind of album one puts on for repeated, continuous listens. There’s something about the demands it makes on our ears and our souls, something about the way that it reaches in and rips something from our psyches, that makes it the kind of record you reach for only in those moments when it’s absolutely necessary, where catharsis itself is the demand of the day. That doesn’t make this set any less necessary. If you need reminding that the world is a frightening place, that the walls are closing in and the temperatures are rising, then these rhythms and alien grooves may be the thing for you. Keep in mind, it’s not a depressing jam: Raging against all of the horrors of the world may ultimately be futile but it doesn’t mean we can’t try a little bit of anger and a whole lot of rage to get through the dark nights of the soul.