Music Reviews

KEN mode Entrench

(Season of Mist) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

Canadian metallic hardcore trio KEN mode are one of the more recent acts to be pegged with the meaningless title of “hipster metal,” as, despite their near-fifteen years together as a band, the group has garnered sudden interest in the indie world with their latest sludge feast, Entrench. “Apparently we are now 'hipster' metal and a perfect example of everything that's wrong with American metal,” said the band in a Facebook post regarding an article which sites them as a part of the “Brooklynization” of heavy metal. Now, I’m not entirely sure whether or not “hipster metal” actually exists or if it’s just a slur invented by bitter purists opposed to the Arcade Fire-favoring crowd, but saying that it does for argument sake, how exactly would KEN mode fit this trendy stereotype? Sure, the group's growing exposure in indie-ville may inspire more Williamsburg natives to buy their new album, but does this mean that these underground metal veterans are catering to the perpetually trendy like the “hipster” tag implies? If so, then Brooklyn is becoming one dark, brutal place, because almost nothing about Entrench suggests the group is trying to make friends.

Like the rest of KEN mode’s catalog, Entrench holds nothing back and takes no prisoners with its napalm barrages of sludgy, sinister hardcore. Despite being limited to three members who largely stick to the core elements they provide throughout the album, there isn’t a single moment on Entrench that doesn’t feel fully fleshed out and colossal, as songs either confront the listener like a rabid dog on a chain or force those to wallow in pure dread. The group proves they’re a great metal/hardcore group immediately following the string flourish that starts up opening track Counter Culture Complex, proving to be some sort of missing link between the short-circuited chaos of Converge and the blunt force trauma of Unsane. And while Entrench isn’t a significant departure from the group’s well-defined sound, there are just enough subtle progressions and refinements present throughout to cement the album as something of a definitive statement that makes the group's increased exposure well-earned.

The eleven robust tracks on Entrench are memorable not simply because of their animalistic intensity, but because they’ve taken that energy and fine-tuned it into some expertly crafted songs. Whereas some bands may spend each album trying to one-up the rest of the competition in terms of heaviness, brutality feels almost second nature to a group like KEN mode, as their visceral energy naturally emanates out every mangled riff and cathartic chorus. Even the shortest, most combustible tracks, like Your Heartwarming Story Makes Me Sick, Secret Vasectomy, and the knotty Why Don’t You Just Quit? sound fleshed out and densely packed within their two-and-a-half minutes, allowing them to stand well on their own while keeping the agro-atmosphere of the album intact.

KEN mode's strict persistence in being KEN mode makes it hard to argue that the group is now following some blogosphere trend, but then this begs the question of what exactly is KEN mode in the first place. There are some easy answers to this: a hardcore band, a metal band, a LOUD band, for instance. But listening through Entrench complicates this simple categorization through the surprising level of diversity the group displays. The manic, gymnastic riffs of Counter Culture Complex and The Promises of God hint at the unpredictable intensity and mathematical precision of hardcore groups like Botch and Drive Like Jehu, while bloodshot stoner wrecking balls like The Terror Pulse and No; I’m In Control cast the group as something of a doom/sludge metal outfit. However, a number of tracks, like Figure Your Life Out, manage to incorporate elements of both simultaneously, combining bits of hardcore shrapnel and crushing sludge metal ooze.

The first minute of Figure Your Life Out, however, hints at the gloomy atmospheric side of KEN mode explored in a few tracks, which manages to bring an even greater level of versatility to their sound. While much of Entrench is firmly stuck in the “Kill Everything Now” mode of the group’s namesake, there are a few tracks that call for more room to stalk before going for the throat. Romeo Must Never Know, for instance, feels like it’s constantly building up and plotting its strike, as foreboding guitar and bass riffs meet disparate piano lines soar and dive for seven minutes before attacking with Secret Vasectomy. The album's final track, Monomyth, is a dense, foggy piece that drastically stands out from the rest of the album, as melancholy strings, a lonely guitar line, and vocals so far in the distance that they’re barely audible brings things to a solemn close after a long, exhausting trip.

Aside from this last track, almost nothing about Entrench feels at all passive or meant to cater to anyone. Just look at the track titles: Your Heartwarming Story Makes Me Sick, Figure Your Life Out, Why Don’t You Just Quit? These aren’t simple suggestions; these are orders, often barked at the listener with demanding authority. The most telling, however, is No; I’m In Control, which the band blares in unison during the tracks' close. Consider this statement a message to those concerned with their increasing notoriety. No matter what blog or publication will throw them and their latest album praises, KEN mode will undoubtedly be the ones in control of themselves.