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KEN mode | Loved

The Winnipeg noise-rockers return to sludgier shores and subterranean depths.

I forget when I first encountered KEN mode singer-guitarist Jesse Matthewson. But I remember where it happened. It was in the studio of UMFM, the campus radio station at Winnipeg’s University of Manitoba. I was there because I was a semi-regular guest on my buddy and former co-worker Rob Williams‘ long-running Friday-morning punk show Cretin Radio. Jesse was there because he had a noise-rock show — titled Killing Time Dead … Literally with his typically dark, deadpan drollery — that aired after Cretin Radio. Eventually, I learned he was also in a band with his brother Shane (who also showed up at the station now and then) on drums — and that they were both studying business administration at the school. At the time, I assumed that like most people, their group would play some local gigs, maybe put out an indie single or EP, then gradually fade away after they graduated, grew up and got corporate gigs. Obviously, I greatly underestimated the Matthewsons’ unwavering commitment, boundless work ethic and stubborn determination. Since those early days, Jesse and Shane (and their Spinal Tap-ish succession of bassists) have single-mindedly bulldozed through every hardship and obstacle, slowly but surely turning KEN mode from basement-band upstarts into a globally respected touring outfit and award-winning recording act. Of course, it helps that they’ve always had the musical goods. From the beginning KEN mode have forged a sound that perfectly matches their resolve: A brutally punishing metal maelstrom that can strip the paint off your car, jar the fillings from your teeth, liquify your internal organs and drive you to the brink of murder (it’s no wonder their name is an acronym for Kill Everyone Now mode, as coined by Henry Rollins in his Black Flag diary Get in the Van). And they show no signs of relenting on their ironically titled seventh full-length Loved. Though they do show signs of evolution — or at least change. The followup to 2015’s Steve Albini-helmed punkfest Success finds the band returning to sludgier shores and subterranean depths. These nine cuts are simultaneously propelled and anchored by Shane’s jackhammering complexity and Scott Hamilton‘s atom-bomb basslines, which form an impenetrable layer capable of supporting Jesse’s dissonant electro-shock chording, dentist-drill licks and virtually indecipherable bellowing, screaming and grumbling. Along with those familiar flavours, there’s also a tasty secret ingredient: Free-jazz saxophone from Tansy‘s Kathryn Kerr, who injects some welcome countermelody and subtlety to these sonic beatdowns. Between them, they unleash a bizarre hybrid of cacophonous chaos and dementia that somehow manages to reference The Melvins, Butthole Surfers and Stooges. You won’t forget it.