Album Review: KEN Mode – NULL

4.5/5

Winnipeg, Manitoba’s KEN Mode have been waging war on the ears for over two decades. Since they began in 1999, the band have chased and perfected the most aggressive and unnerving sonic palettes for their records. Through down-tuned guitars, sour notes, and the addition of a fourth member wielding a saxophone, their new album NULL takes them to an all new level.

KEN Mode’s eighth album has eight devastating tracks clocking in at right around 35 minutes. Even though that’s not much time, the deeply unsettling artwork by Randy Ortiz, dizzying amount of sharp tones, downtrodden guitar and percussion work, and pessimistic lyricism make it feel like an hours-long panic attack. It shifts and adjusts itself uncomfortably, and destroys all in its path.

NULL is a mass of toxic self-doubt, helplessness, and anger. It is the sound of trudging from shitty day to shitty day and getting your ass kicked, but continuing through requirement and spite. The themes about environmental decay, apocalypse, greed, loss, trauma, and the worst case scenario being unavoidable are so punishing and heavy, and the instrumentals match.

Slow, methodical, and downright monstrous guitar and bass tones flood the record with filth. The drums are massive, nearly cavernous, and touches of industrial production and light synth are tucked between layers, and the added saxophone squeals make for a dissonance that pushes the lyrics even further. It is a journey to listen to, and the tracks meander without progression, just an anxious and unforgiving stagnant state.

While it may be a little unwieldy, NULL should be required listening for heavy music fans in 2022. It is fantastic, full of breathtakingly tense moments, and refined lyricism that comes from a group that has been sharpening their sense of suffering for 23 years. NULL is not a triumph, but a grueling victory, and one that should be celebrated like the world is ending.

NULL is out now via Artoffact Records, and you can order it here and here.

Catch them on tour with FRAIL BODY at the dates below as well:
October 20 – Saint Paul, MN @ Turf Club
October 21 – Davenport, IA @ Raccoon Club
October 22 – Chicago, IL @ Beat Kitchen
October 23 – Indianapolis, IN @ Black Circle Brewing
October 24 – Columbus, OH @ Big Room Bar
October 25 – Nashville, TN @ DRKMTTR
October 26 – Little Rock, AR @ Vino’s
October 27 – Oklahoma City, OK @ 89th Street Collective
October 28 – Austin, TX @ The Lost Well
October 29 – Houston, TX @ Black Magic
October 30 – Denton, TX @ Rubber Gloves (No Coast Festival)
October 31 – New Orleans, LA @ Gasa Gasa
November 2 – Atlanta, GA @ The Earl
November 3 – Charlotte, NC @ Snug Harbor
November 4 – Philadelphia, PA @ Silk City
November 5 – Brooklyn, NY @ Saint Vitus
November 6 – Cambridge, MA @ Middle East (Upstairs)
November 7 – Montreal, QC @ Turbo Haus
November 8 – Toronto, ON @ The Baby G
November 9 – Detroit, MI @ The Sanctuary
November 10 – Milwaukee, WI @ Cactus Club
November 11 – Fargo, ND @ The Aquarium

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