KEN mode’s Entrench: The Sounds of Sheet Metal and Amputation
Winnipeg’s KEN mode dwell in the genre some might describe as post-metal — noise rock tinged with significant influences of death metal, hardcore, punk, and deconstructionist rock. This is a subgenre of extreme music that has come to encompass all manner of bands with extremely different sounds, from Isis to All Pigs Must Die. But while I generally shy away from these labels, I’d have to say that on their fifth full-length album, Entrench, the band actually earns their genre title. With its brittle tone, frenetic pace, and candid rage, Entranch sounds like the garbage and wreckage left behind after the metal party let out, a field of bent steel, burnt-out cards, severed limbs, and beer cans cradling mouthfuls of backwash. On the one hand, this is a unique and fascinating sound to champion; on the other, it feels a little like someone else’s leftovers.
What I mean is that KEN mode’s honesty, both lyrically and musically, can sometimes feel a little overdriven and stark. Make no mistake, songs like “No, I’m In Control,” “The Terror Pulse,” and “Secret Vasectomy” bring all of the stinging guitar disharmonies and jazzy drum lines you want from an album like this, while “Romeo Must Never Know” and “Daeodon” possess a slow throb to them that easily reminds one of a mind snapping. The bass work beneath the chalky atonal guitars is palpable; vocalist/bassist Aaron LaCour must be commended for what he does here. But there are times when the band could use a dose of subtlety, if such a thing exists in metal. For instance, “Your Heartwarming Story Makes Me Sick” is a raging grindcore-ish blast of terror and confusion, but suddenly LaCour is screaming the title over and over again, which suddenly makes the whole thing feel slogan-oriented and overexposed, and “Why Don’t You Just Quit” feels funky but bare, lacking in soul.
That, perhaps, best describes KEN mode’s problem on Entrench — while they obviously have technical proficiency, and plenty of heart and rage, they at times lack a spiritual resonance. Obviously, the band knows what they’re doing; the album has a consistency of style and sound that’s admirable, and has energy to spare. But for those whose focus lies in groove and sentiment, KEN mode’s latest might feel a bit like chewing on a latex glove. Which, to be fair, is a really metal idea, in a weird and modern way.