It is hard to fathom that Canadian noise rock group KEN mode has 20-plus years of skin in the game. KEN mode has always been a band constantly (subtly) tweaking and evolving their sound with each of their albums. Standing on the shoulders of each of their previous releases, over two decades of grinding, KEN mode has become a giant in their field.

In a musical world full of varying levels of magicians and genres that have become littered in recent years with imposters, it is rare to come across a band that is a Celestial-level Warlock. This is KEN mode in spades. Their alchemy couldn’t be on display more with their latest effort, NULL, out September 23, 2022, on Artoffact Records.

Many of the tricks you’ve come to love and enjoy from KEN mode are employed: Waves of punishing riffs, distortion being pushed to its absolute brink, and always thunderous drums all have become staples in the sound that is uniquely Km.

Shane Mathewson’s ability to attack the beat far exceeds your traditional expectations of any hardcore percussionist. Shane’s wizardry, seamlessly turning to the backbeat throughout many of the tracks, creates BIG mood shifts and adds larger-than-life moments throughout NULL.

Scott Hamilton continues his run as one of the most solid (and underrated, for that matter) bassists in the game. Hamilton is constantly tying everything together rhythmically while employing his distinct overdriven and massive bass tone. Scott and Shane are once again in lockstep with their rhythmic acrobats.

Jesse Mathewson continues his run as one of the absolute best frontmen the genre has to offer—pulling duties of both guitar and vocals. Jesse’s angst married with appropriate amounts of despair and hate is in full effect at the most congruous moments in NULL, accentuating his absolutely disgusting chord structures and gnarly riffs. Jesse’s lyrics speak to all of those who have been disenfranchised and disappointed across all walks of life. “A Love Letter” is an anthem for anyone riddled with disgust of their own interpersonal relationships and those who struggle with self-hate.

KEN mode, photo by Brenna Faris

KEN mode pushes themselves into new regions artistically, as well. Jesse Mathewson has pressed his talents into all new territories, implementing a variety of vocal stylings throughout the album. While the aggressive vocal gnashing we’ve come to know is still present, Jesse opens and closes “Unresponsive” with approaches reminiscent of ’80s hardcore. In “But Respect My Tactics,” you can hear distressed vocal stylings reminiscent of DAUGHTERS. On “Not My Fault” and “Lost Grip,” listen for moments of more traditional singing. Respect!

Worth highlighting, NULL’s opening track and first single, “Love Letter,” picks up where LOVED left off with Kathryn Kerr’s multi-instrumentalist talents on full display. Re-employing Kerr’s Saxophone chops, adding layers to KEN mode’s signature jagged sound, sends their listeners’ equilibrium into question. Kerr achieves this again in “The Desperate Search for an Enemy” as the track builds in tension in its closing moments.

KEN mode’s influences and inspirations have never been more on display, paying homage to some legendary acts that preceded them in the most tasteful ways. Upon first listening to “Throw Your Phone in the River” and “The Desperate Search for an Enemy,” it’s hard not to think of Hardcore pioneers BOTCH immediately. “Unresponsive” could be cut and pasted to a Melvins set list, and no one would bat an eye. “The Tie” passes as a track from The Downward Spiral. Elements of Jesus Lizard, Unsane, ISIS (the band), and Converge even manifest themselves throughout NULL.

If variety is the spice of life, KEN mode’s NULL is serving up an absolute punishing flight of hot ones that even Shawn Evans would enjoy.

This may be KEN mode’s most ambitious release to date. Fans, enjoy the magic show!

NULL Track Listing:

1. A Love Letter
2. Throw Your Phone In The River
3. The Tie
4. But They Respect My Tactics
5. Not My Fault
6. Lost Grip
7. Desperate Search For An Enemy
8. Unresponsive

Run Time: 36 minutes
Release Date: September 23, 2022
Record Label: Artoffact Records

Note: Reviewed by Barrett Lewis II of ATI Podcast and Vulgar Display of Podcast (follow them on Instagram and Twitter).