Jesse Matthewson and KEN Mode know how to pick their angry dude idols. The Canadian outfit takes its name from Henry Rollins’ old tour motto: “Kill Everyone Now.” The various howlers, pummelers, and seethers from hardcore, doom, and sludge metal cast long shadows on KEN Mode’s catalog. On their fifth album, Success, they more fully embrace Steve Albini, both incorporating more of the Big Black frontman’s particular shade of sonic blackening and bringing him on to produce. KEN Mode’s pastiche honoring Albini and his strain of noise rock tooth-gnashers feels honest and authentic, but sticking too close to a single template means their anger wells don’t run quite as deep.
At its best, KEN Mode grabs handfuls of patches from heavy, pissed off bands and sews them together into a single misanthropic flag. By honing in on a smaller set of influences on Success, the trio are forced to blow up their image to a much larger scale. Working in Albini’s sandbox means they get his uncanny ability to let hooks shine without sacrificing any grit. But Albini’s music was successful because of the specificity of his rage and disgust; “Jordan, Minnesota”, the opener to Big Black’s first album, focused on a true story of the sexual abuse of children. On Success, Matthewson’s words aren’t as sharp and focused as the best noise rock aggressors, and the thinner instrumentals and production reveal that too clearly.
“These Tight Jeans” epitomizes this split: The razor-sharp guitars and lurching rhythm will get lodged into the back of your head like a well-placed icepick, but Matthewson’s insistence of “pointless negativity on demand” lacks any sort of emotional target. On “A Passive Disaster”, he addresses the listener directly, but his knives don’t seem all the way out: “I’ve recently been sent here to tell you, your story is not a good story.” There’s an instrumental fury and undeniable zeal to tracks like “Blessed” and “The Owl…”, but they just can’t carry the misanthropy and passionate anger that they demand.
Essential Tracks: “Blessed”