Review Summary: A tale of two albums, uh, part two
This time last year I found myself moaning in italics
, scolding KEN mode’s 8th LP for its clunky fusion of the tame and the feral. To its credit, NULL
still contained some of the group’s all time greats - in the form of long-form nightmare fuel (“Lost Grip”) and brutal riptide rippers (“Throw Your Phone in the River”) - yet the combo never quite congealed; fast bois kneecapped slow ones, tension released unceremoniously, and one shade of noisy metalcore suffered at the behest of another. My expectations for the band’s 2023 outing, aka NULL
’s severed twin, were therefore rather pessimistic - trudging through that conflicted swill, once again, did not seem likely to appeal. Plot twist: VOID
does not suffer the same blight.
Ejecting NOISE almost entirely from its fragrant core-cocktail, VOID
meditates in quiet grief. The fractal, fiery anger of NULL
has well and truly dissipated, giving way to decidedly elegant hellscapes that feel atypically reserved for the group. There is a downside: do not expect the fun, kinetic bombast of a Loved
. Aside from the chunky monkey of “The Shrike” - gloriously reckless in its pounding sludge a la late-career Converge
- that simply ain’t the play here. Think, instead, of Unwound
plus metallic filth; of spidery disdain funneled through an adept, -core lens. Fear not: the trade is a good one.
This sobering blend is as gripping as it is immaculately composed. The unadorned deathcry of “A Reluctance of Being”, built from solemn feedback and weighty snare shudders, melts seamlessly into “He Was a Good Man…”, with its melancholic+methodical bass lurch picking up the putrid scraps and soldiering onwards into the night. Jesse Matthewson is in top form throughout, his characteristic croon easing into skramz-y cries and noisecore bellows on demand, best witnessed on emotional peaks “These Wires” and “Not Today, Old Friend”. The former is yet another long-boi exemplar, picking up the “Lost Grip” baton via contorted post-metal riffage and pained yelps, before collapsing into gorgeous piano sparkles; the latter follows suit, sporting more defeatist bass lines, more dissociative mumbles, MORE sparkles, except now bleak, and tired, fading, fucked. This commitment to the darker side of their sound works damn well, the resultant collection of sad-loud-deth never getting in its own way, instead ascending as one of the band’s most coherent artistic statements, period.
That the tracks here are from the same 2021 recording session as NULL
is wild, given how distinct the end result feels. Sticking to the slowlane and sanding down jagged edges has done wonders, giving VOID
much more space to breathe, its dripping atmosphere thereby safeguarded, and preserved yet further by excellent pacing and pristine production. There’s a lesson here, probably, in compromise and restraint: on avoiding the oh-so-modern impulse to embrace and encapsulate all that music can be in a single project, and instead retaining character by, paradoxically, doing less. It’s also a tale of the woe of the critic. In neglecting my ill-conceived albeit well-italicised advice 12-months ago - when I actively encouraged them to up the ante, dial in the fury, and be more
- KEN mode have managed to surpass all expectations. Moral of the story: you probably shouldn't have read this review (sorry