KEN Mode – Venerable
Release: 2011Mar09 (US)
Label: Profound Lore
This is no creature from a black lagoon; this beast is from 20,000 fathoms. Only instead of a Rhedosaurus assaulting the streets of NYC, they take up the second controller as Ryu’s rival and… hmm… maybe I should stay on track here. Kurt Ballou’s God City production perfectly accents the fourth effort from the Manitoban trio, with eerie photography from Julie Anne Mann and Josh Graham’s Suspended in Light layout. Hey, as long as I’m name dropping, Alan Douches (Converge, Mastodon, DEP) mastered and Aaron Turner (ISIS) designed their logo. Alright, moving on!
The album starts off strong enough with the aptly-titled “Book of Muscle”, but it’s those filthy, rusty hooks from “Obeying the Iron Will” that first truly reveal their sharpness. They don’t just idly utter “I’m tired of living for what could have been, as life is too short for second best.”, they fucking mean it. The bludgeoning bass beginning “Batholith” can scarcely contain the crazed exhortations of Jesse Matthewson, a man who’s weary of mundane.
He almost seems prepared for detractors, as “The Irate Lumberjack” splits them in two before even starting, stating “Criticize me for this self-indulgent introspective…”. Personally, I fall on the negative side here—I like KEN Mode, but the tune gets too repetitive for my taste, especially the mantra-like “progress requires my hands and mind to move”. Though the first half is brought to a fiery close with “A Wicked Pike” (which made me miss ripping those buggers through the ice all winter), it reminded me why I started re-approaching Jesus Lizard in the first place. One word: genuine.
Their instrumental tribute to the late David Kelly of the band Echo Hawk is a delicate dirge to start the second half. Though unfamiliar with his work in that band or other similar noise rock projects like Kittens, we all should be so fortunate to receive this beautiful a send-off. The longest song follows—a extended, minimalist critique on God and religion—but despite effective contrast with the previous track, I nod off.
“The Ugliest Happy You’ve Ever Seen” has perhaps the most apt description of the shit swirling in my head daily. Things like perpetual dissatisfaction and endless quests for improvement boil through seething teeth with a maddening pulse. However, another mellow instrumental follows, which nearly derails their momentum, but is thankfully concluded with a tune named after one of the fastest sea predators, and every bit as vicious. You have to believe there is something to be said about a band obsessed with not just the underground, but the underwater.
Some of nature’s toughest critters are found in the deepest recesses, terrifying at first glance, but surprisingly intricate upon close inspection. Dredged from the harsh unknown, KEN Mode has fully surfaced.
Try: 2, 3, 5, 8
01. The Book Of Muscle
02. Obeying The Iron Will
04. The Irate Lumberjack
05. A Wicked Pike
06. Flight Of The Echo Hawk
07. Never Was
08. The Ugliest Happy You’ve Ever Seen
09. Terrify The Animals
10. Mako Shark