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KEN mode Shatter The Silence Of Solitary Confinement

The hardcore outfit bid farewell to hangups on the first of two epic offerings with NULL.

by Christine Leonard

Photo by Brenna Faris

For the uninitiated, Kill Everyone Now mode is not-so-secret code for going ballistic on stage — and in the pit. Introduced by Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins, the high-intensity setting is modus operandi for Winnipeg-based hardcore outfit, KEN mode, a band that’s most comfortable when everything’s cranked to eleven and the world is whipping by like you’re strapped into a carnival ride from hell. 

That said, Royal Conservatory of Music-trained brothers Jesse Matthewson, B.Comm (Hons) and Shane Matthewson CA/CPA, B. Comm (Hons), aren’t your typical speed freaks. Yes, they’re always busy, but there’s a method to their madness once you get past the giant wall of sound. 

Well, aware that idle hands are the devil’s workshop, KEN mode has emerged from the temporal vortex of 2020-2021 with not one but two glossy new LPs. “We recorded two records at the same time and while humming and hawing over the titles, our bassist Skot (Hamilton) pitched the concept of ‘Null slash Void.’ Just look up the definition for each word separately and then together,” advises vocalist/guitarist Jesse. “Everyone knows what those mean. But when was the last time you looked up their specific definition? And when we did that it was like ‘Well, d’uh. We have to call this that.’ I don’t care if it’s cliché. It just makes sense.”

With the first half of a two-album arc, NULL, dropping this year on the group’s new label, Artoffact Records, VOID is still lurking in the wings, awaiting its release in early 2023. Quite the accomplishment for a band that’s staked its reputation on explosive demonstrations and instant gratification.

“It flowed naturally in that we treated this entire project as if it was going to be one record and one general story that we’re telling,” says Jesse. “By the time we got through writing things in 2020, everything in 2021 has to sound different from that batch so we weren’t repeating ourselves. It felt like the tone shifted too, a lot of the material that’s on NULL is much more frantic, furious and confused. It was a resounding feeling of what 2020 felt like. Whereas the 2021 recordings are more melancholy and have a deep disappointment that’s going on in the content. It definitely has a sadder and more melodic vibe yet is still very much this band.”

Joined by the virtual presence of his drummer and brother Shane, and friend/bassist Skot Hamilton, Jesse found solace in being able to spend the pandemic writing in isolation. As he began teaching and translating the songs he had composed for the others, Jesse discovered that his own creative spark had been ‘reignited’ and he was inspired to take the reins as he hadn’t since the making of Venerable (Profound Lore, Init Records) a decade earlier. 

“Either you figure something out or you stagnate. I went through periods where I completely crashed and was incapable of getting anything done. I’m glad I jumped on the opportunity to learn something new. I’ve always wanted to experiment with additional instrumentation but we always struggle to cram it into space. So this time from the onset I made sure these parts worked — I knew they would. So when we went into the studio it was a finely oiled machine.

According to the maniacally-prolific singer-songwriter-guitarist, the first album, NULL, puts on a “big display” of his own personality. Meanwhile, the second album, VOID, is more of a collaborative “conversation.” Looking back, Jesse fully acknowledges that learning how to do music production on his home computer was nothing short of a “game changer” for KEN mode. A sonic shift that required more personnel on deck – and extra structural support to ensure said deck didn’t collapse under crushing weight of their new tracks. Indeed, the timing was ripe for the band to ingest the talents of Kathryn Kerr – multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and consultant bookkeeper for the brother’s music industry financial firm, MKM Management Services.

“One of the main reasons that Kathryn became a member of the band was that I was experimenting with all these synthesizers and piano and I was like ‘How am I gonna do all of this stuff live?’ The ability to incorporate her as a saxophonist enhances the songwriting. Now we have a reason to bring another person along because she’s going to play things all set. We also rewrote a lot of the old materials with parts for piano or saxophone. So, it will revitalize some of that old material as well. Some of these songs I’ve written entire synth melodies for. It will definitely thicken up an already thick band.”

Debuting their chaotic taste in post-punk noise metal with album 2003’s Mongrel (Escape Artist Records), the Matthewsons have gone on to  work with a stellar line-up of heavy hitting producers including; Kurt Ballou (Converge) who worked on their Venerable album in 2011, Matt Bayles (Botch, Isis) the Polaris Prize nominated Entrench (2013, Season of Mist), the infamous Steve Albini (Nirvana, The Jesus Lizard) for 2015’s Success (Season of Mist),  and most recently Andrew Schneider – who put his hand to their previous release, Loved (2018, New Damage) before facing the two-fold challenge of NULL and it’s counterpart, VOID.

“Andrew treated each song like he was starting fresh,” Jesse reports. “We have the most diversity in any material we’ve ever written coming out of these two albums. We very much took the time to put that extra care into the way each song came out. Vibe-wise I feel like he definitely did more producer flexing on these two works than I’ve heard from him in quite some time.”

Shattering the silence of solitary confinement with scathing cuts like “Lost Grip,” “Unresponsive” and “Throw Your Phone in the River,” KEN mode’s NULL reverberates with 12 months worth of cumulative sound and fury. 

“It was a very cool project, but it was obviously a lot of work to put two full-lengths together in the span of a couple months,” Jesse admits. “I’m very curious to see how people receive both of them. A lot of time when bands do something like this the second one seems very much like an afterthought. Like it was the discard pile from the previous one. These were all songs that could’ve gone on either record, it’s just the vibe felt right the way we separated things. And we only figured that out once we mixed everything, because we didn’t want to make any final decisions one way or another when we were still in that zone of recording it.”

No joke. Attending a KEN mode show in person is the equivalent of entering a twilight zone of Canadian metal surrounded by a punk rock minefield. For those brave enough to approach the stage, the rewards are manifold. Expect a cathartic cerebral cleanse that’ll blast the emotional dust from the corners of your mind. Nihilistic math-rockers KEN mode’s new album NULL will neutralize your analytic angst and keep your senses in the black while providing a fully-reconciled accounting of your psychic checks and balances.

“It’s cool to get to play some of these more adventurous songs live. We have so many years of being a band and we don’t want to just abandon old stuff, cuz people would be bummed. At the same time, one of my favourite songs on the album is ten minutes long,” Jesse muses. “It will be interesting to see what makes it into our live set in the end.” 


w/ Vile Creature, Mares of Thrace

09.23.22 @ The Goodwill Social Club Winnipeg, MB
09.24.22 @ Amigos Cantina Saskatoon, SK
09.25.22 @ The Palomino Smokehouse Calgary, AB
09.26.22 @ Starlite Temple Edmonton, AB

w/ Frail Body

11.07.22 @ Turbo Haus Montreal, QC
11.08.22 @ The Baby G Toronto, ON