KEN Mode have been assaulting the eardrums of Canada and the world from their homebase of Winnipeg, Manitoba since 1999. Accompanied by a revolving door of bassists over the course of six albums and two EPs, brothers Shane and Jesse Matthewson have blended hardcore and metal into a spiky, earbleeding assault that has landed them on the suddenly prestigious Profound Lore label (also home to such critical faves as Agalloch, Alcest, Amesouers, Yakuza, Subrosa, Ludicra, Hammers of Misfortune, Slough Feg and Mitochondrion, among others).

As part of a recent spate of tours in support of their most recent album ‘Venerable’, the trio (including, yes, a new bassist, Therese Lanz) hauled their sound gear up the narrow flight of stairs to Cafe DeKcuf to perform for several dozen punk and metal fans.

The first band on the bill was a recently formed local quartet, Spilt Guts. The band tips heavily toward the hardcore thanks to the presence of a singer. who looks like an ideal casting choice for the role of Lurch in any upcoming Addams Family remakes. There may also be a bit of grunge in their DNA - the band’s cover of Nirvana’s ‘Negative Creep’ actually hewed quite closely to the band’s admittedly crushing ‘Bleach’ era sound.

Up next were Black Faxes, who - apart from the drummer - took their show off the Cafe’s low, two-level stage to the floor. This allowed their short and burly singer Graham to run back and forth while bellowing the band’s Black Flag and Poison Idea-inspired tunes. Previous shows by the Toronto combo have displayed a hug amount of energy, and this time was no different, right down to ending, with Graham humping one of the monitors.

Ottawa’s Alaskan filled the final opening slot. The band’s influences have shifted toward a heavier instrumental focus with the departure of its lead singer a year ago (the guitarist and bassist have taken over shouting duos), heading close to the territory covered by Hydra Head bands like Isis and Zozobra, and incorporating samples to help set the gloomy, sludge-loving tone.

KEN Mode finally took the stage after shifting their gear from the massed pile of amplification overflowing from one of the club’s corners. The trio tends to eschew the heavily downtuned sound popular with many metal acts; instead Jesse Mathewson’s licks had a distinctive scratchy, rasping sound. As a singer, he switches between a threatening whisper and a threatening yell. Bassist Lanz is also a veteran howler, in addition to laying down a thunderous bass under Matthewson’s denunciation of apathy and ignorance in songs like ‘Never Was’. If there’s any downside to the monstrous volume of KEN Mode’s live show it was that the band’s strikingly reflective and introspective lyrics were sometimes lost in the mix.

The audience didn’t seem to mind though, headbanging enthusiastically to the brothers tight riffing and precision drumming until the set came to a close, and leaving the venue deafer but happier.

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Commenting On: Cafe DeKcuf, Ottawa, 25/3/2011 - KEN Mode

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