Longtime noise rock veterans KEN mode drafted another bassist and went back to the drawing board for their fourth recording, "Venerable." The Canadians, freshly armed with new producer Kurt Ballou (of Converge fame,) dive into the deep end of genre with no hesitation, leaving behind tame mantras and pushing the envelope of noise rock.
"Venerable" could be said to be a fine example of the noise rock idiom, but that's hardly a complete description, is it? On this new effort, KEN mode sounds like the unruly, poorly disciplined orphan child of Orange 9mm and Scissorfight, eventually raised in foster care by Agnostic Front. Kurt Ballou not only brings the Converge name to KEN mode's corner, but small pieces of his band's style as well. The polyrhythmic, syncopated drum phrasing is a hallmark of Ballou's signature band and mathcore as a genre. The style frequently makes its way into KEN mode's new release, be it "A Wicked Pike" or album closer "Mako Shark."
Beginning with "Book of Muscle," "Venerable" is brash and jagged, with thin, crunchy harmonies and unrelenting, driving percussion. The guitar lines are sleek but hollow, high on efficiency and low on virtuosity. Style and flair aren't so much the point on "Venerable," as evidenced by the high degree of concentration on rhythm and multi-faceted beat.
The persistent, insistent battering continues as the album rolls on into "Obeying the Iron Will" and "Batholith." The overwhelming onslaught of sound and fury is eye-widening in intensity, although short on other qualities. Once KEN mode grabs you by the shoulders, the band shakes violently to make sure you're paying attention.
There are only a couple breaks to catch a breath on "Venerable," which occur in the disjointed "The Irate Jumbuck," and the wandering wall of noise called "Flight of the Echo Hawk." The latter bounds from powerful to subtle in phases, encapsulating all the identities of KEN mode in one eight-minute ramble.
Outside of devoted fans of the genre who are willing to academically break apart the album's layers, "Venerable" is likely too abrasive to appeal to a wide audience or even be gone through in a single sitting. As it is, "Venerable" is intense and discordant enough that it's hard to put your body at easy while hearing it, resulting in a physically exhausting experience.
Beneath the intentionally muddy production, there is imaginative writing on "Venerable," but you need patience and the proper disposition to root it out. This is the type of album that music theorists will defend vehemently for thinking outside the box, while others will disparage it for being impassable and atonal. In an unusual twist, both parties are correct.