The Best Albums of 2015, #18

band0118. KEN Mode, Success (Season of Mist)

Winnipeg band KEN Mode have been on my radar for well over a decade, and from the moment I heard them way back when I knew exactly where these guys were coming from, as far as musical influences went: classic noise rock of the late-’80s and early 1990s. The problem was, the metal kept getting in the way. Early on it felt  like the sludge metal element was drowning out the noise. When they started improving greatly starting with 2011’s Venerable, a more even balance was struck between the two sounds. Of course, with the added cachet of being on Profound Lore Records and then European powerhouse Season of Mist, the heavier side of the sound endeared them to the extreme metal crowd. Things changed in 2014, however, when the brothers Matthewson brought in Skot Hamilton on bass. I’ve known Skot’s work for just as long, and consider him to be one of the most knowledgeable noise rock authorities I’ve met, so I sensed where this was going from the start. Fore the first time since their inception KEN Mode had a third member who understood noise rock as thoroughly as Jesse and Shane do, so it was no surprise whatsoever that the metal element went by the wayside on their monstrous sixth album. Better yet, the boys got the mighty Steve Albini to record the thing, and the end result is the noise rock opus this band was born to make. The skronk is mighty, the screech is grating, the rhythm section absolutely monstrous, grinding away as Jesse saws away at his guitar. His lyrics are their most direct and confrontational they’ve ever been, full of not only hostility and menace, but wry humour as well. The Jesus Lizard, Drive Like Jehu, Cop Shoot Cop, and yes, Nirvana’s In Utero are all channeled here, and to be honest I had not been this excited by a noise album since Drive Like Jehu’s Yank Crime 21 years ago. Success hearkens back to a specific era of rock history, but KEN Mode’s own identity remains fully intact. The guys went with their gut instincts with this new musical direction, and it paid off with a career-defining record. (Spotify) (YouTube)