Canada's Heaviest: KEN Mode - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Canada's Heaviest: KEN Mode

Canada's Heaviest: KEN Mode

By Eugene S. Robinson


Because candles that burn this hot rarely last even half as long as this one. 

By Eugene S. Robinson

Downstairs at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, Jesse Matthewson, who’s just lugged all his gear off the stage after an opening slot for Russian Circles, flops down in a chair and towels his face dry. The music from his set is still settling in the air around us: KEN mode — short for Kill Everyone Now — sounds partly speedy like hardcore, but with the weight and musical chops of metal, all girded by a certain braininess. 

“The Forbes magazine piece was cool,” Matthewson says about the profile on his metal band KEN mode that hit at the end of September last year. “But I’m still loading my own gear offstage,” he laughs at that as much as at the fact that Forbes was drawn in by the degrees in commerce he and his band co-founder and brother Shane both hold, with specialties in marketing and accounting. They are also sons of accountants.

I just did my best to invoke the sonically oppressive feeling of seeing them play together.

— Producer Kurt Ballou

“Just because this music is loud and noisy doesn’t mean the people making it or listening to it are stupid,” Jesse says, sipping from a cup of water. With his brother Shane on drums and their longtime friend Skot Hamilton on bass, the trio has been proving this truism since 1999. Which in band dog years is … well, a really long time. They’ve spent 15 years touring the world, sleeping on people’s floors and couches while doing so. 

Not to say that rewards have not been forthcoming — the band won a Juno Award (aka a Canadian Grammy) for Heavy Metal/Hard Music Album of the year back in 2012 for their record Venerable. The same album was nominated for Rock Album of the Year in the Western Canadian Music Awards, as well as being longlisted in 2013 for the Polaris Music Prize. KEN mode is also pulling big festivals and equally significant producers. 

Specifically, producer Kurt Ballou (and, more recently, Matt Bayles of Isis, Mastodon and Pearl Jam), guitar player for the great band Converge. Ballou produced KEN mode’s award-winning fourth record Venerable, and, in a cool twist, he was a fan even before he started producing the band. “I love what KEN mode does, so it was perfect,” Ballou said from his Godcity Studios where he’s producing L.A.’s Obliterations. “I mean they are a total powerhouse live band, so I didn’t feel like it was my place to add anything to their sound. I just did my best to invoke the sonically oppressive feeling of seeing them play together.”

And even if they just recently lost the 2014 Juno for the Metal/Hard Music Album of the Year for their record Entrench, the song Counter Culture Complex sticks in our heads long and hard. Which is to say, if you’re going to be in North Carolina for the upcoming Hopscotch Festival where they’re next scheduled to appear, take our advice.

Missing them would be, for fans of heavy music, highly inadvisable.

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