Ken Mode – Null

3 out of 5

Label: Artoffact Records

Produced by: Andrew Schneider

Ken MODE has made a notable rattle in the hardcore scene since their start, affecting a particularly pitch black vibe for their punky hardcore that knew how to walk the line between being unrelenting and including some space in their compositions, allowing for focus on some pretty fascinating lyrical material, and to give more weight to their starts and stops and screaming. 2013’s Entrench felt like their first stab at doing something “more,” expanding on their assaultive palette with even more dynamism, which allowed the group to experiment on both ends of a pendulum – going comparatively accessible or comparatively minimal, while retaining the utter aggression inhere in their sound.

While those experiments (Success, Loved) seemed to be hit or miss with fans, it’s encouraged the Ken Mode trio to bring saxophonist Kathryn Kerr fully into the roster, suggestive of a doubling down on continuing to push at what their sound might / could be. On Null, their 8th full-length, it seems we find the group at a weird midpoint, though, maybe wanting to do more, but trying to take criticisms of their former releases into account. As such, we get a spattering of brilliance – opener a Love Letter is the most ominous, deathly, spazzed out bit of horror-hardcore I’ve heard in a while – and some off-the-beaten-path efforts (the lowkey click and buzz menace of The Tie), and then some tracks that… sound like Ken Mode. It’s a weird experience, one that definitely benefits from Kerr’s additions when present, but also (to my ear) leaves her on the sidelines for half the disc, trading off almost 1:1 tracks that try to shake things up with more standard punky yelly, pummely, things, and beyond that opener – and some admittedly killer moments through out, such as on the piano-sprinkled, creepy Lost Grip – Null never really feels settled on a sound; it’s definitely angry as fuck, but it doesn’t hit very hard.

Andrew Schneider’s production feels partly responsible, working well when the group is amped up to extremes, but somewhat lost in establishing a tone for those inbetween songs – maybe fitting for the title, but that’s a meta approach that leaves the album in a middle tier of indistinctness.

Null’s best moments merit return, and the disc gets more mileage from being short, and just, like, menacing sounding. However, menace is something Ken Mode has never be in short supply of.