Shallow North Dakota / KEN Mode / Kowloon Walled City – Shallow North Dakota, KEN Mode, Kowloon Walled City

4 out of 5

Label: Wordclock Records

Produced by: Jesse Matthewson, Scott Evans, Sean Pearson

A split EP to benefit SND frontman Tony Jacome, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

I guess I don’t know my Canadian hardcore bands, because I had no idea about Shallow North Dakota, having been wooed to this release by the presence of KEN Mode. Checking out some of SND’s back catalogue, I definitely hear some Big Black / Unrest talk-shout chugga chugga dynamics, amped up to hardcore extremes by absolutely slaughtering drums and the gutsy howl of Jacome. Some ten years after this approach on their first album, they’d release Mob City, which switches off between Cavity metal-drone and Cable-like country-tinged jams, but still all low-ended up and yowled. I will admit to not being too keen on Mob City’s sound, as it feels mastered up to make it sound louder and rawer than needed, and it’s a bit too sloppy at parts for my tastes. Both of these elements are present early on – you can tell SND is probably insane live, and so felt the need to grit it up for albums – but the tighter, earlier approach helps inject the songs with energy to move past the rough edges (and also helps make the rough edges sort of enhance the experience as a result).

If you’re a fan of that Mob City sound, the opening track from SND here is a B-side from that session, and it’s of the sludgier Cavity variety. As that approach wasn’t my favorite, I unfortunately don’t get much traction on this song, especially as an opening track – it’s a bit repetitive, as I found their longer songs to be – but again, I have to imagine those already endeared to the band will be happy.

KEN Mode’s cover of two tracks from the band’s 1994 / 1997 albums speed things and sharpen them up a bit. I’m bias to KM, but I find them to be amazing performers, and they put their all into this performance. Early SND and early KEN Mode definitely have some crossover, so it’s a good match, with the vocals whipped up into the greater range offered by Jesse Matthewson. So it’s not only a quality tribute, but it’s distinct – it could pass as a KM track, and it made me go back and really appreciate the groove and roughness of the originals as well.

Kowloon Walled City I’ve started listening to because of this compilation, and they also offer up a really great cover, adding a bit more of a meaty rhythm to a track off of Mob City. The band has a slightly lighter, sharper approach than SND, and the production is a lot crisper, making me guiltily prefer this version.

The purpose behind the comp is obviously a good one, but the collection of tracks is definitely also very worthwhile, either for fans of the individual bands or, in addition, for introducing someone – say, me – to another source of Canadian hardcore I’d missed out on.