VOID completes a two-album whole where hope is evaporated and the cries of help ring in the ether unanswered. To say it’s crushing is a violent understatement.

Release date: September 22, 2023 | Artoffact Records | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Bandcamp

In legal circles, ‘null and void’ is a pretty precise term with no uncertainty. It unequivocally and completely denotes something that no longer applies or has any weight, usually within the context of a contract. It’s a bit redundant too, as if doubling down on the hopelessness of one’s efforts or attempts. Channeling this feeling is KEN mode, back just a year later from releasing NULL to now release VOID, a companion album to the former which is the same, but different. Same in that it still shows the quartet at an arguable all-time high expressing all-time lows – I said as much with different phrasing in my review of it – different in that it’s not a simple rehash or cash grab to masturbate the algorithms and grasp at relevancy.

VOID is the depression to NULL‘s mania – where NULL was mostly energetic to the point of concern, VOID is marked with even more of a downer tone. NULL is the crippling misery following VOID‘s trauma. Both albums being written during COVID lockdowns, uncertainty, death, and loneliness gives you just about all the literal context you may need to know how this album’s gonna sound and feel. Some people are tired of COVID and hearing its creative yields – I get it – but it probably says something about humankind when all these bands found it psychologically imperative to write, produce, and release work inspired by what can only be referred to as a globally traumatic event.

To this end, KEN mode deserve the attention, and you, me, all of us deserve to distill the feelings we feel from it. We deserve to wrestle with the idea that the world isn’t the same anymore and never will be. This is not dramatic, it’s reality, just as KEN mode‘s music is rooted more in the mental warfare many of us have gone through – and still do – than it is pure performance, an escapade played up for fun, attention, views, or whatever other cultural currency we burn when we make a deal with that abyss I mentioned in my NULL review.

“The Shrike” has vocalist/guitarist Jesse Matthewson screeching, ‘I do not want to feel this way/Sometimes you are left behind, sometimes there is no way out/This designed collapse of civil dignity: is this not progress?/This is where you’d have us be?‘. The next song, “Painless”, has no reprieve, diving deeper into a palpable despair – ‘This time I’ll plead, I’m desperate/Help this cannot continue this way/I will not help pull you from this misery/This is not a guilt trip I’m just losing my grip/You are on your own‘. This is all while the instrumentation on both songs grinds and erodes away at what senses you have left after the vocals blast most of them like a nuclear shockwave. Guitars sound uncomfortably urgent and piercing. There’s melody and structure of course – KEN mode aren’t the kind of band built on an unruly musicality no matter how bad things get with morale – but they’ll still have you darting your eyes around the room looking for shadows that aren’t there.

Even the pensiveness of “These Wires” and “A Reluctance of Being” – the former with its tingling piano crawl and the latter forming with a funeral dirge of an intro – don’t commit to the metaphysical malaise that could be found on NULL (albeit not much more). Any semblance of calm or comfort is shattered within minutes, usually less, because there was none to be found during its writing. Together, NULL and VOID enact this sort of cyclical intensity where you know something bad is coming, and does; a toilet bowl spiral of melting sanity and sense that differentiates us from the beasts we claim to be cognitively superior to. That’s to say nothing of the abject defeat you feel on “Not Today, Old Friend” which reads like a post-lobotomy monologue while a modern, depressive rock remake of “Taps” plays.

What I would call sonic diversity and variance in execution on any other album shows here as a promise to fall apart, eventually. Maybe you don’t know when, but you know it will and that alone is a source of anxiety that powers VOID even more than NULL. Being a bit more literal for a minute, NULL over time lost a bit of its luster, especially when compared to last year’s Chat Pile record which channeled a similar vibe, or even this year’s Intercourse album that was blisteringly acrid and meandering. VOID could be swallowed by time as well, but even if it is… wouldn’t that be thematically fitting, to be lost even to memory without a trace?

KEN mode have created a marriage with NULL and VOID. It’s an unhappy one, where after the sullen vows from each you may as well kick the formerly betrothed straight into the grave to get the inevitable over with. It doesn’t feel quite right to call this album or its themes pessimistic because that implies an attitude adjustment is needed of the subject to change its outlook. For VOID, unless the world changes around us, it’s doomed to wallow and writhe until the last light of life leaves its eyes, null and void to existence.

Band photo by Brenna Faris

David Rodriguez

David Rodriguez

"I came up and so could you, and fuck the boys in blue" - RMR

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