On their sixth album, Winnipeg-based noise rock group KEN mode open up and calm down a bit, stepping away from the deafening aural assault of their previous albums for something more subtle and introspective. The band eases up on the hardcore tempos and metal riffs on the Steve Albini-recorded Success, showing more dynamic range and introducing elements such as strings and more restrained vocals. This is not to say that the band has become polished and radio-friendly, though; the abrasive, screeching cello and unhinged, caterwauling vocals (courtesy of Oxbow's Eugene Robinson) toward the end of six-minute opener "Blessed" are simply an intriguing new approach to the group's sonic maelstrom. While the intensity of their previous work is dialed down a bit, their message is a lot clearer in some ways, especially lyrically. The surprisingly swinging "The Owl..." encourages the distraught to "pick up and move on," and the powerful, melodic "Management Control" proclaims "We live in a privileged world, use it for something we believe in." The excellently titled "Failing at Fun Since 1981" breaks down for a moment to desperately cry "I just don't care anymore, I'm so cold and so sad and so alone." Brooding Slint-like closer "Dead Actors" begins with questioning, poetic spoken verse, gradually building to a cathartic finale. Success might be somewhat of an ironic title for an album mired in failure, as more accurately depicted by the release's cover, but it is ultimately successful in how it deals with negativity and frustration, and shows KEN mode displaying grace and maturity with their newly expanded sound.
by Paul Simpson