Recorded and mixed by Andrew Schneider (Cave In, Unsane), NULL is KEN mode’s eighth full-length album. The follow-up to 2018’s acclaimed Loved, it is the band’s first release for Artoffact.
Frontman Jesse Matthewson proclaims NULL to be “a direct psychological reaction to the collective experience of the last two and a half years… a documentation of trying to not fall apart.” In Matthewson’s words, “the album exposes the emotional core of combating mental illness when one’s fine-tuned coping mechanisms have been involuntarily stripped away.”
As the COVID pandemic threatened the essential, stabilizing forces in his life – including the ability to create, tour, and connect with the world, via KEN mode – Matthewson says he sunk to new depths. “I’ve built my adult life around communities and activities that have both given it meaning and helped me manage my own mental health,” he states. “In 1999 I didn’t know why I needed to create, I just wanted to. In 2022, it’s one of the only acts I have left that keeps away crippling depression. I need this act to concentrate and neutralize the poison in my brain.”
From the pitch black of the pandemic came a sliver of light. With his means of fulfillment and survival in jeopardy, Matthewson was instilled with a newfound urgency to make the most authentic and courageous art possible. New album NULL is the result. “We tried to experiment more with our sound than we ever have before. We felt like there was really no reason to do anything at all unless we were trying to push this into something new.”
NULL is the first KEN mode release to feature collaborator Kathryn Kerr as a full-fledged member of the band. With Kerr on saxophone, synth, piano, percussion, and backing vocals, the album features a new palette of No Wave and industrial-tinged sounds, infiltrating some of its tracks. The band’s well-honed attack – “defined by the Venn diagram of adventurous hardcore (Converge, Deadguy) and noise-rock (Today Is the Day, Brainbombs),” as a Revolver write-up once put it – is strengthened now by shades of Swans and Einsturzende Neubauten.
First single “A Love Letter” bursts out of the gate with Kerr’s discordant sax wailing over the machine-like walloping of Matthewson, his brother Shane Matthewson on drums, and longtime bassist Skot Hamilton. Not unlike John Zorn collaborating with Napalm Death, the sour synergy of the contrasting elements results in a song that writhes and screams with wild-eyed desperation. “Something is broken, something is fucked,” goes the refrain.