Everything about KEN Mode’s Venerable is intimidating. The artwork looks like something that might happen if Ed Gein and Leatherface were partners in senior year art class. The sound is brutal, muscular and discordant, like The Jesus Lizard and maybe Unsane suffering from a serious case of ‘roid rage. This is the kind of album that shits nails and wipes with barb wire.
In spite of its sonic belligerence, Venerable isn’t a constant sledgehammer to the skull. There are dynamics at work here, the music shifting from bruising, noisy hardcore to shimmering textures that border on post rock. But somehow, even the pretty sections of Venerable seethe with an underlying ugliness. It could have something to do with the all-out hostility that surrounds them. Jesse Matthewson’s vocals for the most part sound like his eyeballs are about to pop out of his head as his jugular bursts, covering the listener in a great wash of crimson. The instruments are weapons in the hands of the band, the guitars morphing into nail-spiked ball bats, the drums rusty claw-hammers, all soaked in blood, shit, piss and vomit. When KEN Mode go full tilt, the music is an avalanche of sound, a pummeling sonic piledriver.
Venerable is just as pulverizing thematically as it is musically. It is an album about struggle. It’s about realizing that you’re chained to a cubicle, dominated by consumerism, inundated to the point of numbness by politics, religion and bullshit on a daily basis. It’s about realizing that you live in an ugly fucking turd-world and doing everything you can to dig yourself out of it, scraping and clawing with bare hands until your fingers bleed.
I’ve mentioned blood three times in this review. All of the imagery that comes to mind as I listen to Venerable is positively soaked in it. It’s because KEN Mode play like their lives depend on this shit. The blood is the life, as Bela Lugosi once said. The blood boils, spills over the side. You’re seeing red. Kill. Everyone. Now.