KEN mode guitarist/vocalist Jesse Matthewson knows his noise rock. The Winnipeg band’s seventh full-length album, Loved, is a huge, bruising, bashing cacophony of everything that makes noise rock—and KEN mode—great. But Matthewson knows more than just noise rock, as he proved when we rounded him up to find out what the top five heavy albums that changed his life are.
Read on to find out what album influenced how Matthewson approaches production techniques, what local noise rock band made him want to start making his own noise, and what Relapse Records release was partially a catalyst for KEN mode’s existence.
Nirvana – In Utero (1993)
This was the album that broke my brain at the ripe age of 12. From the opening kick and snare beat, the climbing guitar riff, Kurt [Cobain]’s blood-curdling scream… the hair on my arms stood up and something in my brain just switched. This totally sounds melodramatic, but I was never the same after that moment. Nirvana was my gateway drug; reading [Michael Azerrad’s 1993 book] Come As You Are opened up the underground to me—looking up and listening to bands like the Melvins, Black Flag, The Jesus Lizard, Scratch Acid, Big Black, Mudhoney… From there I’d meet members of the noise rock music community here in Winnipeg and I kept spiralling deeper with bands like Dazzling Killmen, Zeni Geva, Cop Shoot Cop, Unsane, Today Is the Day, Neurosis, Drive Like Jehu… It also set the standard for album production for me—[producer] Steve Albini’s raw aesthetic was just how an album was supposed to sound to me. Anything less live sounding was always just a little unsatisfying to me, so it’s obvious that working with him would end up on my bucket list once I started my own band.
Kittens – Tiger Comet (1995)
I learned about Kittens from one of those free magazines that used to be in HMV stores across Canada: a band from Canada that had influences including the Melvins, which resulted in my friend (and original KEN mode bassist) Darryl [Laxdal] picking up their Doberman CD immediately upon reading it. Doberman was a self recorded and released demo CD, which was followed by their Sonic Unyon debut, their first proper studio album, Tiger Comet—a real visceral, sonic assault. This was the album that had us hooked—it was much faster than their previous work, twangy, nasty tones… and it was at this time we found out they were from Winnipeg. It was seeing this band at Wellington’s in Winnipeg with Darryl that made me want to be in a band. This was my first show, and the only band I went for was Kittens, which was not a popular band in the all-ages scene here. I’ve been told their bar shows back then were always packed, but we only ever got to see the all-ages shows, since we were 14/15 years old at the time. They always played with bands more popular in the all-ages scene, so it was always a trip to see the crowds go out for a cigarette, or simply stand way back; we’d move up front and these monsters would spit and convulse for half an hour, blasting the best noise rock our country has ever produced. I knew after this show that I had to start a band.
Bad Brains – Rock For Light (1983)
Depending on what you consider “hardcore punk,” I’d argue that Black Flag was likely my first taste of this subgenre, but I always gravitated way more toward their genre-defying material as opposed to the songs that influenced punk in its entirety, so it wasn’t really until I heard the Bad Brains that my love of hardcore punk had really become apparent. For most people into the weird world of noisy music that I’m a part of, it was usually punk and hardcore that came first, then you’d get into weirder, more subversive music, but for me I got into ’70s/’80s punk and hardcore more mid-high school after having read Get In the Van by Henry Rollins, which got me digging back into the ’80s punk scene, Dischord Records, and subsequently the ’80s/’90s Revelation Records hardcore world. Bad Brains was my first real taste of a band that did “fast” and mean all the time. That music was the right sound for me at the right time, which is why there has always been an element of hardcore in our music since day one.
Today Is The Day – In The Eyes Of God (1999)
Although not my favourite record by TITD, nor even the first one I ever purchased, this record marked a strategic shift for me in 1999, when it came out. I had been into bands like Today is the Day and Unsane prior to either band being on Relapse, but for some reason metal as a genre never really resonated with me, at least fully, and Relapse Records never really got on my radar, shy of the fact that they had been signing a bunch of bands I had got into from the mid ’90s (TITD, Unsane, Neurosis). I’d loved plenty of heavy bands, but never really bought into the evil imagery, etc. This album came out right at a time when I was clearly ready for things to shift in my life. Shane [Matthewson, KEN mode drummer] and I had been jamming with a drummer for about six to eight months that decided to bail on us for a pop-punk band, and this record kind of represented being frustrated with everything at the time—high school, punk and hardcore, being a lost suburban kid who had no idea what the future held… The combo of the riffs, Brann [Dailor]’s drumming, Steve [Austin]’s overwhelming voice, and that album cover; this was the most evil thing I’d ever heard. I remember asking Darryl if he wanted to start a serious band with Shane and I within a month of hearing this record, and around the end of August and early September 1999 KEN mode was formed. In a lot of ways, this band was formed out of spite toward that drummer and as a direct reaction to this album.
Nasum – Inhale/Exhale (1998)
With In the Eyes of God, I started to investigate the Relapse catalog, as one did back in the ’90s—enjoy something, then learn everything about where it came from. Nasum was the band that I feel helped me break into the rest of the world of extreme music, as prior to hearing this album I just never really cared about black metal, death metal, or grindcore. This album was heavy, had deep growly vocals, but still had a punk/hardcore vibe, like all of the bands I listened to throughout high school. Getting into Nasum opened the floodgates to bands like Brutal Truth, Morbid Angel, Entombed, Dismember, Soilent Green, Human Remains, Gorguts, and all the wonders that extreme music has had to offer me through the years.