KEN mode, Inter Arma
Local 506, Chapel Hill
Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013

KEN mode‘s Jesse Matthewson is an intense frontman. Even if you’re comfortable with the Canadian outfit’s sound, a complex and clobbering distillation of hardcore heat and metallic might, his presence will put you on edge. His eyes blaze, glaring through face-shielding bangs with such ardor that if you look at him too long it feels as though he’s staring right at you. At one point during the trio’s set at Local 506, I left a beer sitting on the lip of the stage for what Matthewson must have felt was too long. He twice fired snot rockets at it, spitting in my direction once more after I removed the bottle.

Like their music, KEN mode’s performance was an assault, and it was too much for many in the crowd. The room, which was packed tight during the set from supporting act Inter Arma, quickly whittled down to a crowd of about 30 when the headliners started.

The trio were in fine form, dealing top-notch aural punishment. Matthewson staggered through strung-out passages and then tore into tenacious riffs. Bassist Andrew LaCour—the new addition on KEN mode’s acclaimed fifth LP, Entrench—was dominating, dropping burly tones that rumbled long after he plucked the string, while still finding space for rich dynamics and unexpected counter-melodies. His chemistry with drummer Shane Matthewson was impressive, allowing them to provide pummeling support no matter where Jesse (Shane’s brother) chose to take them.

Frequent, abrasive samples sparked their quicker rampages, and though their slower songs did take some time to brood, the threat of the coming storm was never far away. It was an impressive display, but as the crowd’s reaction suggested, it didn’t line up with the excellent performance provided by Inter Arma.

Inter Armas Mike Paparo

The Richmond quintet was also volatile, building to stomping conclusions filled out with crushing guitar sludge. But they got there by way of atmospheric black metal shredding and limber melodies that were often more bittersweet than biting.

Singer Mike Paparo worked himself into a frenzy, growling forcefully and bugging his eyes. At one point, his mic stopped working. He threw it violently to the floor, jumped to the lip of the stage, and shouted his lines a cappella. His vehemence made up for his lack of volume.

The band steadied his vigor into controlled crescendos. Guitarists Steven Russell and Trey Dalton escalated their riffs into an enveloping squall as T.J. Childers’ double-kick kit maintained a thunderous pulse.

Violent but never jarring, Inter Arma was an odd match for KEN mode’s oppressive attacks. Both sets were exemplary, but they might have done better on different bills.