State In The Real – Penn State Music Scene

Author - Steve K

Metal of the Month: KEN mode

Welcome back to SITR’s monthly metal segment, where a little dose of metal can go a long way.

Last month’s post featured the hardcore/crust/thrash beasts Baptists, and this time we have another genre-blending yet bone-crushing release to go along in that same vein: Entrench from Canada’s KEN mode.

KEN mode have been labeled as noise rock, sludge metal, hardcore, post-hardcore… it honestly doesn’t matter. A preoccupation with genre placement draws the ear away from the music at hand; music which is, I assure you, heavy. KEN mode combine the energy and punch of a young, deranged hardcore band with a metal veteran’s approach to songwriting and style, making their latest album March’s best metal release in my opinion.

KEN mode will throw some people for a loop, I’m guessing, as they did with me on this album. While “genre wars” annoy me to no end, it’s no surprise that complications arise when critics attempt to attach words to KEN mode’s sound. Entrench contains some short, fast songs that feature gang vocals and enduring chants (“No; I’m in control!”) , yet these songs are so far from simple, catchy, Hatebreed-esque hardcore anthems. The guitar riffs are intense and crafty, yet are so dissonant and erratic that they barely resonate with you after each song ends. The tempos and song structures, driven by excellent drumming, display a superior level of technicality but don’t come off as overly proggy or elitist.

All of these conflicting angles, principles, sounds… whatever has been established as a formula for other types of heavy music, well, that just isn’t going to happen with KEN mode. They have distorted guitars, the singer screams, and they are loud- and that’s about all you can expect to be constant on this album. They challenge what’s taken for granted in many of the genres from which they draw influence, and it’s for this reason why I believe they aren’t very popular. Entrench is actually their fifth album, and in many ways it is an emergence for this band. It’s brought them many new fans, myself included.

Moving onto the actual content of the Entrench, it starts off with an incredible three-track punch containing some of the album’s best moments. If there’s one blurry memory you’ll have after listening to this album for the first time, among the soreness in your neck and the ringing in your ears, you’ll definitely be able to recall the chants at the ends of “No; I’m in Control” and “Your Heartwarming Story Makes Me Sick.” The tempo slows a bit in the middle of the album, but intensity doesn’t let up for a second. “The Terror Pulse” is full-out sludge metal, and is a perfect example of the incredible production on this album. While the bass guitar is often inaudible in much of rock, it seems to be the only thing capable of ripping through KEN mode’s dark, sludgy wall of sound. “Romeo Must Never Know” is a 7-minute long groove, showcasing the band’s progressive influences. After finishing that journey, the band returns to its in-your-face presence until the end of the album. Let me add that the riffing on “Why Don’t You Just Quit?” is quite killer.

So give Entrench a listen below, then pick it up on iTunes or Bandcamp and listen to it again and again. I guarantee you’ll find something new every time, although you might run out of furniture to break…

Movin' On Battle Showcase: Dark Tower

Dark Tower are a heavy metal band from State College, PA and will be competing this Saturday, March 23rd at this year’s Movin’ On Battle Of The Bands. Dark Tower consists of Simon Cantu (guitar), Hunter Rauch (bass), Jasen Giustazzi (guitar), Carter Freije (drums), and Sam Christensen (vocals). Simon and Hunter are students of Penn State, giving Dark Tower eligibility to compete in this year’s Battle for an opening spot at the 2013 Movin’ On festival (featuring MGMT, Brand New, Gloriana, Big Boi, and Kids These Days).

Formed by five students while attending State High, Dark Tower is currently strengthening their repertoire as a band by working on covers, originals, and getting live gigs in the area. Influenced not only by the classic metal pioneers (Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath) but by heavier, more sinister acts (Death, Slayer), Dark Tower aim to shred the face off anyone who attends their shows. At the upcoming battle of the bands, the crowd can expect a whirlwind of rampant yet refined guitar solos, mixed with frontman Sam Christensen’s growls, howls, and wild stage antics. Check out the video below to see a live performance, where the band tackles “Crystal Mountain” by Death and then plays an original, “Soul Destroyer.”

Check out their Facebook page for more updates. Metal.

Vampire Weekend Release Two New Tracks

To hold us over until the release of Modern Vampires of the City, the third album from Vampire Weekend, two songs have been released from the New York indie quartet. First up is “Step” – one of the most relaxing tunes I’ve heard all month. Songs like this remind us of the genius of Ezra Koenig, who combines some of the most perplexing elements in his songs, but so sharply that we almost don’t even recognize it.

Next is “Diane Young” – upbeat, quirky, and still everything fans love about Vampire Weekend. We hear some electronic influence on this one, as well as some vocal pitch-shifts, possibly inspired by chillwave-era artists like Purity Ring or XXYYXX?

Modern Vampires of the City is out May 7th. Get stoked.

Metal of the Month: Baptists


Welcome to the first of many posts highlighting a metal release from each month, because a little dose of metal can go a long way.

After a huge year for metal (with incredible albums from Gojira, Pallbearer, and Black Breath), 2013 has been continuing with its share of impressive releases. For the month of February, I’m picking Bushcraft, the debut album of Vancouver thrashers Baptists, as the winner. Released on Southern Lord Recordings, who have been signing some of the most talented and fresh acts in metal/hardcore lately, this album proves that Baptists are a breakout act. And I mean that in the most literal way possible; not only do these guys break barriers, they absolutely destroy whatever stands in their way (and may have you doing the same).

Bushcraft‘s first track opens with some uneasy, foreboding chords that make you question where this album is going. After about 40 seconds of trifle, the band lets loose and makes it clear that this album is going fast, savage places. From then on, it’s nothing but an unrelenting storm of pummeling drum beats and derailed guitar riffs. Baptists play with such speed and ferocity they make other bands sound weak; creating a top-notch atmosphere of pure, uncompromising rage. With song lengths barely extending three minutes, the mentality of hardcore punk is clearly an influence on Baptists’ sound, however, some of the riffage is just too wild for me not to call it thrash metal, too. The real standout on this record, though, is the vocals. Frontman Milton Stille’s delivery is different from the common metal scream; it’s more of a raw, angry yell. Whatever you call it, he’s friggin’ terrifying on some of the tracks, which couldn’t make for a better metal record. To refine this unique sound, the record was produced by Kurt Ballou of the highly regarded hardcore band Converge.

So Baptists got a lot of things right on Bushcraft, which makes them my pick for the best metal of February. Have a different choice? Feel free to comment. Stay tuned for next month’s album, and until then, happy headbanging.

Pick it up at Southern Lord or iTunes, stream it online here, or listen to the whole thing below:

Local Indie Artist: Everywhere Danger!

Everywhere Danger! is the project of local musician Kael Weis, who has spent recent years recording his own style of indie-rock that makes for quite a captivating yet soothing listen. With an impressive number of tracks on his Soundcloud, most of them self-recorded, Kael Weis exhibits his ability to weave intricate musicianship and heartfelt lyrics into his diverse song collection. While Everywhere Danger! is not a concept project, many of his songs incorporate storylines and characters which are inspired by various fiction influences. One thing that initially drew me in was the remarkable range within this artist’s material, which really enticed me to go through and listen to each song. Instead of blurring together, his songs strike me as standalone pieces, each which their own unique structure, instrumentation, tempo, and complexion. However, a tightly-woven and well-produced collection of tracks can be found on his 2011 EP Terror Unlimited, which contains some of his best work. I would like to see more unified material from Everywhere Danger! in the near future. He really pushes the envelope in terms of what an emerging musician in a college town can create by himself, but lest we forget, our town is not the easiest environment for original music like this to flourish. Show Everywhere Danger! support by checking out his Soundcloud (which contains FREE downloads), watching some live performances on his YouTube channel, and picking up his Terror Unlimited EP on iTunes.

Kid Cudi releases new single "Immortal"

With Indicud set for release on April 23rd, Kid Cudi gives his fans another self-produced preview of what’s in store on his next album. “Immortal” sounds like a cross between Cudder’s A Kid Named Cudi mixtape and his experimental rock project WZRD. After listening to this track, it’s clear that he’s putting a lot of heart into Indicud, but I’m still not sure what I think about his production skills. Stream it below and get pumped for April 23rd!