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We Lie Beneath the Stones - 93%

Rebel HurriKane, December 19th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, 20 Buck Spin (Digipak)

The Colorado Doomsters are back and they have brought their A game with them. I am a bit late to the game with them as I first heard “Above the Water” from 'Hunted' only this January and instantly got hooked to their sound. It has been a while since I’ve heard a doom metal band with a fresh sound that has captured my attention immediately. I will be doing reviews on their previous albums later as well. They have a massive tone that meshes well with Phil’s soaring cleans and Ben’s harsh vocals.

One cannot overstate the quality of musicianship in this band. Everything flows in this album and misses not one step from beginning to end. The songs absolutely crush you with the riffs and then the feelings of desolation and loss are piled on top. Phil’s voice just synergizes with the lyrics and guitar work as he really can pull out emotion, much like a lonely wolf howling his lament in the night. His voice has really improved since the debut and has found his zone within the music. Their sound has changed a bit since the sophomore with their leaning away from traditional doom metal. They describe themselves as doomed heavy metal but to me, I still see them as doom metal.

It’s hard to pick a favorite but three of the best I think are “Isolation,” “The Seer,” and “From Ruin.” While you can definitely hear their influences, they are far from aping their sounds like so many other bands have done. You can hear the epic doom sounds of Candlemass, but you can also hear some Thin Lizzy with the harmonies and of course a bit of the extreme metal influences. Each song sounds different with various tempos and dynamics. “Isolation”s driven tempo and melancholic lyrics are exemplary of Khemmis’ sound along with “From Ruin” and its slow but crushing riffs. Heavy riffs are nicely paired with harmonized guitar parts, very reminiscent of a slowed down Thin Lizzy.

“From Ruin” is the epic closer and it will take you through a journey of well crafted parts and vocals that somehow both lift you up but still fill you with sadness. It’s slow but the pace picks up to change things up a bit. If Khemmis keeps this style up they really might be one of the best doom bands of last few years. There’s a lot of competition out there with bands like Pallbearer and Crypt Sermon, but I definitely think with this release Khemmis has put themselves out there at the forefront of doom metal.

Expertly written but overproduced. Catchy too! - 86%

MrMetalpants, December 15th, 2018

First off, I will admit to being a new-comer to the Khemmis camp. In preparation for seeing them live last year, I listened to their first two albums; 2016's Hunted and 2015's Absolution and I didn’t really like either. Hunted had some nice licks but nothing that made me listen to it more than 2-3 times. Which, deserty doom metal of this kind is easily digested on the initial listen so I can’t contribute my lack of additional listens to my distaste. They felt flat and plain while this music benefits from emotion and feeling. They were touring again this year with The Black Dahlia Murder, Pig Destroyer, Gost (Ugh), and Skeletal Remains (Just as lackluster live!) so I gave Khemmis another shot and was blown away by this release! Let's dig in.

Immediately noticeable is the quality of the writing. It has improved in leaps and bounds all across the board. I do realize with that comes many a doom fan that will espouse a stance that there may be too much flair and pomp to it to be true doom metal, even though I don't really consider them all that much doom. More like a more doom-tinged The Sword (with way a way better performance than The Sword's Used Future this year). All songs are appropriately epic, like previously but this time have insanely catchy hooks and execution on nearly all parts, except for maybe the bass. It does the job but doesn't really impress. I appreciate the way sometimes they straddle the line between fist-pumping doom and, dare I say, power metal!? Listen to "Isolation" or "Flesh to Nothing". It's a bit of a stretch but power metal is my least favorite sub-genre of metal so my ears perk up when I hear something like it (I make a few exceptions for Iron Maiden or Iced Earth. A few...). Sometimes the lyrics can be a little corny but not to the point of detracting from the whole. They are steeped in fantasy themes so it's hard to do naturally with lyrics and not seem contrived. The vocal patterns are a real treat here which wriggle their way into your ear and won’t get out. Check out "Bloodletting", "Isolation", "Flesh to Nothing", and "From Ruin" for said ear worms. Sometimes he patterns (not voice) lean heavy into the Metallica field but I don't really have a problem with that. There's also the matter of the slight power metal influences but that is also partly due to how the guitar is being played while the more power vocals are being employed. Being an extreme metal fan, I don’t often find myself belting out lyrics in the shower. Here be hooks! The guitars are written similarly catchy, especially in the leads department. Check out the final track for some immediate leads that welcome you to the song and repeat without drowning you with their presence; like a good host at a ball. Whoah, weird analogy. The tones they use are dry with that stoner/desert rock but with heft to flesh out the song. The crunch if balanced well. This allows the leads to dilly-dally without losing the structure. The leads, like on "Maw of time" and "The Seer" can be interesting and worth paying attention to, they never impress. Which, let's be real, doesn’t happen often in doom metal. That track does have a solo worth listening to due to the "dueling guitars" effect.

Originally I respected the vocalist in his ability to pull off those really great vocal patterns but then I started realizing how produced and layered they were. Sometimes it's more obvious than others. The overproduction is only lightly there on "Isolation" in the verse then ramps it up like crazy for the chorus. This will let you hear both a restrained and a heavy use of the effects. Granted, after hearing him live, I'm glad they did. It's not as bad as 2014 era Michael Keene (The Faceless) but my assessment was validated when his live performance crumbled without all the effects. Lost some respect there. Another vocal note is the overuse of the growling vocals. This was the same problem as on the 2016 release. I think the growls in this band are the weak link and by "Maw of Time" are heavily implemented. Fortunately, less than previous releases. The rhythm guitar doesn't really impress but has some tastily-written licks. The lead guitar, as mentioned above, never impresses but some unique shining moments. The drums service the music as a whole and even stand put on their own. They don't jump out of place, however if you determine to focus on the drums you will be pleased to find that they are not your cookie-cutter doom drums.. Doom does not require technically impressive drums but we get a little treat here. I also have to give the drummer major points, though. When I saw them at said show, all the power to the stage went out for about 15-20 seconds yet you could still hear the drummer doing his thing looking around confusedly at the other bands members! For a second it was just drums and vocals but the vocalist stopped singing until the power came back on. Then they picked up right off like nothing happened thanks to the drummer just keeping his cool and maintaining the beat. The show must go on!

Favorite tracks:
--From Ruin
--Flesh to Nothing

Technical skill: 65%% Originality: 72% Song writing: 97% Accessibility: 88% Production: 59%

Adventurous return to trodden paths - 75%

kluseba, July 25th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, 20 Buck Spin (Digipak)

American doom metal quartet Khemmis offers a truly gorgeous cover artwork for its third full length record Desolation that honors Egyptian mythology but also artworks of several progressive and psychedelic rock bands of the seventies. There are further similarities to this era of adventurous rock music such as the fact that this release only offers six songs which however have extended running times adding up to a little bit more than forty minutes of immersive doom metal. The grounded production also blends in perfectly and makes for a quite homogeneous release.

Khemmis is one of the more melodic doom metal bands. The charismatic clean vocals are soothing, hypnotizing and appeasing. Numerous melodic guitar solos recalling classic heavy metal and a few appeasing acoustic guitar passages offer welcome changes from the slow and sinister riffs torn in the background that are fighting their way back to the forefront. The rhythm section on the other side is heavy, precise and steady. The musicianship is usually adventurous enough to justify song lengths between four and a half and nine and a half minutes. Khemmis sound more concise than similar bands like Pallbearer.

Genre fans will certainly appreciate this immersive release and I wouldn't be surprised if this album were to be elected as record of the year by some people since doom metal is back in vogue these days. However, I would describe Desolation as good record but nothing more. The main reason is that Khemmis rarely manages to stand out among the impressive number of doom metal bands these days. The quartet doesn't offer anything that one hasn't heard similarly and sometimes better before. The slow and sinister parts can't equal what Candlemass have done in the past. The few parts with harsh vocals aren't as dramatic and efficient than Opeth at the height of its career. The melodic vocals are nowhere near as haunting as what genre leaders Black Sabbath had to offer. Even among similar contemporary stoner metal bands from the United States of America, a group like Baroness is simply catchier than Khemmis. The six songs on this record have great pace and flow but don't stick out and fail to leave a deeper impression. The sum might be greater than its parts in this particular genre but I feel Khemmis could still improve its songwriting by a notch to find its own unique identity.

In the end, Khemmis' Desolation is a very good doom metal record with some adventurous passages in form of some faster passages, melodic guitar solos recalling traditional heavy metal and a few harsh vocals contrasting the hypnotizing clean lead vocals. However, the songs fail to be truly memorable and to add anything new to the genre one hasn't heard before. If you are an unconditional doom metal fan who already owns the best records from anything between Black Sabbath and Baroness, you can give this release a try and you will certainly enjoy it. If that isn't the case however, you should ignore this release and listen to some more remarkable doom metal first.

Adventurous, Kinda Unfulfilling - 70%

MostlyYelling, July 5th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, Digital, 20 Buck Spin (Bandcamp)

Originally written and published on my site, MostlyYelling

Khemmis was buried in mountains of gushing press coverage upon the released of their 2016 album Hunted. By every method of measuring an album's quality, Hunted was (and is) perfect. Khemmis married epic doom metal with twin guitar harmonies that rival the classics all while maintaining an impeccable amount of quality over long-form compositions. Not to repeat themselves, Khemmis has altered their formula to a mostly positive effect on their new album Desolation.

Desolation is Khemmis' foray into a more stripped down heavy metal sound, meaning more speed with healthy doses of face-melting guitar solos. There's also more death metal on Desolation thanks to guitarist and vocalist Phil Pendegrast unleashing his best old-school Mikael Åkerfeldt impressions alongside Entombed-worthy HM-2 riffs. Album opener "Bloodletting" is sure to paint a smile on every Khemmis fan's face within the first 10 seconds. Three massive chords into the intro riff and Khemmis pauses for a moment to begin casting one of their many signature dual guitar spells. The lumbering gallop of "Bloodletting" picks up to a hefty jog about halfway through, Khemmis rains down gale force shred, and the song ends with black metal shrieks over top decidedly evil guitar wizardry that swirls about in the kicked-up dust.

Lead single "Isolation" continues down the path originally blazed by Iron Maiden and is sure to be a live staple for years to come. "Isolation" showcases Khemmis at the top of their writing game as they weave flawlessly through perfectly accentuated tempo changes and a flurry of earworm riffs that bleed into sprinting, yet beautifully musical, solos. Album closer "From Ruin" is a great counterpoint to both "Bloodletting" and "Isolation" as it slowly and sadly descends into a man and his pleas with the powers that be for the strength to carry on. The music on "From Ruin" contextualizes the somber lyrics with sharply clean guitars and spiraling melodies that wind down to a dark conclusion.

The real highlight of Desolation is "Flesh To Nothing." Pounding tom grooves act as a foil for melodies fit to tell a Homeric epic as Pendegrast and crew launch into possibly one of the best riffs Khemmis has laid to tape yet. "Flesh To Nothing" confidently marches toward a crushing Paradise Lost-style rendition of the opening salvo before continuing the bombast on an extended and very-much-needed solo section. The song ends with an acoustic interlude that Khemmis frankly could've made into its own track. It's that good.

Then there are "The Seer" and "Maw Of Time." Both seem to be compiled from offshoot ideas of Desolation's other four tracks and are rife with interspersed hooks promising more substance that never quite materializes. "The Seer" attempts Khemmis' classic brooding doom sound to fairly flat results that salvage themselves partially in the second half, while "Maw Of Time" just feels like a lesser version of "Flesh To Nothing." They're not terrible songs, and there are points that you'll remember on repeat listens. It's just a little disappointing that after three phenomenally good songs, you're left with back-to-back tracks that add no drama or resolution to the album.

The problems with Desolation are minimal. "The Seer" and "Maw Of Time" aren't the best songs Khemmis has ever committed to an album but they're innocuously errant brushstrokes in the bigger picture. The other issue with Desolation is the lack of repetition of main themes, the main offender of which is "Bloodletting." The song sets up a great motif in its first half but then veers off, finds a second mini-motif and rolls with that up to the end. The same goes for "Maw Of Time," whose main focus is more on shredding guitar solos than anything else, but whose seven minutes has some really great moments worth repeating.

Desolation is a great effort from a band clearly trying to push their own boundaries. Khemmis marries their doom roots to a very New Wave Of British Heavy Metal sound with varying degrees of success. Songs like "Isolation" and "Flesh To Nothing" are instant classics that should serve as the framework not only for their future material, but will likely serve as a boilerplate for countless ripoffs in the years to come. Khemmis have been hailed as innovators of their craft in recent years and Desolation will absolutely keep that praise deservedly coming.

Sword and Sorcery Sacrament - 90%

Cosmic Mystery, July 3rd, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, 12" vinyl, Nuclear Blast

For what it is and the time in which it has been released I can say that Desolation by Khemmis is relevant. This can be attributed to the lyrics which can be applied to personal events that have taken place and occurring in any individual’s life. Once again I have discovered a record in which the lyrics can either be interpreted as fantasy or a deeper/profound meaning may be extracted if carefully examined. Khemmis conveys the messages of the lyrical themes the way one would imagine. It's quite an ornate album that shows off different musical styles and methods of songwriting and delivery. It is still doom metal; however, there are moments of black metal, progressive metal, stoner doom and traditional heavy metal that climb to the surface ever so often on Desolation.

The musicianship is unshakable which is an understatement in providing a description of the band members efforts in the recording of Desolation. The guitar work yields many moods; some melancholic, some have an air of victory and others emanate horror-esque vibes. The drumming gels with the rest of the music, it plays well with the instrumentation and does not try to outdo itself or execute unnecessary acrobatics to leave a positive imprint in the memory of the listener. The singing deserves special credit here; the ability to effectuate loud, confident, soaring clean vocals, black metal barks and death metal growls is a major accomplishment because of the manner in which they were implemented. Every inception of any singing technique heard on Desolation corroborates the different perspectives Khemmis creates. In terms of black metal signature vocals; I was impressed by the short bursts of barking snarls that did manifest on the album. They were a welcome installment that did great justice to the music when combined with the doomy emanations particularly on the track "The Seer". Also worth mentioning is the clean singing which is superlative; it greets the listener and reels him/her in for a convivial expedition through the ambiguous poetry.

Desolation is a noteworthy installment for Khemmis. It seems to have executed its intentions to great avail. The production quality is fitting for Khemmis' model of doom metal, and having an existence on both 20 Buck Spin and Nuclear Blast Records, one would come to expect the highest standard of sound engineering. The clarity of the music featured on Desolation matched the vocals and instrumentation. Does it exceed the standards set by the previous albums being Absolution and Hunted?, I cannot honestly speak on that matter because I have never taken the time to thoroughly listen to those records, though I have heard they are substantially proficient releases. What can be said is, given the many praises Khemmis' past work has generated, Desolation should be able to assert itself amongst or even surpass the caliber of the prior offerings.

Originally written for

The gallows above her waves. - 90%

GrizzlyButts, June 25th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, Digital, 20 Buck Spin (Bandcamp)

In his Dissertations sur les apparitions des anges, des démons et des esprits, et sur les revenants et vampires de Hongrie, de Bohême, de Moravie et de Silésie (1746) French Benedictine monk Antoine Augustin Calmet documented pagan beliefs surrounding spirit possession and demonic manifestation across several cultures. When he landed upon Egyptian beliefs of possession Calmet was uncharacteristically brief in detailing now typified ideas of haunting, that a wrongful death tethers the spirit to the defiled body rather than the location. Whether through incantations, or consumption of vital organs, ‘magicians’ could control or absorb the spirit, potentially invoking volatile power or the foresight of an oracle. In some sense Denver, Colorado based epic doom lords Khemmis‘ represent a sect of wizards commanding a great metallic vore able to absorb the spirit of influence without succumbing to possession.

Summoned in 2012 and creeping through the fog as a righteous mixture of Yob, Pallbearer and a hint of Matt Pike-isms on their stoner-adjacent self-titled 2013 demo Khemmis offered typical sound with unique style, a sound concept that hadn’t yet realized it’s ambition. I was swift in discovering and hailing the band’s full-length debut in 2015 as ‘Absolution’ was aimed higher and hotter than much of the doom of the year. Set beside Crypt Sermon, Magic Circle and Monolord it was decidedly modern and ambitious. The use of harsh vocals alternating with an impressive ‘pure’ epic heavy metal performance felt like a return to the resurrection of Manilla Road on ‘Atlantis Rising’ but with greater polish and a far sharper ear for the harsh moments. Though I wouldn’t say their follow-up ‘Hunted’ was surprising, it appeared aimed at portraying greater personae and offered beguiling experiment and familiarity alike.

‘Hunted’ set a tone for a band of explorers rather than iterators and though it wasn’t the ultimate refinement of ‘Absolution’ it told bigger stories with an increasing epic heavy metal vocabulary. So, embroiled in the hype for the coming of ‘Desolation’ I’d built an odd list with expectations of epic extended composition and death/doom flirtation etc. Pure nonsense in hindsight as this third full-length trims the fat, boosts the signal, and lens into more expressive performances. Khemmis have bravely focused on creating a resonant heavy metal classic, the type of record that can only result from self-editing in good taste and some level of astral projection-like revision. Wailing Mercyful Fate-esque solos and a good rub of Spirit Adrift‘s melodic-but-thrashing ethos on ‘Curse of Conception’ give the Denver quartet’s already epic doom flair a kick towards an ‘Ancient Dreams’ state of mind.

Phil Pendergast‘s emotive vocal delivery has always been confident but on ‘Desolation’ his performance brings a cleaner, more distinct tone to an already strong sense of melody. His range is impressive as his capability expounds the soulful modern gloom of Pallbearer as well as the chariot riding clip of Visigoth or Týr. Ben Hutcherson‘s growls have given way to brief blackened rasps that replace some of the death metal leaning moments on ‘Hunted’, and I loved the sinister multi-tracked parts of “Maw of Time” most. This tandem approach that defines Khemmis‘ sound between their two vocalists/guitarists achieves it’s best moments of narrative harmony yet on ‘Desolation’. Literal harmonization of vocal performance is in fact what elevates this latest Khemmis experience most. Their reach for greater variation, while still sourcing the musty charm of 80’s doom/heavy metal classics, reeks the satisfying stench of influence while maintaining their own sound.

The most immediate standout tracks “Bloodletting” and “Isolation” offer Candlemass / Memento Mori-esque epic and 80’s power metal fanfare one after the other as they kick into the most memorable and earnest performances of ‘Desolation’. Neither a moment of excess nor odd misstep bungle the flow of the tracklist, although if “The Seer” didn’t pop up when it did the pacing of ‘Desolation’ could have felt ‘samey’ in it’s middle-end. In fact “The Seer” is incredible both as a song and as a representation of how far Khemmis have reached in working towards increasingly professional sound and performance in the short span of just 5-6 years. I’ve never seen such a consensus suggesting a band is ‘ready for the big leagues’ and I largely agree the quality is there, but I don’t want to suggest ‘Desolation’ as a plateau but instead a great stretch of craftsmanship in an ever sharper-chiseled road forward.


Receive and Take the Eucharist - 90%

Twisted_Psychology, June 22nd, 2018

I’m normally not one to wonder if a given release will “live up to the hype,” but that stance is challenged when it comes of Khemmis’ third full-length Desolation. I still think 2016’s Hunted is a literally perfect album and I feel no shame putting it on the quality benchmark as classics like Powerslave or Ride the Lightning. The band is already a growing influence in modern doom and the deal with Nuclear Blast sets them on an even broader platform than before. It’s also interesting to see how Khemmis has evolved stylistically as their trajectory seems to be moving toward a specific vision.

I expected Khemmis to push their classic metal influences out to the forefront on their third album, and Desolation sure doesn’t disappoint in that regard. The vocals quickly demonstrate this development, not only sitting higher in the mix but playing a more active role in delivering melodies than before. There are also frequent lead guitar and harmony parts on display this time around, and songs like “Isolation” feature active gallops without going into full-on Maiden worship.

But at its core, Desolation preserves the Colorado group’s patented workman-like approach to epic doom. The riffing style retains the chunky tone of its predecessors and the method of song structure suggests that the vocal lines remain indebted to the guitar work rather than the other way around. The band’s extreme metal roots also remain intact as tracks like the opening “Bloodletting” and “Maw of Time” throw in black metal exchanges.

If there’s anything to nitpick on Desolation, the song flow isn’t as seamless as it could be. The actual songwriting is on point and there’s a similarly narrative atmosphere as on Hunted, but the transitions aren’t as stirring or climactic in comparison. That said, “Bloodletting” sets the stage pretty well, “From Ruin” is the band’s third brilliantly epic closer in a row, and nothing in between truly qualifies as filler. It may just be a matter of it needing a few more listens to properly sink in.

Desolation isn’t as accessible as I expected it to be, but it is great to see Khemmis continuing to incorporate traditional metal influences this tastefully. The way the vocals have stepped up is particularly impressive and the more active guitar parts also help this album feel like more than a Hunted repeat. I’m not sure if this’ll hit the perfect level of its predecessor in my eyes, but I can imagine it coming close with even more listens. Either way, Khemmis remains a top recommendation for literally anyone with the slightest interest in anything metal.

“Flesh to Nothing”
“Maw of Time”
“From Ruin”

Originally published at