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The Illusion Still Remains - 99%

ZepFan, March 31st, 2017

In the last few years, doom metal has experienced a renaissance of sorts. Bands have been coming out of the woodwork in rapid succession. Some have very distinguishable sounds and others sadly sound too much like your average Sabbath worshipers. Denver's Khemmis are ones that fall into the former category. Even though they are in a genre that can, even for someone who LOVES doom, be at times a tad repetitious, these guys have a massive melodic sound that is very much their own. They somehow are able to mix the best parts of groups in the new millennium with the melodic sensibilities of past metal giants.

The opening clarion call of Above the Water is most certainly NOT something one should listen to at sea. This song just crashes with waves of doom laden riffs that could topple your little dingy in the midst of a storm tossed night. You almost can imagine mighty Odysseus singing this aboard his own doomed craft. Maybe the boys got a little inspiration from our man Homer. It wouldn't be the first time metal heads collaborated with a ancient Grecian.

As good as the first track is, Candlelight is still my favorite track on this album. It's as if a Pallbearer song with guest vocals from Cthulu just happened to fall in Khemmis' lap. The hook is one that will undoubtedly be a favorite sing along part at shows and the guitar work is gigantic throughout the track. The boys really hit a home run with this seven minute smasher.

But now I have to discuss what might be on your mind, what is it that makes Khemmis so unique? For one thing, the guitars are not your average stony fuzzed out doom riffs that you'd expect from guys that hail from a state that legalized weed. Instead of taking the Church of Misery or Windhand style of tone, they rip pages out of the riff books of guys like High on Fire, Iron Maiden, Trouble, Judas Priest and Cirith Ungol. They use the riffs to not only drive the music forward, but like their Arkansas contemporaries in Pallbearer they use the guitars to create a mood. When a band can pull that off, it's a dream come true for me.

The vocals are also another standalone element of the sound of Khemmis. Phil and Ben both echo Mike from YOB in that they can pull off soaring melodies and then just rip you to shreds with the most intense harsh vocalization ever. Candlelight is a perfect example of this as well as Beyond the Door.

The Khemmis boys have thrown the sophomore slump into the void and are not even considering looking back. They are seriously going to be a band that will be remembered for their amazing riffs, stellar vocal delivery and songs that are just flat out memorable. Pallbearer may have a little competition for the reign of doom kings.

No sure escape from the tide - 70%

past_prologue, December 2nd, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, 20 Buck Spin (Digipak)

The phrase “traditional doom” is thrown around a lot these days. In fact, it’s used so frequently you’re bound to picture yourself in the middle of a doom renaissance. As with all marketing trends, however, a word of caution is in order. If you ask me, contemporary practitioners of good ol’ doom fall into two camps. On the one hand, there are bands like Hour of 13 or Magic Circle that overall remain faithful to the stylistic formulas devised by 70’s and 80’s originators such as Black Sabbath, Saint Vitus and Candlemass. On the other hand, there are musicians whose dedication to the style is mainly a question of aesthetic. These are bands like Warning or Pallbearer that sound like doom on the surface, with low-tuned guitars and ponderous rhythms. In terms of composition, however, they point towards the multifarious styles of indie rock. Warning is basically a gothic act wrapped in a thick blanket of doom. Pallbearer is essentially a post-rock outfit painting its psychedelic textures on a canvas of leaden riffage. All considerations of taste aside, it’s quite a stretch to dub such music traditional doom metal.

Another band habitually labeled trad doom is Khemmis. And again, I would argue, these snail’s pace rockers belong to the recent school of indie-doom hybrids. As usual when genres are mixed, a lot of hype is in the air. Some people go so far as to call them Colorado’s answer to Pallbearer. When the dust settles, however, these Denver doomsters don’t seem all that innovative. In 2015, they introduced their melodic stoner/sludge sound with Absolution, which was a decent debut album. Little more than a year later, we are already graced with Hunted, their problematic if occasionally brilliant sophomore.

On Hunted, Khemmis takes its doomed out racket a few thousand feet up the Rocky Mountains. The result is full of contrasts. Adventurous, almost jubilant harmonies in the vein of Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden give way to plodding verses and gloomy choruses, in which a clean-sounding singer contemplates his sorry existence over slow-moving chord progressions. From time to time, he meets his demons, which explains why the listener has to endure some sections of harsh roaring. Vocals and lead guitars definitely take centre stage throughout the record. This rocking attitude, I have to say, comes at the expense of solid metal riffing. Only on a few occasions am I truly convinced of the band’s riff-writing abilities.

On each of Hunted five songs, Khemmis has a tendency to indulge in extended bouts of guitar soloing. These crafty passages put the band in the same league as near-instrumental jam acts like Valkyrie. In contrast to the latter, however, Khemmis does possess a capable vocalist. It’s a shame, therefore, that his talents are wasted throughout many of those doomy sections, where his spotless delivery clashes with the emotional gravity of the underlying riffs. On the up side, his voice works better during the verses of the last two songs. In "Beyond the Door", guitars and vocals suddenly start to gel when the band locks into a simple Southern groove. On the title track, the khemmisty is even better (pun intended). Once again, the guitarists maintain an easy-going rhythm, while the singer absolutely nails those verses. Why a band witch such obvious assets should waste any of its time playing monolithic “doom” is beyond me.

Long story short, Khemmis doesn’t really work as a doom act. Deep down, these Denver musicians know they can only succeed as melodic hard rock with slight indie flavourings. Maybe this has been the plan all along: to mature a radio-friendly sound with the help of the latest underground fad. Here, we are instantly reminded of the careers of American rock institutions like Mastodon or Baroness. Abolution was Khemmis doing its hottest or red album. With Hunted, the band has arrived at a cooler stage, hence the blue album cover. The future will bring yellow and green, and maybe, just maybe, purple, which was always the colour of rock stardom.

And I Am Damned - 100%

Twisted_Psychology, November 23rd, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, 20 Buck Spin (Digipak)

From my experience, the most quintessential bands in metal tend to be the ones that defy classification. This does not mean throwing in nonsensical song structures or gimmicky instrumentation, but rather embracing and combining so many different aspects of metal that it becomes hard to tell which subgenre is purely represented. On Khemmis’s second full-length album, the Denver-based quartet provides yet another slab of the genre blending style that has made them one of the most acclaimed bands in the underground scene.

Seeing how Hunted has been released just a short year after their debut Absolution, it isn’t too surprising to note similarities between the two approaches. The group’s overall presentation is somewhere between the battle doom aesthetic displayed by High on Fire or Conan and the mopey downer rock of Pallbearer’s ilk, but there are also shades of classic metal at work. The guitars exercise plenty of twin harmonies, the vocals are clean and clear with occasional harsh interruptions, and even the most drawn out dirges can find a way to incorporate a steady gallop.

If anything, Hunted shows just much more comfortable with their style Khemmis has become in a year’s time. The tempo transitions are smoother and the songs seem to be faster and more active than they were before. The vocals also show much more confidence this time around as clean deliveries lead the charge during the speeds of the opening “Above the Water” as well as the plodding on “Candlelight.” Harsher vocals still pop up on occasion and even dominate the particularly heavy chugs on “Three Gates,” but their moments as a whole are fewer and far between.

And while there are only five songs, the longer lengths still allow for a good deal of variety. “Candlelight” provides an early climax as the vocals and guitars gain intensity without sacrificing the building pace. In addition, “Beyond the Door” provides shades of classic Paradise Lost with its especially melancholic delivery and the closing title track keeps a steady momentum through its thirteen and a half minute duration.

Overall, Khemmis is much more confident on Hunted than they were before and prove to be a near perfect example of metal genre blending. While they are far from being a middle of the road group, they’re the perfect recommendation for anyone who ever wished Iron Maiden was more pummeling or High on Fire was more melodic. I get the feeling they may be on the edge of a major breakthrough and I’ll be happy to say that I was there just before it happened.

Highlights:
“Candlelight”
“Beyond the Door”
“Hunted”

Originally published at http://indymetalshows.com

Khemmis does it again and tightens it all up - 95%

MisterSamhain, October 24th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, Digital, 20 Buck Spin (Bandcamp)

Sweet, sweet Denver doom. Khemmis is back and your ears will thank you after you cruise their new album, Hunted.

How do you follow an album that got plenty of praise without screwing it up? Khemmis got right back to work after Absolution putting together their second album. If anyone was expecting a sophomore slump, your fears may be put to rest. Shit, even the new album cover from Sam Turner is cooler than the last.

I probably listened to Hunted four times the day I got it just to make sure there wasn’t anything I missed. All I got was riff after riff in what is becoming the Khemmis way and I think Hunted builds in quality across five tracks. This is a strong follow-up album that goes for broke at the end in the self-titled track, my favorite of the affair and their longest to date.

One thing I did notice after a couple listens –aside from how awesome the entire album is- was less frequent harsh vocals from guitarist Ben Hutcherson, though Khemmis did opt to use In the Company of Serpents Grant Netzorg’s voice on the third track, “Three Gates,” which is also the heaviest cut on the album. I kind of dug the back and forth vocals on Absolution, but I didn’t mind the change here in Hunted.

After a handful of listens, I almost have to admit that I like this one better than Absolution. Everyone just plays their part perfectly. Phil’s voice and lyrics are just as great and clean as the last, his guitar and Ben’s just blow riff after riff through the speaker. Their playing has also gotten tighter. Those guys just deal a solid take on doom. I felt like Dan’s bass and Zach’s drums took a backseat throughout the first part of the album but were allowed to open up in “Beyond the Door.” Blast beats aren’t Khemmis, so I think it’s natural for the drums to not be as spotlighted in this setting, but they certainly play their (important) part in every track.

So where do they go from here? They just pushed their ceiling higher in 2016 after setting it the year before. Whatever they do next I’m sure will kick ass because that’s two great albums in a row, with development from the first to the second. Khemmis didn’t rinse and repeat with Hunted, and that would’ve been just fine, but grew a bit more delivering a rad follow up that didn’t change too much while changing just enough to make it better.