REVIEW: KHEMMIS – “Desolation”
The great horror movie icon Christopher Lee once said that he “associated heavy metal with fantasy because of the tremendous power that the music delivers.” On their new record ‘Desolation,’ out June 22nd on Metal Blade Records, doom metal hashers Khemmis would have made Saruman proud. On this, their third full length LP overall, the Boulder, Colorado quartet delivers a set of smart, fun and fantastical tales that are metaphors for real life struggles and emotions.
Set to a powerful blend of doom, traditional, and modern progressive metal, this is heavy guitar-driven music overflowing with harmonized leads, shredding solos, and melodic vocals. Throwback cover art featuring the Khemmis Wizard, the best metal mascot this side of Eddie the Head, is icing on the cake.
‘Desolation’ begins life with “Bloodletting,” a solid slab of quintessential Khemmis replete with dual leads, the melodic croon of singer/guitarist Phil Pendegrast, and the requisite tight, punchy rhythm section. The band drops a bomb; however, midway through the song when an Iommi-esque hammer-on over a sinister doom figure leads the way into an up-tempo buzz-saw riff. Expertly driven by drummer Zach Coleman and bassist Daniel Beiers, the transitional riff introduces a guitar solo section of gargantuan proportions, as Pendegrast and co-vocalist and masterful co-guitarist Ben Hutcherson brilliantly up their shred game over a series of interflowing riffs.
The epic doom of record centerpiece “The Seer,” which is arguably the best thing here, is a showpiece for the band’s affinity for subtle complexity. Minor key melodies float over the spidery riff of the verse before giving way to a memorable dirge of a chorus, followed by Hutcherson’s death rasp over a heavy chugging riff. Eventually, the song opens up into an airy (virtual) lighter raising middle eight before bittersweet guitar arpeggios over a rock beat lead the way into the melodic twist of a coda punctuated by cello-like guitar swells.
Lead-off single “Isolation” is a NWOBHM influenced barnburner which encapsulates the band’s increased trend towards arrangement efficiency. Thick with dual leads and with nary an ounce of fat, it effectively stands as one of the catchiest thing the band has committed to wax to date.
“Flesh to Nothing” pairs a metallic shuffle with an open chorded chorus with deep goth inflected vocals reminiscent of Nick Holmes of Paradise Lost, a new shade in Pendergast’s vocal palette. Three-quarters of the way through, snarling vocals and tremolo guitars offset the impassioned earworm chorus, and lead the way to another brilliant lead guitar centric coda.
“Maw of Time,” perhaps the heaviest song on the record, boasts a growled chorus that fits naturally into the rest of the song, and is just one of many songs featuring Hutcherson’s more prolific vocal contributions.
The slow dirge of moody album closer “From Ruin” taps into a similar vibe as the excellent, frequent show closer “The Bereaved” from the band’s debut record ‘Absolution.’ An emotionally charged chorus, delivered over a harmonized descending lick, finds Pendegrast in fine form, as he weaves a chilly tale of loss and longing where “the fog is closing in upon a freezing night,” and “far from the ones (he) loves,” the narrator pleads for “strength to carry on.” Midway through, a tom heavy beat leads the way into a classic metal send-off complete with more ripping solos before a return to the chorus theme leads the way into the epic wind down of the record.
By doubling down on the elements that made ‘Hunted’ so remarkable and adding some new twists and turns, Khemmis has created a concise, classic “heavy metal” record that challenges genre tags. In a year full of spectacular metal releases, ‘Desolation’ effortlessly floats into the top tier.