REVIEW: KHEMMIS – “Doomed Heavy Metal” [EP]
Let’s knock-out the proverbial biggest guy in the prison yard first: if Khemmis’s new EP ‘Doomed Heavy Metal’ were simply a vehicle for delivering their cover of Dio’s “Rainbow in the Dark”, the record would have already earned its stripes. The rest is the cherry on top. The most obvious cover choice imaginable, the song would have been a flop in lesser hands. Khemmis (thankfully) don’t even attempt to capture the tight, anthemic efficiency of the original, but rather they run it through “ye olde” Khemmis filter. The result is a unique take on a classic that rightfully takes its place next to metal cover classics like Voivod’s “Astronomy Domine” and Type O Negative’s “Summer Breeze”. The moment the needle drops you know that this is a Khemmis joint. Slow and steady, Jimmy Bain’s rudimentary earworm synth riff is replaced by the band’s signature guitar harmonies. The straight take of singer/guitarist Phil Pendergast’s distinct vocals and guitarist/singer Ben Hutcherson’s effective vocal harmonies pay tribute to RJD without trying to emulate the greatest pipes in metal history. By the time the band kicks into double time for a lead break by Hutcherson that would put a smile on Vivian Campbell’s face, even the congregation’s most skeptical constituents should be converted.
The soot-faced lament “A Conversation with Death”, a cover of an old Lloyd Chandler folk tune, delves deeply and greedily into the mines of Moria to great effect. Originally released in 2017 on the ‘Fraught with Peril’ split with Spirit Adrift, Khemmis once again makes the song wholly their own. Beginning with some bona fide old-timey acapella singing, the song takes a sludgy detour topped by a particularly sorrowful vocal turn as the narrator pleads with the spectre of death to “spare me over ’til another year.” A short efficient tune by Khemmis standards, it reaches a climax at the three-quarter mark with the band straightening out its shuffle for a typically excellent lead break from Hutcherson.
“Empty Throne”, a song originally released as a Decibel flexi disc, finds bassist Dan Beiers’ fuzzed out bass at the forefront. Beiers locks unholy gears with drummer Zach Coleman for a black-light slow-burner that does what Khemmis does best, marry slow and steady sludge and angular harmonized guitars to introspective lyrics.
The set is balanced out by previous unreleased live cuts of songs from each of the three Khemmis full lengths. 2018’s fantastic ‘Desolation’ is represented by that records opening ripper “Bloodletting.” A true epic, the song finds the band expertly embracing both traditional and extreme metal and highlights how well-oiled a machine the band is on stage. A tasty riff salad of a tune, it eventually winds its way down via harmonized eastern mode leads that evoke imagery of the ancient Egyptian city for which the band is named.
The death doom of “Three Gates” from 2016’s ‘Hunted’ doubles down on the vocal interplay between Pendergast’s rich melodic croon and Hutcheson’s throaty growl and paves the way for standout track “The Bereaved” from 2015’s ‘Absolution’. The atmospheric rainy-day intro finds the band accentuating a slow groove with some bombastic guitar soloing before melodic and bittersweet vocals take center stage. Pendergast once said that “The Bereaved’ was a very personal song for him, and it shows in the earnest, hyper-emotional delivery of a dirge that stands at the void absolutely dripping with sorrow and loss. Doomed heavy metal indeed.
Primarily a collection of previously released gems, ‘Doomed Heavy Metal’ finds the doom stalwarts in Khemmis brimming with vitality. Notably, with “Rainbow in the Dark”, it contains one of the best cover tunes in recent memory.