June 22, 2018

Khemmis - Desolation

By Calen Henry. Khemmis’ last album, Hunted, immediately grabbed me. Their “doomed rock and roll” combined melodic, epic doom with elements of stoner-doom, death-doom, and traditional metal for a wonderful “kitchen sink” approach to metal.
By Calen Henry.

Artwork by Sam Turner.

Khemmis’ last album, Hunted, immediately grabbed me. Their “doomed rock and roll” combined melodic, epic doom with elements of stoner-doom, death-doom, and traditional metal for a wonderful “kitchen sink” approach to metal. Desolation sees the band digging in to their signature sound and shedding much of the kitchen sink approach to create their best record yet. The album will likely cement their legacy alongside bands like Pallbearer and Power Trip as crossover darlings.

The vast majority of Desolation is Khemmis’ signature melodic doom: melancholy, slightly sinister riffs under soaring tenor vocals. This time they delve even deeper into melody, edging further towards traditional metal, with harmonized vocals lines, lyrical dual guitar leads, and even some lower register vocals reminiscent of the late David Gold of Woods of Ypres

The mix of traditional metal and doom carries through to the band's lyrics. They adopt a lot of the swords and sorcery trappings of traditional metal, but, in a time when traditional metal lyrics about the glory of conquerors' pillaging can seem problematic, Khemmis are refreshingly depressing. Truly living up to their self-styled genre, "doomed rock and roll," they sing of cursed bargains, doomed legions, sole survivors and the associated guilt, isolation, and desolation. It’s extremely fitting that the album is called Desolation, as that single word gets right to the crux of the album’s themes.

Photos by Nessie Spencer.

They also ditch other musical styles, except for death-doom, and the result is transcendent. The deep dive into melody juxtaposed against the filthy death-doom riffs creates a fantastic dynamic throughout the album, but it’s when the band directly mixes the two, giving us twin guitar shredding over galloping death-doom or harsh vocals over soaring guitar melodies, that their sound becomes truly legendary. Album opener “Bloodletting” showcases this beautifully, when soaring guitar and epic vocals suddenly break into a filthy death-doom riff accompanied by an extended twin guitar solo.

With the overall stylistic change, the album doubles down on melodic vocals and some raspy harsh vocals that are more black metal than death-doom, but they work extremely well with the band’s overall sound. The melodic vocals are even better than on previous albums, and the combination of lower vocals and faster tempos than Pallbearer sets Khemmis apart from their closest sonic touch point.

The production is also slightly improved over Hunted. It's a bit more dynamic, and although it's still brickwalled, the slight improvement makes a difference. There is no audible clipping, and everything sounds just a bit better than it did in 2015.

Desolation one of the year's best metal albums, and the stylistic changes mean that anyone not completely melody-adverse should check it out, even those not sold on Khemmis' previous material. The band has completely come into their own. Hunted absolutely floored me in 2015, and Desolation is leagues ahead of it.

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