2015’s Absolution and 2016’s Hunted (20 Buck Spin) saw Denver, Colorado, doomsters Khemmis quickly jump into the hearts of many a fan and metal critic. Their blend of hooks and heaviness (can we call it melodoom?) garnered plenty of attention and some high rankings on a few well-respected end of year lists.
New album Desolation (20 Buck Spin/Nuclear Blast) retains everything that made the first two albums great, and injects even more melody into the mix. From the outside, it potentially all looks like a lot of the same; half a dozen songs totalling around forty-five minutes, big riffs, clean vocals… But on Desolation the Heavy Metal influences are turned up to 11.
Frontman and guitarist Phil Pendergast says the band “drew a lot of inspiration from Mercyful Fate, Celtic Frost, Immortal, Judas Priest, In Solitude, and Metallica, shooting for a more broadly ‘Metal’ and extreme sound than we have before”, but for the first half at least, it’s really the Mercyful Fate and Judas Priest influences that shine through.
The first two singles ‘Bloodletting’ and ‘Isolation’ feature pure galloping riffs straight out of the Iron Maiden/Thin Lizzy playbook and ‘Flesh to Nothing’ is a slow burn epic that more than a few Power Metal bands wish they could have written.
Pendergast’s vocals – always a USP for Khemmis amongst a sea of soundalike Doom acts – are better than ever and take center stage for large parts of the album. While not as slow or heavy as previous outings, Desolation is still thunderous and full of moments that make you want to bang your head and play that air guitar – there’s rarely a dull moment and the endless supply of hooks means you’ll be humming random parts for hours afterwards.
It’s not all trad metal though; ‘The Seer’ is all creeping riffs and evilness, while ‘Maw of Time’ swings between soaring vocals and deathly growls, and features plenty of guitar wizardry. The excellent closer ‘From Ruin’, clocking in at nine and half minutes, is the longest track on the album and closest thing to early Khemmis as you’ll find on the album. It rarely reaches above a snail’s pace, but is packed with layers of melody and melancholy.
It might not be the pure slow Doom album fans were hoping for, but in Desolation Khemmis have shown they are more than capable of writing a classic Heavy Metal album within the framework of their ‘take it slow, make it epic’ ethos.