In order to reach the same pinnacle as last year’s breakout debut Absolution, Khemmis must follow up with something more than special on their second full length Hunted. And this four piece has found a way to not only reach that lofty goal but eclipse it. Their slow burn doom is still incendiary but the classic rock/metal approach here is second to none. That was what made Absolution such an overnight success but here it’s better, more focused and broader in scope than it was just a year ago. Khemmis leave no doubt with this triumphant second album that they are no flash in the pan.
If anything, Hunted is a more cohesive effort than Absolution. That’s a tough pill to swallow for this reviewer, who featured that same album at pole position in last year’s best of list. But make no mistake that choice still stands. Listening back to that album now — as good as it is — there is a hint of uneven song placement. As if the tracks were thrown together at the last minute with little thought of placement and pacing. And really it’s not even all that important in the scope of Absolution but for this second effort to be better and more well rounded it’s more important now than ever. The thing is, Hunted steps out of the large shadow cast by Absolution. The band, rather than shift direction or sound, has mightily expanded on everything that was great about that first effort. Guitar melodies are better and smoother, the clean vs harsh vocals are placed to perfection (harsh vocals get more of a highlight this time) and the classic rock/metal approach looms even larger.
This is a young band, which initially made comparisons to such statesmen as YOB harder to dole out. But now, with their second successful album, these comparisons come freely. And why not, YOB speak to a higher level of doom metal that isn’t satisfied to simply stay within the boundaries of said genre, rather they break all boundaries and consistently create albums that transcend doom, simply put they are in their own level. Two albums in and the same can be said of Khemmis. They’re not happy to just be a doom band, nor were they happy with that on their debut but this time around the craftsmanship and overall finished product places them in their own stratosphere. Much like Scheidt and company, Khemmis have emerged as champions of the next chapter in doom. It doesn’t matter what you call it; contemporary, modern or whatever, the fact is this band rules. Period.
“Candlelight” soars with pristine vocals from Phil Pendergast, likewise for the captivating guitar melodies. But, as quickly as these melodies enchant, a darker place is uncovered with Ben Hutcherson’s nightmarish growls. This vocal tandem has obviously put the work in over the past year as they both sound better and larger here. The clean singing has a wider range and is delivered with more power. In contrast, the guttural harshness is akin to the lowest depths of funeral doom. Props to both as the album shines brighter than ever because of their contributions. Truthfully, no one moment stands out above any other. It’s all crafted in a way that each piece is a part of this enormous puzzle which helps make this album not only a worthy successor to Absolution, but an award carrying triumph over it as well.
Another great thing about Hunted is that the band has shed any and all comparisons to Pallbearer. Rather than tiptoeing on fragileness and slower than thou accessibility the melodies and compositions seem to come from the same creative mindsets that brought forth classics like Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak and Uriah Heep’s Very ‘Eavy, Very ‘Umble. True, the accessible nature of what Khemmis does garnered them a wide spectrum of fans and the pulse quickening opener “Above the Water” will keep those same fans more than entertained. “Three Gates” is a barn burner featuring more gallop than High On Fire at full speed only to bring it home with gloriously heavy doom. And finally, the grandiose title track that brings the album to a close, but more than that, is a defining moment for the band in the sense of combining everything heard to this point into one 13 plus minute track. Epic. Expansive. Beautiful.
On Khemmis’ second full length Hunted, the band firmly establish themselves as front runners in the current landscape of doom but also as a band with very few peers. Taking a page from yesteryear’s successful rock/doom combinations, Khemmis surpass even their own debut, on every level. 2016 will find this album on many best of lists, including my own, and rightfully so. This is a searing and soulful album of the highest order and kudos to this band for pulling off a masterful sophomore effort.