Denver’s Khemmis took the fast lane to acclaim on debut Absolution and quickly followed it with the ante-upper Hunted and now return with Desolation which will catapult the band into a stratosphere they’ve yet to see. And it should because it’s THAT good. Take everything that made those first two a success, split it, mix it, swirl it and make it, for lack of a better word, better and you have this album. Weird right? Not really, since in my opinion bands with any salt at all will do their best to better themselves and their craft. Khemmis are hungry and it shows time and again. Here they’ve topped themselves but more than that have truly entered the all exclusive hall of heavy metal legends and with three albums of top quality I can’t see this stopping anytime soon.
Even I’ll admit to a bit of over reaching when I sang the praises of Absolution and Hunted. However, the band reached a place within me that had never been reached before with their soaring melodies, thunderous approach and emotional songwriting. It was the perfect combination that found its way under my skin and to tell you the truth, it has never left. I still return to these albums on a weekly and sometimes daily basis depending on what I need at any particular moment. Absolution was fresh as a morning daisy in a sea of try hards and exposed me to the kind of doom tinged with a classic rock vibe I’d only dreamed of. And Hunted had this same feel but with a deeper focus on rough vocals it added a depth to the almighty heavy that again struck a chord. Two near perfect albums from a young band in two consecutive years seemed preposterous yet here I was in the midst of it and couldn’t have been happier. And I went into reviewing both like my life depended on it, they deserved it and so it was.
Here we are two years removed with Desolation and my jaw is on the floor. Proving that you don’t know what you don’t know until you know it. Meaning, my initial praise of their first two outings — while warranted — might have been a but much (like I said, over reaching). Both have holes but at the time I missed them. Call it love at first listen or blinded by the light or whatever you want. This time, the band is The. Real. Deal. Period. Nothing on this album is out of place and nothing is there that shouldn’t be, everything you hear has a purpose and a direction that sees sensible conclusion on each and every track. Simply put, not a second is wasted and the tight 41 minutes is perfect. Particularly when attention spans are at an all time low and status quo is ‘hit me quick or I’m out.’ For proof of this see “Bloodletting” with its near immediate riff parade and “Isolation” with its unstoppable and unsinkable rock laden grooves. And yes, I did just open this thing with the first two tracks – sue me.
But listen closer and you’ll hear an immediacy in Phil Pendergast and Ben Hutcherson’s melodic interplay that they’ve been striving for but have now successfully acheived. It’s like these guys are playing as their lives depend on it but wanting us to know how much they’ve grown since Hunted. The chords these two find in just these opening tracks are awe inspiring and we’ve still got four more to go. But even more than that is their efficiency, this is “doomed heavy metal” after all yet these two tracks only take up twelve minutes and change. “The Seer” turns in one of the finest drum performances from Zach Coleman to date, the fills between chorus and verse are extraordinary as he bashes with purpose while keeping time to a tee. And on “Maw of Time” Dan Beiers demolishes the bass while solidly shoring up the underbelly. However, this is a running theme throughout Desolation – each member has developed so much in two years it’s as if we’re hearing Khemmis for the first time. If that doesn’t get you right in the sweet spot I’m not sure you have one.
With all that said, Phil Pendergast has matured as a vocalist to a degree that not even I was prepared for. “Bloodletting” is a beautifully executed mix of clean and well articulated lines with soaring choruses, “Isolation” is a vocal ‘hook’ driven affair which speaks volumes to the type of song it is and “Flesh To Nothing” finds Phil in arguably the lowest singing register we’ve heard thus far and he, quite simply, owns it. And there’s the interplay between Pendergast and Hutcherson which is an ode to soft versus sandpaper that plays out better than ever. And honestly this was my only point of contention with Hunted (looking back on it now), in the harsh vocals not playing nice with the otherwise clean lines. Here, this isn’t the case at all. It’s as if the stars aligned and what we hear is what was foretold in the stars. It just works seamlessly.
As usual though with any album review — and there will be plenty for this one — you will be the final judge of what you hear and love. I could go on and on about how much Khemmis have grown and how many strides the band has taken since Hunted and even further since Absolution but I challenge you to listen to “From Ruin” and not FEEL it to the bottom of your toes. Seriously. Khemmis has transitioned into epic status with this album and since I’ve been a fan from day one I couldn’t be happier hearing this album and hearing what was missing from the last two (which I will still die upon their hills for). Trust me when I say that everything you thought you knew about this band will be put to the test when you experience just how much they’ve matured and just how hungry they still are to create the kind of doom that transcends its own genre with arena ready rock and creative yet extremely efficient songwriting. My hat is off to any band that challenges itself with each release and I stand with my hat tipped to Khemmis for Desolation.