Long have we waited for new Khemmis to grace our halls. It’s been three years since the Denver doom wizards released a full-length. In that time, quite a lot has transpired both internally and externally for the now-trio. Deceiver marks the band’s debut with Nuclear Blast, and it also showcases the band at their most introspective and at the peak of their musical prowess. Fun fact: Khemmis was almost the first concert Angela and I went to, but I was too nervous to ask her to go with me because I thought she would think I was a weirdo because of my musical tastes. Look at us now, reviewing this album together!
Khemmis are a band that has a sound all to themselves, and on their major label debut, they turn all the knobs up to eleven. If you’re looking for their signature blend of “wholly doomed” heavy metal, you get exactly what you’ve been waiting for since 2018’s Desolation and then some. While they do push their sound forward a little bit by incorporating NOLA grooves and touches of psychedelia, what they really manage to do is double down on what everyone already loves about them: soaring, epic vocals; crushing, gnarly riffs; mournful melodies and doomy dirges. The recipe remains unchanged for the most part, but everything seems so much grander in scale. The melodies are more poignant and the compositions are more complex. The vocals dig deeper and soar higher; the leads blaze and shred more than before and the riffs hit right in the gut as hard as they ever have. A lot of these sonic improvements come from a stellar production job. Not that Khemmis have ever had a poor sounding record before, but it’s obvious that Nuclear Blast sent them off to the right place and people for them. The guitars are crisp and the vocals clear and not muddied in the mix. Even the harsh vocals sound better than they ever have, both in terms of production and actual delivery. The blend of the vocal styles has always been one of our favorite parts of Khemmis’ sound, and on Deceiver that dynamic is fully exploited. Hearing each element clearly really makes listening to Deceiver a memorable experience; there’s always something new to pick out with repeated listens.
Lyrically, Deceiver touches on a more personal level than Khemmis usually reaches for, with themes of mental health struggles, sorrow, desolation and longing for hope. “Thematically, all of the songs are about the many ways that we are tricked into believing these stories about ourselves–that we are broken, that we are not good enough, that our genetics determine our fate. This title is the label that we put on our minds as a force that tricks us into believing these stories,” vocalist and guitarist Phil Pendergast explains of the writing process. Obviously, a lot of personal journeys went into the making of this album, which is one of the reasons that Deceiver is as affecting as it is. The lyrics match the intensity of the music, and it helps drive the songs forward, especially with how much more vibrant the vocals are in the mix. You feel all the pain and turmoil in every line, but there is also a sense of hope and catharsis in the melodies and the passionate playing. They’re clearly working through something here, and we’re lucky enough to be a part of the process, because the outcome is something special and moving.
Is Deceiver the best Khemmis album to date? We certainly think so, so that’s two trustworthy opinions. We’re also not the only ones on staff who think that way, and you’re definitely going to be hearing about Deceiver again in about a month or so’s time. It’ll be quite interesting to see where Khemmis goes from here, because all of their albums have topped the previous ones. For now, all we can do is sit back and enjoy this one on repeat, maybe work through some bad feelings right along with them.
– Angela and Ian