2015 may not end up a magical year for metal, but it has certainly dropped some earth-shaking doom on the unsuspecting masses. In the wake of mammoth shit kickers from Crypt Sermon and Goatsnake, we must now reckon with the ponderous girth of unheralded Colorado doomers, Khemmis and their righteous debut, Absolution. As with Cyrpt Sermon, these slow motion maulers arrived at my door without hype or buzz and proceeded to lay waste to my time, attention and reviewing schedule. And they did it with a formula that’s far from arcane or revolutionary – taking traditional doom and blending it with stoner metal like Mastodon and High on Fire, a little southern groove and some old school rock ideas. Hardly groundbreaking ingredients, but the muck they dredge up at the delta of these influences is so listenable and addictive, you may think they stumbled upon a whole new doom enchilada. And that’s the alchemy the band practices; taking what is old and making it feel somehow fresh and invigorated. Add to that, a cover that could have been used for Ralph Bakshi’s super cult adult cartoon, Wizards, and there’s definitely some wild mojo percolating.
Absolution is a mere six songs, but man, they’re impressive and beastly numbers. Opener “Torn Asunder” clues you in right away that something good is afoot with riffs you can immediately get behind, haunting, Omnium Gatherum-like harmonies and the clear, forlorn vocals of guitarist/vocalist Phil. It’s very accessible for ponderous doom and has more than a little Pallbearer influence, but dare I say, this is much more memorable and instantaneous. Better still is the epic “Ash, Cinder, Smoke” where the band adds a bit more of a goth aesthetic along with a ripping swagger and an irresistibly bouncy, jaunty riff at the 2:10 point. Phil’s vocals are particularly gripping here and the whole song works a hypnotic charm on the listener while never forgetting to rock and/or roll.
“Serpentine” clocks in at over eight minutes but never overstays its welcome, captivating the listener with excellently slithering riffs and ultimately uncorking a mother of a hooky lead that could have appeared on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. It takes the song to a whole other level and you’ll be left impressed with the depth, groove and authenticity of it all. But these are just setting the table for the ginormous monster that is “The Bereaved.” The nine-minute closer is the band’s magnum opus and worth the price of admission all by its lonesome. It’s loaded down with beautifully emotional, plaintive vocals, heavy riffs, tripped out Kyuss-like experimentation and good old-fashioned rock n’ roll bombast. It rumbles along at a brisk pace rather than dragging like a crippled frost giant, and that makes everything far more engaging and lively. The ultimate testament to the song’s quality is that despite the length, it goes by in the blink of an eye and leaves you wanting more. Not many doom bands can pull that off, folks.
There isn’t a bad song or weak moment anywhere to be found and things gets radically better with repeat listens. The sound is rich and engrossing, the guitars are beautiful and crushing in equal measure, and the concise 41 minute runtime avoids doom fatigue. Sure, a bit more dynamic range would have been sweet, but when a band gives so much quality, I’m not going to bitch about a perfect DR score (I’ll leave that to our friends, the Metal-Fi weenies).
Phil and co-axe Ben are the main reason why Absolution is such a mammoth slab o’ win and together they run a high-level clinic on crafting riffs that keep a song engaging and memorable. There are many little moments that jump out and make you want to hear them again, and they shake things up regularly by dragging in ideas from rock, stoner, goth and traditional metal. The end result is a doom album that refuses to play like one because it’s too damn energetic and dynamic. Add in Phil’s rich, emotional vocals and Ben’s gruff, quasi-death barks as a counterpoint and everything takes a big step forward (especially at 3:30 on “Antediluvian”). Also of note is Dan’s heavy bass presence, which thumps and bumps with Geezer Butler-esque authority.
This is one polished humdinger of a debut and it’s travelling like a bullet up my Records o’ the Year list. I can’t stop spinning it, and if this is what legalized marijuana delivers, then I hope Colorado (and by extension, Khemmis) never emerge from their Rocky Mountain haze. Stone them. Stone them all wicked hard!