12 Jacket (3mm Spine) [GDOB-30H3-007}Khemmis sat atop my list of very pleasant surprises for 2015, with their unheralded Absolution debut being one of the best doom platters of the year and one of the top metal albums overall. I assumed 2016 would see these youngsters flushed with newfound success, touring extensively and carefully prepping to battle the dreaded sophomore slump sometime in 2017. Instead they chose to come right back at us with Hunted, and I wondered if they might be rushing things. Especially when I saw the track-list consisted of but 5 songs clocking in at 44 minutes. That means fewer, much longer songs than last time, which could spell trouble even for a seasoned doom crew. It didn’t take much time with Hunted to realize such fears were unfounded. Hunted is another huge platter of mammoth riffs and emotionally gripping vocals held together by stellar writing chops and enough rock sensibility to drive the songs through your skull. Sounding anything but rushed, Hunted is a more refined, streamlined beast and though a few of the extraneous influences from the debut have been sloughed off, the end result is a kind of doom that’s so accessible and easy to digest, it almost defies genre conventions. I guess when you’ve got that “it factor,” you’ve really got it.

From the opening chords of “Above the Water” until the fading strains of the closing title track, this thing reeks of superior writing and solid musicianship. While Absolution existed in a grey area between classic doom and its uncouth stoner cousin, Hunted is clearly in the former camp, sounding more like Pallbearer and While Heaven Wept than before. There may still be a certain rock-centric vibe lingering in the riffs and builds, but the desertcore, and at times, southern-fried stoner elements are all but erased as they double down on a classic doom template. The presentation is more polished and, dare I say, classy than before, as they marry earth-shaking doom riffs with weeping melodies that share lineage with traditional doom and the Finnish school o’ sadboy led by Insomnium and Rapture. There are also strong traditional metal elements woven through the music, grounding things in the early days of doom yet maintaining a modern sheen.

khemmisCandlelight” could easily appear on a While Heaven Wept album with its forlorn riffs and “broken soul” vocals. It’s a beautifully downtrodden piece full of emotion and weighty riffage. “Three Gates” brings the most heaviness, rumbling along on aggressive, thick-as-a-brick riffs and harsh rasps, sounding like a musical road grading machine.

Oddly, it’s the longest songs that cut the deepest, as if the band needed the extra time to allow their material to fully blossom. “Beyond the Door” is  doom fan’s dream –  from the trilling riffs that depress the spirit even as they perpetually reach toward the heavens, to the lofty vocals foretelling hope and loss simultaneously, this is what the genre is meant to be. And somehow the title track takes it even further, making its 13-plus minute runtime feel as crisp and fleeting as a top 40 radio hit. The urgent, plaintive vocals, and beautiful solos swirl and blend with Tuomas Saukkonen-esque cascading riffs and classic metal influences to form a wonderfully moving musical panorama guaranteed to impress.

The biggest downside comes via an overloud production, which while not awful, does deform some of the material’s essential beauty. The individual instruments are well mixed, but then everything gets dumped in the loudness blender and it can get muddy when you want it clear as a mountain lake. At 44 minutes, the album flies by despite the song lengths and you’ll be left wanting another 8-10 minute monster when it ends. This is also the rare album with long tracks that doesn’t scream for editing, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

The biggest departure from Absolution are the vocals, which are more soaring and emotive than before. Phil Pendergast elevates his vocal game significantly, turning in a moving performance sure to pluck at the heartstrings of even the most taciturn metal ogre. Sometimes he reminds of Scott Reagers (Saint Vitus) but with much more range and depth. The death croaks still put in a few appearances, most notably on “Three Gates,” but they seem more of an afterthought now. The guitars also feel less raw than on the debut, and with the stoner elements stripped out things sound cleaner and more elegant. Pendergast and Ben Hutcherson craft an iron skeleton of classic doom riffs then decorate the bones with flowing, ethereal harmonies that rip melancholy from the very air itself. The rock-solid rhythm section of Dan Beiers (bass) and Zach Coleman (drums) lay down a solid base upon which Phil and Ben build their church and the whole construct sounds ready for gold plating.

Khemmis was great before, but now they’re deadly. By shifting direction toward classic doom and refining their vision and writing, they’ve unleashed a musical Kraken on the doom scene. Hunted is stronger than Absolution, and somehow more accessible too. My only question is, where do they go from here? This will be a tough act to follow, folks.


Rating: 4.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kpbs mp3
Label: 20 Buck Spin
Websites: khemmis.bandcamp.com | khemmisdoom.com
Releases Worldwide: October 21st, 2016

 

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  • Kronos

    It’s a big month. I don’t even listen to doom and I think this is great.
    Blur that flag a little and it’s the Lowgazers cover.

    • Belgian Tom’s Hat Trick

      Yeah, I’ve always had a strange relationship with doom. But Pallbearer and Khemmis just floor me they’re so damn good; although they’re different beasts. I just stumbled upon Khemmis late last month, bought their debut and pre-ordered Hunted (with t-shirt bundle, baby!). These guys nailed it. Can’t stop listening to them. Received my copy a day prior to Opeth’s Sorceress release and coudn’t stop spinning “Absolution” long enough to listen to it.

      • lennymccall

        I’m with you on those bands. Take my advise and add Spirits Adrift to the mix. All three go perfectly together.

        • Belgian Tom’s Hat Trick

          Thanks, lennymccall, for the recommendation; I’ll check them out!

        • Belgian Tom’s Hat Trick

          Okay, checked them out on Bandcamp… I’m sold; when I recover from my latest music binge that, I must say, is in large part due to AMG.

          • lennymccall

            It never ends my man. All thanks to AMG.

  • Excentric_13073

    I admit, I was starting to zone out with that sample track, until that 2:00 mark hit. Yeah, I think I could handle this.

  • Diego Molero

    Is that you on the album cover, Steel?

    • Monsterth Goatom

      Cover reminds me of Ralph Bakshi’s animated version of Lord of the Rings.

      • And his animated movie, Wizards.

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          And his animated movie “Fire and Ice”.

    • Carlos Marrickvillian

      Cover would make an excellent backdrop for the site… Though I suspect it won’t happen as AMG won’t be able to resist trolling SD

      • Diego Molero

        Maybe Steel get to do it this month like on July. But perhaps they should do September first…

  • Feytalist

    Yeah, I’m unhealthily excited for this. Absolution was easily in my top 5 for last year, and I’ve wanted more since the moment I heard it.

  • Eldritch Elitist

    Ooh, can’t wait to check this out. That album cover is rad as fuck, too.

    • METAL OTTER

      It needs to be spray-painted onto the side of their van/hearse.

  • Pimpolho

    AOTY potential here.

    • It has some tough competition but it’s in the running.

  • Andy777

    Great review SD, I’m glad to see this get some love. I’ve been streaming this non-stop since it went up. My vinyl should be arriving any day now. I saw these guys live a couple months ago and it was awesome. They played Hunted live and it was a totally surreal 15 minutes.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    Saw the band name; saw the score, and now I’m jumping up and down and rapidly clapping hands like a schoolgirl. These guys are on a massive role.

  • El_Cuervo

    Monumental. Up there in contention for AotY.

  • Zephyrus

    The wizard mascot that guards their album covers is super bad ass. I wonder if he’d drink my wine and tell me tales.

  • Dr. Wvrm

    Count me on board the hype train. I wasn’t as high on Absolution as some folks but it definitely had a ton of potential and the preview track is sublime.

  • Ferrous Beuller

    I lap this stuff up – and this did not disappoint.

  • themetalyears

    So glad to read this, their debut still gets heavy rotation in my playlist.

  • Great review! If you get a chance, see them live. Incredible band.

  • Chris_Martin

    They’re quickly becoming one of my favorite bands. I can’t get over how good their harmonic leads are, not to mention their overall sense of melody.

  • Matt McMadden

    Good to hear. I really enjoyed Absolution.

  • brklyner

    The vinyl master will hopefully improve on the version you reviewed. Can’t wait to spend more time with this record!

  • Eli Valcik

    ROTM! saw these guys at Migrationfest in Olympia WA. Great show, the band members are pretty cool dudes too.

  • Holy doom, Batman! This is great! More than makes up for that Cripples for Autumn Children review this morning!!!

  • Amazing album. Definitely in my top five of this year.

  • Danny

    I’d never heard of these guys, but the embedded track slays. I’ll have to check this out

  • Ernesto Aimar

    That cover alone deserves a vinyl purchase

  • Just a heads up – the album has just been released on Bandcamp http://listen.20buckspin.com/album/hunted-2

    • Lars Barres

      Purchased!

    • The Unicorn

      MaxRino you devil! Purchasing.

  • Jason

    Love the cover art! It’s very European comic/Heavy Metal magazine.

    • Ferrous Beuller

      I agree. It feels a bit 2000 AD, if you catch my drift.

  • De2013

    Very cool review “.. now they’re deadly”! And a 4.5! I had pre-ordered this months ago, so excited to see it available for download finally.

  • Hammersmith

    The death vocals sounded kind of weak on Absolution, I’m actually glad they have been given a bit less prominence for this album. Definitely looking forward to it!

  • Thatguy

    Four men and a van. What’s more metal than that?

    • 4 men, Jorn and a van.

      • Thatguy

        Why didn’t I think of that?

        • Because you’re a poser?

          • Thatguy

            Actually, no. It’s just that Jorn never enters my mind.

          • Good burn, Thatguy.

          • Thatguy

            Yo.

            I’m in a good mood. This is the first thing you have reviewed for many weeks that I like. Not that you should care.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Four men, two Gibson Flying-Vs and a van?

      • Thatguy

        True.

  • AnnieK13

    Really like this – went right to Bandcamp and bought after reading the review and listening to the embedded track.

  • Nag Dammit

    It is a beast of an album. Absolution rocked but they tried to mash too many ideas together and it felt like they were having an identity crisis. This is way more cohesive and straight away reaps the benefits. I bet it’s bone rattling played live.

  • TheTransmuted

    Nice to see my hometown’s metal scene growing. With these guys, Blood Incantation and Primitive Man stirring the pot, I’m feeling pretty jazzed about Denver metal. Album is fantastic.

    • El_Cuervo

      Check the shit out of Dreadnought. That’s a great Denver band.

      • TheTransmuted

        Haven’t heard any of their stuff. I feel shame. Thanks for the rec! Will check. Also forgot to throw Cobalt into the Colorado mix.

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        Oh yeah Dreadnought that was one of last years great un sung albums. AMG should do a “Thing Everyone Missed” review of that!

  • metalcasket

    Bought the album the second “Beyond the Door” ended and I’m exactly 5 minutes into “Candlelight” right now. I’m just posting for the sake of posting. This shit is astounding.

  • As Always Great Review Steel I’m Your fan on AMG. And Yes the Embedded Track is So Catchy Should Check them Out . Heavy as Fuck Beautiful as Satan Hot as Hell and tough as Steel ! Mind Blowing Solos…

    • Thatguy

      You missed a few capitals.

      • I left the t of tough & f of fan in lowercase state because it’s like a cross and cross is more Metal and as I noticed on the lower comment you like things to be metal so Deal with it !

        • Thatguy

          As long as you have a system I’m cool with your choices. I never really thought of ‘t’ as being metal, but ‘f’ certainly is. I think ‘k’ is probably the most metal letter though, or maybe ‘v’.

          • GardensTale

            Definitely the v but used as a u, like in kvlt.

          • sir_c

            with the ‘f’, the ‘v’ and the ‘k’ mentioned, I must also add the ‘c’. Unless you’re Sadistik Exekution

          • Thatguy

            Indeed.

            Too subtle for most, but you got it. But ‘c’ is not necessary and not metal.

  • Fazy

    Damn, the one doom band that got me is back! Can’t wait to drown in this sound.

  • mtlman1990

    I wish this would come with a dynamic Mr.Swano mix.

    • GardensTale

      I wish everything would come with a Swano mix. I usually do.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Damn I just bought a whole bunch of albums and will have to wait for this.
    TBH I thought Absolution on the whole was a really good debut but a little overrated it had some really great moments including The Bereaved which was one of my favourite songs of last year.
    I’m glad they seem to have gone in a more accessible direction the embedded track is great. Will look forward to digging into this one.

  • SegaGenitals

    I want a musical Kraken. I want it right now.

    • Thatguy

      Fear the Kraken.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Interested in the ‘Opinion of Steel’ on the state of ‘doom’ … It seems (at least to me) that over the last few years as a genre its been on the rise. With these guys and Crypt Sermon being two of the more notable debuts last year. With so many bands like Draconian, Yob, Castle, Avatarium, Pallbearer, Darkest Era, Royal Thunder, Atlantean Kodex, Eric Wagner and on and on releasing great albums… Is doom reaching some kind of critical mass and about to collapse under it’s own weight? Also who do you think sits at the top of the doom pile?

    • GardensTale

      Don’t forget King Goat. I’m a doom newb and even I loved Conduit.

    • I think we are actually at an interesting crossroads. Black Sabbath is hanging it up, but Pentagram is still alive and well and representing the old guard. Then we have a sudden explosion of great new bands like Khemmis, Pallbearer, Castle, Crypt Sermon, Spirit Adrift. As a lifelong doomhead, I’m pretty hapy right now.

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        Cheers SD, I agree and think that bands like Crypt Sermon and Khemmis are the thin edge of the new doom wedge. I hoping to see a shit ton of new bands emerge in the next few years wanting to up the ante. I’m really interested to see what Pallbearer do next their really close to snagging a much wider audience IMO.
        Heading of to check out Spirit Adrift whom I’ve managed to miss…

      • Levly

        Funnily enough, the only band in this elite list that I can’t get into for the life of me is Pallbearer. I’ve tried times and again to enjoy Foundations of Burden but it leaves me cold. Perhaps it is the underwhelming and a little wimpy singer, or the strange harmonies of the riffs, or the meandering songwriting? In any case, I don’t get why this band is praised so much, and I find Khemmis and Spirit Adrift infinitely better in the same style.
        Btw, one band you also forgot is Alunah, their last opus is amazing, the excellent female vocals add a little extra flavor and I can’t wait for the next one :).

  • RDP217

    I loved Absolution so much. In fact, “Serpentine” may have been my song of the year. I can’t wait to sit down and listen to this album in full.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Where do they go from here? Just paint that van in the band photo like Scooby Doo’s Mistery Machine and release a Hippie Doom album.

  • Julien Robitaille

    That riff 4 minutes into Above the water though…

  • Luke_22

    This album is so damn good. Big step up from the debut and one of the best of the year.

  • Wilhelm

    I prefer my doom on the dark side, with no, or little, emphasis on stoner rock – this does it for me, it’s emotional and the faster parts feel more epic than stoner – The mastering is disappointing but the music is outstanding, I cannot wait to hear more of it.

  • Pulsating Steel

    This is great stuff. Haven’t found much doom that pulls me in… this does.

  • The Nerd.GO JAYS

    Listening to the listed song, if this album is as good as the song it maybe the best Doom album I’ve heard since Woods V by Woods of Ypres.

  • GardensTale

    …fuck. I’m a total doom newb, but the few examples of the genre I’d heard were of the extreme dirge funeral type, so I always thought the genre wasn’t for me at all. Between getting hooked on King Goat recently and really enjoying the embedded track here, I think I may have misjudged. This is good shit, though I don’t think the death rasps work well here. That pounding riff at the end of the song is awesome!

  • robpal

    Nice review, been spinning this one A LOT last few days. Took me by surprise — never heard of them before, just clicked a random link on YT and got my ass kicked. Sludgy, doomy but at the same time riffs are melodic and memorable, loving it!

  • SegaGenitals

    Gotta love the satanic-death Cthulu heraldry on that shield.

  • Gaëtan Baratin

    Solo of Beyond the Door has an Iron Maiden thing going on… Do I also hear a tiny bit of Akerfeldt in the embedded track beginning vocals, and something like Orphaned Land in the end?

    The first track is my favourite for now. Definitely packs a punch. I’m gonna buy the shit out of it when the CD is on sale.

  • lennymccall

    Been waiting on this one what seems like forever. Now that it’s here I can finally breathe it in and relax. Loved Absolution from day one and this record just compounds my fanboy status.
    AotY maybe, at least in the top 5 for sure.
    Never heard While Heaven Wept, checking them out for sure now tho.
    Thx Steel!

  • sir_c

    This one and Northern Crown are certainly the shiny pearls October brought us. Dammit do I love autumn these days..

  • Bart the Repairman

    I love that feeling when a band I’ve never heard of, knocks me down by surprise with the power of Mike Tyson. 9 glorious minutes later my jaw is still on the floor. Thanks for bringing it up, this band deserves my money. I hope they will come to Poland soon.

  • What a monumental piece of work. Easily on my top 10 of the year at minimum.

  • defjam

    Fucking Majestic! and I rarely use any of these two words let alone both in the same sentence.

  • antitayyip

    çomolokko..