Album Review: KHEMMIS Desolation
Denver doomsters Khemmis made a strong first impression with their 2015 debut Absolution. Just over a year later Hunted received nearly universal praise, landing on numerous year-end lists and even topping some of them. That raises expectations pretty high for their third effort, Desolation.
It would have been easy for Khemmis to record Hunted 2.0, staying in that lane and delivering a similar album. They chose not to do that. Instead, they incorporated some different influences on Desolation, not taking a dramatic left turn, but spicing things up and taking some musical risks.
Opener “Bloodletting” is a good preview of what the album has to offer. There are elements of traditional metal with catchy harmonies and even a searing solo or two along with their trademark doomy riffs and tempo shifts. The majority of the vocals are melodic, with Phil Pendergast displaying both power and emotion, his lower register sounding a bit like Trivium's Matt Heafy. Brief doses of harsh vocals add some spice.
While doom elements are present throughout, the overall flavor of the album leans toward classic/traditional metal with a lot of soloing and dual lead guitar parts. “Isolation” has an NWOBHM vibe and all melodic singing before slower doom creeps in towards the end. It's the record's most accessible and streamlined track. “The Seer” is probably the most similar to songs on past Khemmis albums, but adding viola is a subtle and unique twist. Those types of elements co-exist smoothly with more extreme moments like a burst of black metal in the midst of the otherwise somber “Flesh To Nothing.”
While Ben Hutcherson's harsh vocals are used sparingly through most of the album, they are utilized more widely on “Maw Of Time,” making it the most ominous and heaviest song on the record, while still displaying some shredding guitar work.
Along with the musical diversity, there are also different lyrical approaches. Many of the songs including the aforementioned “Maw Of Time” aren't exactly sunshine and roses, with the closing line “We are destined to rot eternal/Consumed by a world forsaken, we will not be mourned.” However, there are more uplifting passages as well, with “From Ruin” showing a glimmer of hope, ending with, “…in the new spring dawn/I find the strength to carry on.” It's the album's longest song at more than 9 minutes, and also one of its most varied. A sparse and somber section about a third of the way through gives way to an extended and exuberant instrumental section before dialing it back down to an understated ending.
Producer Dave Otero (Cattle Decapitation, Cephalic Carnage) has worked with Khemmis on all of their albums. He knows the band inside and out, able to get quality performances out of them along with a production that suits their blend of thick doom and accessible melodies.
Desolation is Khemmis' most mature album, with creative arrangements and an approach that's confident without being complacent. While not quite reaching the rarefied air of Hunted, it's a worthy successor that connects both musically and emotionally.