Album Review: KHEMMIS Hunted
The Denver-based rock quartet of Khemmis has been surging over the last 15 months. Their debut album, Absolution, received large amounts of praise from critics and fans alike for constructing a riveting blend of classic rock and doom metal upon its release last summer. Riding a celebratory wave and looking to scratch an insatiable writing itch, the group returned to the studio to begin work on their sophomore album. The result has become a towering display of classic rock and doom majesty from a band still growing from its early stages of development.
2016 brings Hunted. Within its confines are five tracks dedicated to doomed rock and roll. Album opener, "Above the Water", is Khemmis' take on timeless, thunderous album openers like Metallica's "Blackened" or Judas Priest's "Hellion". Think infectious riffs and big hooks that immediately sell a listener on an album like these mentioned tracks do on …And Justice for All and Screaming for Vengeance, respectively. These infectious riffs and hooks carry Hunted. "Candlelight", "Three Gates", and "Beyond the Door" (the singles shared with listeners prior to the release of the album) see Khemmis channel more Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden. In addition to the combination of Phil Pendergast and Ben Hutcherson's swirling riffs are their dichotomous vocals. Pendergast's crisp, clean voice is countered by Hutcherson's gritty growl. There is a large, sonic depth created from the duo. The layers within Khemmis' music only expands when Dan Beiers' bass guitar and Zach Coleman's drums are taken into consideration.
An interesting subplot arises within Hunted as well. Upon Absolution's release, comparisons to doom contemporaries, Pallbearer, were quickly drawn. Hunted does well to dispel these unnecessary comparisons. Not to sleight Pallbearer's music, Khemmis has taken another avenue to achieve a sky-high sound by slowing down their classic rock and metal influences instead of a heavy wave that is seen in bands like Candlemass or Cathedral. Khemmis helps fill out two sides of a stylistic coin in doom metal. Some of it can be chocked up to the band's continued work with master producer, Dave Otero, but it mainly stems from a predetermined direction and newly-refined focus Ben, Phil, Zach, and Dan synthesized before entering the studio to record the album.
This bolstered focus and direction results in the biggest sticking point of this great album. The contribution of all four members in the band and its direct correlation with how improved Khemmis is from what was already magnificent music. In Absolution, much of the writing and direction arose from Phil and Ben. Hunted brings Dan and Zach into the fray and this total group effort has spurned excellence from start to finish. Especially during the finish. The closing, title track is hands-down one of the best songs to be heard this year. 13 and half minutes of everything that makes Khemmis great has been packaged into the final song of the album. Much like they did with "The Bereaved" on Absolution, they wrap their album up with a truly stunning and emotive composition. This isn't to detract from the high quality of the other songs, but to exemplify the title track's capacity for overwhelming emotion, much like Yob's "Marrow" did on Clearing the Path to Ascend.
Frankly speaking, Hunted is simply one of the best records that will be released in 2016. Each song composed is better than what they have created in the past (and better than much of what has been released this year). Khemmis' mastery of catchy riffs and melodies has subsequently unleashed a wave of unforgettable music that sits in your head day in and day out. Their doomed rock and roll demands multiple voluntary and involuntary replays throughout the week (or day in my case…) It has everything that one would seek out in an essentially flawless record. The only reason it doesn't get a perfect score is Khemmis can truly get better still, I believe. For a band roughly four years old, they are their own unique entity in a muddled realm of rock and doom metal. It is a realm usually reserved for bands who have weathered decades of a scene. Their poise signals a bright future for Khemmis and I am thoroughly excited to see what it holds.