Khemmis – Desolation Review

Band: Khemmis
Album: Desolation
Label: 20 Buck Spin/ Nuclear Blast
Genre: Doom Metal, Heavy Metal
Country: USA
Release Date: 22 June, 2018

It’s very easy to forget with all the acclaim and success that follows their name, that Khemmis is a band that formed only five years ago. After two full lengths with (in my opinion) the premier underground label, 20 Buck Spin, Khemmis has now teamed up with Nuclear Blast as well for their most hyped record to date. A new record label was not the only thing that they added to their repertoire in the two years since their last release Hunted. Khemmis has joined into the 80s nostalgia that seems to be sweeping the nation with a healthy injection of classic heavy metal, sometimes pushing their doom aspect aside almost entirely. This could be seen as a (Khem)mis-step at first, but this album has really been growing on me with every listen.

The guitar tone on Desolation is one of the aspects that immediately piqued my interest, more specifically the dichotomy between the heavy/dirty tone and the soft/clean tone used throughout the record. The heavier tone is pure doom, it sounds straight out of a hooded menace record and you can truly hear The Darkness Drip Forth. Maw of Time is probably the heaviest and easily the doomiest track on the record this allows the swampy guitar tone to be showcased throughout the song.The cleaner tones have more of a Judas Priest or Thin Lizzy vibe to them, which mixes surprisingly well with doom metal. The opening riffs of Isolation reminded me of Iron Maiden’s The Trooper. The intro of Bloodletting is a fantastic example of the dichotomous sound that Khemmis has expertly weaved their album around.

You can’t get very far into this album without noticing the vocal performance of Phil Pendergast. It sounds like a more epic Matt Heafy from Trivium to me, and I mean that in a completely complimentary way. Phil’s voice is undeniably powerful and adds a very epic atmosphere to the music. While the clean vocals have always been a strong suit for Khemmis, they have really come a long way on this album. My favorite delivery has to be in Flesh to Nothing when he almost screams “…Scratching out our eyes!” it sounds so damn good. The harsh vocals provided by Ben Hutcherson are a nice addition to Khemmis formula, but for me they work best as just an addition. When the harsh vocals become too prominent, or the focal point of the song is when I begin to lose interest. On Maw of Time the harsh vocals drive more than half of the track and it becomes cumbersome for me. I love when Phil and Ben are battling it out in the chorus, but when Phil takes a backseat is when they start to lose my interest unfortunately. That all being said, Ben has an extremely large range when it comes to his harsh vocals.

The more time I spent listening to Desolation the more the drumming really began to stand out as well. In a lot of doom bands the drumming is important for the atmosphere of the track, but it can be fairly simplified. That is not the case for Khemmis on Desolation, the drums stay busy and keep you captivated throughout the album. This could be because to label Khemmis strictly as a doom metal band would be to do them a huge disservice. Khemmis definitely has their roots deeply implanted into doom, but they have really let their influences shine through as they have grown as a band.

There are a few things about the album that I had issues with. The bass guitar feels borderline nonexistent throughout the majority of the run-time. There are a few sections on the album where you can hear it adding to the atmosphere, or if you’re paying close enough attention you’ll hear it in From Ruin (The album’s epic finale). Unfortunately the bass does not get a chance to have it’s own life or really bring anything new to the record. I also felt that the majority of the second half of this record was paced poorly. The first half has a galloping, anthemic feeling to it that really falls off during the latter half of Desolation.

Khemmis have succeeded in expanding their sound in a very accessible and digestible package. Desolation absolutely has mass appeal, and there is a lot of good throughout this record. Unfortunately for me, there is only a few aspects of the album that I find to be great. Those being, the guitar tones/production,  and Phil Pendergast’s incredible vocal performance (Honestly giving Mike Scheidt a run for his money). I enjoy a lot of things about Desolation, but the lack of memorable and engaging moments throughout left me with very little to love. I am very excited for the future of Khemmis though. They seem incapable of writing bad music, and are always expanding their sound.

Rating: 7/10

1. Bloodletting
2. Isolation
3. Flesh to Nothing
4. The Seer
5. Maw of Time
6. From Ruin

Total Playing Time: 42:25

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