Khemmis – Deceiver (Album Review)

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Deception begets innovation.

Breaking new ground is a joy shared by artists and undertakers alike, and though it would seem that every twist and turn in the expansive maze of doom metal has been fully explored, there is a younger crop of adherents that beg to differ. Among the more curious of these latter day arrivals at the sonic cemetery that shares some similarities with North American contemporaries Pallbearer and Spirit Adrift, as well as Swedish fellow travelers Monolord is the Denver-based quartet turned trio Khemmis. Sporting a name pertaining to an ancient Egyptian city and a comparably mystical sound that is difficult to accurately label, theirs’ is a highly nuanced craft that encapsulates just about every permutation of the doom metal style that has occurred since the pioneering days of Black Sabbath. With a fairly sizable output since their 2012 inception that includes three studio LPs and several shorter releases, they’ve managed to build a brand for themselves that has caught the attention of Nuclear Blast Records, which has been the vehicle for their latest full length endeavor.

Per the band’s own testimony, their fourth studio album dubbed “Deceiver” is a thematic cycle of songs dealing with how people are tricked into believing a false reality about themselves and the world in which they reside. Structured to parallel the Inferno segment of The Divine Comedy, it is a highly vivid journey consisting of 6 complex chapters, though compared to past ventures such as 2016’s “Hunted,” is reasonably streamlined. Though no bassist is listed among the band’s membership since the departure of Daniel Beiers last year, the tone of the arrangement is extremely bottom-heavy, reminiscing upon the dank, sludgy character that one might expect from High On Fire, yet tends towards the slower rocking dirge that one would expect from a traditional doom proponent. The vocal interchanges of guitarists Phil Pendergast and Ben Hutcherson further accentuates this duality with a clean, smooth, non-operatic wail set against a brutal series of guttural barks and groans deep enough to fit in with the early 90s death/doom sound of Northern Europe.

Though this album is not a proper conceptual work, it progresses in a storybook fashion, often mimicking a theatrical performance schedule from one section to the next. The opening foray into epistemological trickery dubbed “Avernal Gate” begins on a melancholy acoustic note, expanding at each pass of its progression in a manner similar to the outro of Black Sabbath’s “Heaven And Hell”, then jars the audience into a vortex of chaos with a fast-paced thrashing blitz that sounds fairly similar to something from In Flames’ late 90s repertoire. Overall, this song’s character hearkens back to the traditional metal-infused, epic flavor of early Candlemass as it cycles between faster and slower segments, frequently featuring flashy lead guitar breaks and dueling harmonized segments, but also diverges at key points with an assortment of sludge, psychedelic and death metal-tinged segments. This highly varied exposition proves to be a highly engaging preview of what is to come, and the massive 8 minute slough of a closer “The Astral Road” mirrors its versatility and surpasses it in both technical and emotional execution.

“Deceiver” Album Artwork

While the two highly involved compositions that surround this work at its fringes are forces to be reckoned with, the massive body of music between them is no less intricate. Leaning a bit into the graver side of the doom coin, the slow trudge of “House Of Cadmus” lays on the dank heaviness about as thickly as can be conceived, with the choir-like vocals providing a haunting contrast that further accentuates its funeral dirge character. The muddy and dreary atmosphere set on “Living Pyre” takes things in an even more sludgy direction, to the point of sounding like it could have been recorded by one of original Nola pioneers of the 90s when discounting the soaring clean voices and noodling lead guitar interchanges. The wandering epic “Shroud Of Lethe” has a slightly progressive bent to its down tempo sorrowing, frequently shifting ideas and feel. “Obsidian Crown” is arguably the closest thing to a banger among this gang of expansive epics, featuring several brilliant vocal and guitar hooks while maintaining a more rocking pace.

The billing of Khemmis as a standard doom metal outfit, while arguably falling way short of what they do, is probably the best way to go. It just as accurately be described as psychedelic sludge with a massive side-order of Swedish epic doom metal, but at its core, the highly innovative trails that were blazed by Sabbath back in the 70s were equally as versatile while not requiring such an expansive label. This trio’s unique approach to thinking outside the box has basically found them recapturing the same raw character and appeal of the old days here, then projecting it through a present day kaleidoscope of numerous sub-styles that developed out of the original. The contrast of an extremely gritty and dark instrumental attack with what could best be described as borderline angelic vocals is an interesting twist on a style that is generally not known for its pristine crooning, and might prove a turn off for fans of sludge metal. But overall, the unique mixture of elements at play here is a highly effective one, and doom fans of all stripes will find a rock solid entry here.

Released By: Nuclear Blast Records
Release Date: November 19th, 2021
Genre: Doom / Heavy Metal

Musicians:

  • Phil Pendergast / Vocals, Guitar
  • Ben Hutcherson / Guitar, Vocals
  • Zach Coleman / Drums

“Deceiver” Tracklisting:

  1. Avernal Gate
  2. House of Cadmus
  3. Living Pyre
  4. Shroud of Lethe
  5. Obsidian Crown
  6. The Astral Road

8.6 Excellent

One of the more curious phenomena to arise from the North American doom metal scene in the past decade recaps their unique composite of nearly every variation within the sub-genre’s umbrella, delivering a thought-provoking slab of slow dirges and contemplative laments on their Nuclear Blast debut

  • Songwriting 8.5
  • Musicianship 8.5
  • Originality 9
  • Production 8.5
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