Khemmis - Desolation
Doom, Heavy Metal
6 songs (41:35)
Release year: 2018
Reviewed by Goat

Following the impressive Hunted in 2016, Colorado's Khemmis are back with their third full-length and as before I find myself musing the story being told from their particular taste in cover art. The barbarian babe missing from their last album is back, sat on a throne and looking bored, back to back with the aged wizard of before - have they had a falling out? Is this a scene of empty victory, after whatever mission went on in Hunted is over? Am I reading too much into this? The answer to all these questions is most probably yes, yet it's hard not to let your imagination run away with you while spending time with Desolation. Said barbarian vibe is stronger this time around, not least thanks to a stepping away from the doom of their previous albums towards a more retro heavy metal style, albeit with plenty of doom still mixed in. Bands like Argus or Slough Feg come to mind; songs of questing adventurers and their derring-do, and if Khemmis approach this from an ever-so-slightly more modern feel, there's nothing wrong with that.

The four-piece are still excellent musicians and relying less on My Dying Bride or Iron Maiden allows them to stretch their wings a little, still with those influences mixed in but making for a better overall experience. Whatever was missing before seems to have been filled in; take opener Bloodletting for example, opening with melodic riffing and leading to a slow gallop topped with Phil Pendergast's lovely clean singing. You can hear the roots of both MDB and Maiden yet this is clearly neither, even before the harsh growls return and Khemmis kick it up into a higher gear, leading to more gorgeous soloing. Paradise Lost playing traditional metal is the closest I can come to it, and whilst it still seems like the band should drop those harsh vocals altogether there's no denying the compositional quality. That increase in songwriting skill is the next biggest difference between this and Hunted, first single Isolation a Thin Lizzy-esque melodic rocker that keeps its doom elements and indulges in lengthy instrumental sections but makes the vocal hooks even more memorable.

Khemmis were already good at songwriting but are even better now, packing more into the average six to seven minute song here than many doom bands do in double that. The Seer, for instance, seems close to a heavy metal song a la Grand Magus initially, but soon opens up into a downright Candlemassian chorus. Pendergast's voice is simply pleasant to listen to throughout, mostly free of obvious hooks but would still be engrossing even if the guitars weren't as good as they are. Keeping the harsh vocals mostly to brief flashes is effective enough although they still seem to be used as schizophrenic-feeling breaks rather than vital song components in their own right and to be honest, again, I'm left wondering why they're included at all. That said, Maw of Time is the best use of them on the album, trading clean/harsh lines in a way that successfully reminds you that this is essentially an extreme metal band rather than some attempt at Mastodon or The Sword-esque mainstream glory, even before the dip into funeral doom in the closing half of the song.

It's a very small nitpick to have, in fairness, yet Pendergast's voice would be enough to sell a lesser band in its entirety. Closing nine-minuter From Ruin alone shows the distance Khemmis have come, returning wholly to the earlier albums' melodic doom and keeping you engrossed throughout with an added prog vibe suggesting exciting new directions for them to take. All of my criticisms from Hunted are answered, from the improved songwriting to the way they've absorbed their influences and made a sound that is theirs, and it's as pleasant as ever to see a band grow and improve. It's amazing to think that Khemmis are only six years old, and already this good - how much better are they going to get! In the meantime, Desolation is very much worth your time.

Killing Songs :
Bloodletting, Isolation, The Seer, From Ruin
Goat quoted 85 / 100
Other albums by Khemmis that we have reviewed:
Khemmis - Hunted reviewed by Goat and quoted 80 / 100
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