At this point, Khemmis are far from the obscure act they were when they dropped their debut album Absolution in 2015. Now signed to Nuclear Blast, they’ve made quite a name for themselves by being one of the very best riff-driven acts in the heavy metal/doom scene, and being a standout group from Denver. Me and Jake are big fans, so we thought we’d reunite to talk about their latest, Deceiver. Spoiler: it’s great!
David: Hi Jake! How are you doing?
Jake: I’m well, just sipping some ginger ale and listening to Deceiver, by Khemmis.
D: That’s a coincidence, I’m doing the same thing. Khemmis that is, not ging ale. Maybe later? This is actually pretty cool for us to be talking today about Deceiver because the very first article that we moved over to Everything Is Noise when we rebranded was our duo review of 2018’s Desolation. In the truest sense, this is a full-circle moment.
J: It only seemed right that we jump on this one once it was available. It was foretold.
D: It was, as if by a wizard. Jake, I think we have somewhat similar histories with Khemmis as a band. What’s your path been with this doomed heavy metal group?
J: I think you’re absolutely right about that. The wizard thing, that is. I came online with Khemmis with their debut LP, Absolution in 2015 or 2016, and have been along for the ride ever since. They were also the band that brought 20 Buck Spin to my attention. A bonus gift, to be sure.
D: Yep, as I suspected, very similar histories. I can’t remember the exact circumstances that led to me finding them, but I did with Absolution and just never looked back. Loved the art, loved the riffs, the vocals – once I found out they were from here in Denver, that only deepened the love.
J: Yes, the art drew me in immediately, I love that they’ve kept the mythos of their cover art a bit of a mystery, even after transitioning to Nuclear Blast with Desolation, and now with Deceiver.
D: Indeed, you could pretty much just make your own stories based on the art alone, and it still services the mood of the music so well. For instance, the main dude on Deceiver looks like Geralt of Rivia drawn by a comic book artist, flanked on all sides by beings I can only assume are hostile. Great start for what you find on the album.
J: Speaking of the start of the album, how about that first track, “Avernal Gate?” For me, it was a bit of a wake-up call, as I must admit I have cooled a little toward this style a little bit in past few years in favor of more extreme flavors of metal. But this track just storms the castle right from the jump.
D: Yooooo, yes, very strong showing. Look, I’ve immersed myself in similar bands lately like Hooded Menace and Green Lung as I just have a huge penchant for this shit, but damn, when the guitars come in on that song, it’s like my first time hearing the band all over again. I think me not listening to much Khemmis since we reviewed Desolation those years ago really helped me click with this harder too.
J: Interesting! I somewhat routinely listen to the band’s older albums, specifically that little folk split that they did with Spirit Adrift, and while I liked Desolation it didn’t quite hold the magic that Absolution and Hunted did for me. So getting smacked in the face with those massive riffs and Ben Hutcherson’s harsh vocals on the opening track instantly made me reaffirm my love for this band.
D: Yeah, totally fair. For me, it was like getting in touch with an old friend – one that growls at me and solos in my general direction. Really, to be somewhat blunt, Deceiver is more of the same. We get six tracks, 41 minutes and some change, and it all just feels so revitalized. I think of the intro to “Avernal Gate”, the second half of “Shroud of Lethe” with those fierce gutturals, and the epic progression of “The Astral Road” just to name a few rapid-fire standout moments. They’ve been working on this album for around three years I’m guessing, the longest time between studio albums, and it kind of shows!
J: Absolutely. I think the album is incredibly digestible and economic and that comes from great songwriting and writing songs that aren’t boring. The way they push and pull melodies around, the harmonies, and the solos and riffs make for an engaging but easy listen. I was going to shoutout “Shroud of Lethe” as my personal favorite track, so I’m glad you mentioned that one. I think there’s some real vulnerability to Phil Pendergast’s vocals that we haven’t heard before, so that was a really nice touch.
D: Oh yeah, that’s one reason why “Shroud of Lethe” is my favorite too. Gentle vocals at the beginning, and those lyrics? Pretty emotionally loaded.
‘Why should I atone and wash away the pain?
I can’t trust the memories leading me astray
Still I hold on to what I know are lies
Written in stone’
It’s the longest track at 8:41 and it just doesn’t feel like it because of how it flows and grows in intensity. Khemmis, to this day even after four albums, is one of the best bands to slow things down to doomy crawls and kick things back up to a brutish heavy metal candor and pace. It’s an art.
J: Wow, it’s that long? I had no idea that it was near nine minutes! and I think you perfectly summed up what makes Khemmis such a special band. They really do occupy a pretty unique space in the metal scene with their two-headed vocal approach, melodicism, harmony, and the sense of pacing on their albums. There’s really no one else quite like them.
D: There isn’t. I try to keep apprised of hot new death-doom, classic doom, and heavy metal acts, and it’s just a very specific space that they occupy to the level of quality that they do. Oh, and can I also say I love the couple smooth song transitions on here? I’m at a loss if they do that often, but here, there’s a clean transition between “Avernal Gate” and “House of Cadmus”, and between “Shroud of Lethe” and “Obsidian Crown”. Really gave it all an epic, cinematic feel at times.
J: Yeah, I do feel like these transitions add a bit of depth to the record and keep things moving along incredibly well. I can’t recall how many times I’ve listened to this album and been shocked that I’d reached the end. So smooth, just like this album’s production. I really feel like things really pop on here but is still very easy on the ears. In the end I think hits just right and is apt for this band.
D: I was going to bring that up too! I’m not a stickler for production, mostly because I don’t know what the hell makes it really good or bad, but it’s just crystal clear here. You’re never fighting to hear anything in the mix and I have very low-mid tier listening equipment. All their albums have been like that as far as I remember.
J: Yeah, I’ll hardly ever critique production unless it’s just unlistenable, because like you, I’m also a bit uneducated on how all of that works, I just like the riffs. With Deceiver, however, I think it’s a bit more punchy and I think that makes listening to the thing a lot more fun. I think that’s also a big part of this record too, it’s just fun to listen to.
D: It really is. Like I said before, heard quite a few albums similar to Deceiver this year, but nothing quite like this, and that does go for that punchy feeling, the execution, and other aspects we’ve mentioned. The thousand dollar question: you think it’s your favorite Khemmis album? Does it beat Absolution or Hunted?
J: I knew this question was coming, and I still don’t know if I have a final answer! Nostalgia clouds it a little bit doesn’t it. But what I will say is I think at this moment, it is my favorite. It just feels like a fully realized version of who they are and even in the context of this somewhat banner year for metal, it’s a genuine barn burner.
D: I would agree with that. I like the rawness of Absolution and even Hunted a bit, but Khemmis have just benefitted from more time overall. And the harsh vocals are a lot better lately as well. I’m not a fan of remakes, but I wonder how Absolution would sound with Deceiver‘s production values and other things that have been pumped up over time – that’s how good they are.
J: I would also be curious to hear that. I totally agree that they are a band that has grown and aged well, time has been very kind to their ideas and execution.
D: A rarity in this field, really. So many bands have aged like yogurt, or taken wild left-field turns that just… didn’t yield great results. Khemmis though? Nothing but dubs in the pocket so far.
J: I would 100% agree. I’ve liked every album they’ve released and they seem to have really known who they are from the start. That being said they have managed to make little tweaks and adjustments along the way to keep redefining their sound. So that being said, where do you see them going from here?
D: Well, I can’t see them doing away with their doom/heavy metal spirit. I know I can always expect an abundance of riffs with them. I will always nod my head to their music. Maybe this is wishful thinking, but I do see them getting slightly proggier in the future. That seems like a relatively natural direction to go and try out, and I think it’d be something they could pull off. What about you?
J: I’d love to hear a proggy Khemmis, that could be great! I think they’ll continue down the path of doomed heavy metal but I think they could definitely lean into that heavy metal sound, much like Spirit Adrift have. Regardless of what they do, however, I’m sure it will be rife with riffs, harmonies, and pounding drums.
D: Hell yeah. Just the way we like it. I think that’s just about all I have to say on Deceiver and Khemmis this time. Jake?
J: I think that about sums it up for me as well!
D: Awesome. I’ll close by saying keep doing Denver proud, Khemmis. The scene wouldn’t be the same without you.