Khemmis mix traditional doom with modern-style punishment on impressive debut ‘Absolution’

Photo by Travis Heacock

Photo by Travis Heacock

As much as I love doom metal and tend to bask in it pretty much constantly, I am becoming more and more skeptical about the onslaught of new bands that hit us on a weekly basis. There’s a lot of the same stuff going on, and not like I’m the grand master of taste or anything, but it gets a special effort to really wake me up.

Possibly it was the trust I have in 20 Buck Spin, but when the Khemmis promo landed in my inbox a few weeks back, I dug in immediately. The lure of traditional doom strains piqued my interest (though there are many bands that butcher that terrain as well), and mere minutes into the band’s debut record “Absolution,” I was totally hooked. A lot of what people like about Pallbearer is here, from the elegant doom storytelling to the clean singing, but the music isn’t a mirror image. There also are elements of Sabbath, St. Vitus, and many of the other doom pioneers, as well as some grimier, heavier parts that travel more modern pathways. All in all, they take these various aspects of this well-worn sub-genre and create six songs that burst with life and should get your fists firing into the air.

12 Jacket (3mm Spine) [GDOB-30H3-007}The Denver-based quartet only have been alive for three years now, and they already have an impressive, soulful grasp on their sound. The members choose to go by single names for this project, with Phil and Ben on guitars and vocals, Dan on bass, and Zach (Dominion, Vasaeleth) on drums. The band’s sound is heavily steeped in the late 1970s/early 1980s, especially when it comes to the clean vocals, but when the time is right and some thorns are required, the band can unload the hammers and get as heavy as you need them to be.

The record opens with “Torn Asunder,” a track that simmers in buzzing doom and muscular riffs before it opens up. The singing envelops you, swallows you, and drives you into the smoke, where the guitars light up and start blazing. Later the growls emerge and the grit smothers, with cosmic feedback filling in the final moments. “Ash, Cinder, Smoke” unveils more strong guitar work, as well as some vocal harmonizing you don’t hear everyday on a metal record. The pace starts to gallop, with melodies aligning, dual guitars glowing, and vicious growls filling in and injecting a sense of dread. “Serpentine” uncoils slowly, with the vocals filling the space, providing both character and a guide through the murk. The guitars begin to spill out, helping give the song its form, but then it’s right into a tempo shift that signals storms on the horizon. The music gets heavier and deadlier, with the growls sounding vicious and the rest of the band surrounding all of this with blinding power.

“Antediluvian” is a bit more raw, trudging hard out of the gates and being drizzled with psychedelic guitars. Out of the smoke, burly and beastly howls lead the way, adding to the song’s menace. Singing later colors in the background, as the song’s title is howled with strength and desperation. “Burden of Sin” kicks up the mud, with the growls arriving first for a change and taking the track down a shadowy path. Later, clean singing arrives, adding engaging drama to the whole thing. While there is sludge, and it is thick, there is just as much great melody to balance everything out and split time between dark and light. Closer “The Bereaved” is a nine-minute climax, the longest cut on the record and one of the most impressive. After a clean psychedelic open, sounds start to burst and the guitars begin to wail. The singing is emotional and reaches out for a hand from beyond, with the band digging deep into the same places mined before them by Sabbath and other greats, as they surge and put on a final display of power. The final moments find the band pushing their might into the stratosphere, giving way to swirling pockets of fuzz that lead the song into the unknown.

Khemmis’ debut is totally solid and one you should try to track down no matter what style of doom is your favorite. These guys have a great style, awesome delivery, and knack for writing songs that are just long enough to feel epic but not overstay their welcome. “Absolution” is a tremendous effort that signals the arrival of a great new doom power.

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