Khemmis touch on expectations, battling with mental health on soaring, face-gripping ‘Deceiver’

Our brains and the internet have something in common: They’re both the best and worst things to ever happen to us. We grow up with a sense of self developed not just by us but by people around us, by traditions, by societal structures that do not apply to everyone. It’s easy to get down on oneself when we don’t think we’re measuring up to this imagined set of rules, and our minds drive us into the void.

A lot of this thinking flows through “Deceiver,” the excellent fourth record from doom-inspired classic heavy metal band Khemmis, and these six songs certainly are the darkest of the band’s run, even when they burst with glory. Mental health has taken a beating for so many of us, so not only do we struggle with whether we’re living up to expectations, we also have the burden of being able to cope with depression and anxiety, which the band—guitarist/vocalist Phil Pendergast, guitarist/vocalist Ben Hutcherson, drummer Zach Coleman—has plenty of experience managing themselves. There also are loftier hopes for the band with their move from 20 Buck Spin to Nuclear Blast, but this record absolutely delivers, even showing off some of their heaviest playing to date.

“Avernal Gate” gets things started, and it packs with it a surprise, namely some tasty melo-death riffs that sound decidedly Scandinavian. The vocals soar, though Hutcherson is there with his gutting growls where need be, and that element has a bigger role on this record. “These faded lives are all we have to find our way through shadowed lands, we stumble on with broken backs, holding hearts in calloused hands,” Pendergast calls as the guitars heat up and gush, violence sprawls, and the track ends in glowing embers. “House of Cadmus” begins with clean lines trickling in, and then things open in full, pushing the tempo harder and faster. There is heavier darkness, especially vocally as the moon beams are strangled, and then the growls engorge, scraping through ugly and morose as the track trickles out in pain. “Living Pyre” fires up hard as Pendergast’s singing soars with him wailing, “Outside the storm rages, injustice, bold and ageless, while I’m alone in the cold.” The track remains lit up as growls enter the mix and scrape with cinders, and the ugliness complements the elegance ideally. “I’m drowning in a mind that’s always caving in, the rivers rise and surround me,” Pendergast levels as the track burns off into the sky.

“Shroud of Lethe” starts a little doomier as it moves slowly and deliberately with Pendergast wondering, “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.” The guitars swim and push as all the energies clash, growls peel paint, and the tempos shift into darker water, exploring its pitch-black surroundings. “Obsidian Crown” delivers sinister riffs and then slips into sorrowful terrain, clouding your heart. Great vocal melodies rise as the shrieks add a sense of terror and volatility, the blood runs cold, and the violent jarring takes over and buries the last moments in mounds of powdered bones. “The Astral Road” closes the album with clean playing, echoing leads, and a classic metal assault that emerges and takes over the land. The pace gets exciting and digs even harder, great leads flex their muscle, and Pendergast calls, “I’m praying for the rain to take it all away.” Pendergast and Hutcherson trade solos as things warm up but also start to sting, and then the shadows get thicker and smothering. “If I could throw the guilt aside, I’d let myself be washed away from the chains of pride, into the love that I feel today,” Pendergast wails as the tides rise, the playing scorches, and the final drops sink beneath the waves forever.

If anyone was worried about Khemmis falling victim to pressure because they’ve signed with metal’s largest label, you can forget those immediately as “Deceiver” is a tremendous record, one that ups the ante from their three killer releases that preceded this. The edges are darker and sharper, and the power that always was prevalent in their blood has an even greater role. This will be the band’s introduction to many listeners based on their union with Nuclear Blast, and Khemmis absolutely put their sharpest blades forward, slicing their way to even more hungry hearts and minds.

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