“It sates itself on the life-blood
of fated men,
paints red the powers’ homes
with crimson gore.
Black become the sun’s beams
in the summers that follow…”
— Snorri Sturluson, Völuspá, The Poetic Edda, ca. 1220
If someone were to give the Norse Ragnarök saga a Ralph Bakshi (Wizards, Fire And Ice) treatment, Khemmis would definitely need to be on the soundtrack. Their music is properly epic, spinning colorful imagery not far off from their fabulous album art. The Denver band’s debut just last year, Absolution, established their credentials as top notch doom scholars, paying tribute to the mighty Sabbath, Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus, along with Sleep and early High On Fire. On their second album Hunted they nailed that sweet spot between heaviness (with a bit less reliance on thick stoner grooves), and accessible, memorable tunes that reflect rock and roll influence like Thin Lizzy and early Iron Maiden.
It’s a perfect balance that can satisfy old school doom heads and draw in new fans from across genres. Part of this is thanks to the expressiveness of Phil Pendergast’s clean vocals which glide just above the surface of the music rather than hide behind it, giving the mournful melodies all that much more emotional impact, which puts them right up there with Pallbearer. While the five songs seem to be painstakingly constructed, averaging over 8 minutes each and full of towering riffs, there’s also just enough rock ‘n’ doom looseness along the lines of labelmates Magic Circle to let it swing. There’s still some of the growls/demon screams (courtesy of Ben Hutcherson) that can sometimes turn me off a band, but it’s used sparingly to the point that they seem to use them in just the right moments.
Opener “Above The Water” starts with a nod to the old school of Sabbath and Pentagram, then takes flight at the midpoint as the fingers reach higher and higher up the frets. “Candlelight” showcases Pendergrast’s sorrowful voice, which trades lines with the harsh guest voals of Grant Netzorg (In The Company of Serpents) over an excellent, crunchy death ‘n’ roll accompaniment that brings me back to my favorite era of Sweden’s Entombed, circa Uprising (2000). The first three songs surpass most of what the band had accomplished before, and build up to even loftier twin peaks on the two longest songs at the end, “Beyond The Door” (9:00) and “Hunted” (13:30), featuring gorgeous dueling guitar leads and harmonies, peaking on the title track with some of the band’s best melodies, instrumental interplay, solos, and dramatic storytelling. It’s a rare case that the longest song on the album will get the most repeat plays. But the whole album has been on heavy rotation, leaving me hungry for more and going back to their first one too. Listening to over a hundred new doom albums a year presents a risk of fatigue and burnout. But it’s all worth it when I come across a gem like this that will no doubt lodge itself in the upper echelons of classics. Give this a spin and a buy and ready yourself for Valhalla to join the growing numbers slain by Khemmis’ mighty doom.