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There has been a deluge of upstart doom bands over the last decade, some of them great (Kongh, Pallbearer, Orchid) and many others not so much (seriously, there are way too many to name). The oversaturation point for low and slow approaches quickly, so new kids on the block need to come hard in the originality game. Sabbath and Sleep riffs are great, but I’ve got plenty; why should I rock out to yours?

Denver’s Khemmis makes a compelling case on Absolution, their debut for 20 Buck Spin. That’s the first component to what makes this album extraordinary. The musicianship, arrangements and production (courtesy of Cobalt/Nightbringer studio sage Dave Otero) all belie the fact that this is Khemmis’ first dance. Comparisons to Pallbearer are inevitable, not only because of similar musical styles and influence but in the fact that a single underground demo preceded such a fantastic debut. The interplay of dueling guitarists Phil Pendergast and Ben Hutcherson is subtle, but really shines when the band switches gears from Warning atmospherics to Thin Lizzy/Mastodon groove. This isn’t coincidental; in a recent interview bassist Daniel Beiers mentioned that the band half-jokes about having a Thin Lizzy part in every song. The riffs in “Serpentine” or “Burden Of Sin” can trace a lineage straight back to Black Rose.

Where Absolution really gets cinematically evocative is in the vocal department. Pendergast has a wonderfully nuanced clean singing voice that is unlike much else in the genre. There are similarities to Wino and Pallbearer’s Brett Campbell, but his timbre and delivery stand apart. Nowhere is this more apparent than on closer “The Bereaved”, where his ethereal voice both mourns and damns the world around him: “And so I fell / Into the night / Psilocybin dreams / Claiming my mind/Into a void / There is no savior / Where is my life? Where is my darling now?” The lyrics contained within Absolution don’t get much happier than that, running the gamut of depression, isolation and suicide. Yet one can’t help but be moved – emotionally, spiritually, whatever you want to call it – by the sheer power Khemmis has harnessed on what is easily my favorite doom record of 2015.

—Chris Rowella

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Absolution is currently available via 20 Buck Spin. Folow Khemmis on Facebook here and on Twitter at @khemmisdoom.

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