Khemmis Strikes Down the “Deceiver” With Skillful, Intricate Doom (Album Review)
Denver doom dealers Khemmis have returned with their latest expedition into the gloomy depths. Deceiver is the band’s fourth full-length LP and their first since 2018's Desolation, complete with Sam Turner’s iconic cover artwork. Ballyhooed as the next doom metal champions as early as their 2015 debut, but even more so when they released their acclaimed 2016 album Hunted, Khemmis albums have become events unto themselves, with expectations always being high and up to this point certainly warranted. Their live show is excellent as well, having seen it for myself at the famed Saint Vitus Bar when they were joined by the then-brand-new Crypt Sermon way back in 2017 [live review]. The band, now a three-piece after the departure of bassist Dan Beiers, have been relatively quiet in recent years with the exceptions being a classic heavy metal covers EP, a cover of Alice In Chains' "Down In A Hole," and "Sigil," a contribution to Decibel Magazine's Flexi-disc series. Surging back into action, the band continues to favorably measure up against the field as well as against themselves on album number four.
Opening with some acoustic guitar licks "Avernal Gate" helps to kick things off with proper beauty before Khemmis launch headlong into powerful pounding drums and melodic riffing before shifting back into first gear in the name of doom. Vocalists Ben Hutcherson and Phil Pendergast sound excellent as each vocalist showcases their own style that they bring to the fracas with Pendergast’s melody and Hutcherson’s harsh delivery. The harsh vocals return and make their appearance towards the end of the track when the tempo changes dramatically, providing chaos among the beautiful guitar harmonies.
Khemmis typically make the most of their lengthy tracks, but they're never oversaturated, chock full of what makes their approach to doom metal wonderfully melodic and fully fleshed out. “House of Cadmus” and “Shroud of Lethe” both feature the band moving slowly throughout each song’s progression and introduce Ben Hutcherson’s harsh vocals in an organic way, a way in which the slow grind of each track’s riffs crush you while the vocal style matches a similar level of pain. Structurally, there is nothing massive in terms of song length here and the runtime and average track lengths are more in line with Desolation than with Hunted, perhaps the band getting more depth without the need for added breadth.
Drummer Zach Coleman does an excellent job of keeping Khemmis focused on the task at hand, pounding the skins and showing off his masterful variety: he absolutely killed it with the Max Cavalera side project Fuck Off and Die earlier in 2021 while utilizing a speed and tempo that fit the more Sepultura-styled project. Here, his more measured playing provides tracks like “Living Pyre” in particular with an absolutely rock-solid foundation, on top of which Hutcherson and Pendergast trade vocal duties and the guitars soar off in the distance. The drums also pound their way through the middle section of “Obsidian Crown” before Hutcherson’s harsh vocals begin to weave in and out, Pendergast seeming to fend off Hutcherson before joining together with him; closing it out together, the vile intruder is never to be heard from again on the album.
Deceiver ends on a glorious high note with “The Astral Road,” a brilliant closer that combines many elements already evident in previous tracks. This extremely dynamic and bombastic closer gives off a sense of travelling down the road quickly, before the tempo shifts downwards to accommodate for powerful doom dirges. Putting it all together into a silky smooth package, the track speaks to Khemmis’ songwriting ability and how well-oiled of a machine they have become.
Khemmis have created an album that may well be their best since their sophomore album Hunted hit the streets 5 years ago. Deceiver gets better as the album moves on and every time you listen to it again; getting to hear all the different pieces fall into place and the subtlety of some of it really goes to show that the band knows what they are doing and always looking for the ability to improve every time they churn out a new record. If their style of modern-day doom metal was something that you could already get behind, then Deceiver should be no exception.