Friday 17 April 2020

Khemmis - Doomed Heavy Metal (2020)

Country: USA
Style: Doom Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 17 Apr 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter | YouTube

I haven't heard Khemmis before, but this mini album was recommended to me so I was happy to give it a shot. I have to thank Chris for the recommendation, because I liked this a lot, even though it opens with a cover that, frankly, doesn't need to be covered. It's Dio's Rainbow in the Dark and I was wary of how a doom metal band from Denver were going to sound on something as iconic as that. Fortunately, they treat it with all due respect and it sounds very good indeed, surprisingly so.

And, while Khemmis are certainly a doom metal band from Denver, the flavour of doom they play has as strong a side of heavy metal to it as the title of this release suggests. There's almost as much Iron Maiden in these songs as there is Black Sabbath, though I'd guess that their strongest influences are American rather than British. Whatever, this is relatively up tempo doom, at points even perky doom, located at whatever the other end of the spectrum is from funeral doom.

The doomiest this gets is a cover of a gospel standard, A Conversation with Death, written by a Free Will Baptist preacher and Appalachian folk musician called Lloyd Chandler back in 1916, though most of us will know it primarily from the a capella Ralph Stanley version from the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack under the name of O, Death. Again, this is such an iconic piece of music that a radical departure like this is a risky one, but Khemmis pull it off well. It's a real highlight.

I should emphasise that those are the only two covers out of the six tracks on offer. In between them is an original and then there are three live songs after them, one each from the band's three studio albums and it suggests the band has undergone quite the evolution over that time. The new song is Empty Throne, a patient song with a clean and confident vocal over solid riffing. If this points where they're going, they're on a good road.

The live set goes backward in time, beginning with Bloodletting, originally on the 2018 album Desolation. It's my favourite of the live trio, not being wildly dissimilar to Empty Throne but with a proggier edge and a real gallop five minutes in that ought to have got the pit really churning. Three Gates, from 2016's Hunted, is more death/doom just from the music, not least a bass that prowls around under the guitars, but certainly in the way that it adds a harsh voice to duet with the clean one. It ditches the death for quite a while too.

My least favourite song is the last one, The Bereaved, but I enjoyed that as well. It's from the band's debut album, Absolution, in 2015, and it's a more epic track with a proggy instrumental section leading in from Three Gates. I assume it was on this one originally. The Bereaved reminded me of a doomier Budgie and that's hardly a bad thing. I just think that this song outstayed its welcome before the nine minute mark that it reaches.

I presume that this EP is aimed at keeping fans happy in between full album releases. It ought to do that but it's not just a fan release like, say, the Candlemass EP a month ago. It's a much better comparison to the Smoulder EP from March in that it continues things on from full length releases while it also serves as an impressive introduction to the band for anyone not already in the know. This is my introduction and I couldn't be happier.

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