Khemmis was buried in mountains of gushing press coverage upon the released of their 2016 album Hunted. By every method of measuring an album’s quality, Hunted was (and is) perfect. Khemmis married epic doom metal with twin guitar harmonies that rival the classics all while maintaining an impeccable amount of quality over long-form compositions. Not to repeat themselves, Khemmis has altered their formula to a mostly positive effect on their new album Desolation.
Desolation is Khemmis‘ foray into a more stripped down heavy metal sound, meaning more speed with healthy doses of face-melting guitar solos. There’s also more death metal on Desolation thanks to guitarist and vocalist Phil Pendegrast unleashing his best old-school Mikael Åkerfeldt impressions alongside Entombed-worthy HM-2 riffs. Album opener “Bloodletting” is sure to paint a smile on every Khemmis fan’s face within the first 10 seconds. Three massive chords into the intro riff and Khemmis pauses for a moment to begin casting one of their many signature dual guitar spells. The lumbering gallop of “Bloodletting” picks up to a hefty jog about halfway through, Khemmis rains down gale force shred, and the song ends with black metal shrieks over top decidedly evil guitar wizardry that swirls about in the kicked-up dust.
Lead single “Isolation” continues down the path originally blazed by Iron Maiden and is sure to be a live staple for years to come. “Isolation” showcases Khemmis at the top of their writing game as they weave flawlessly through perfectly accentuated tempo changes and a flurry of earworm riffs that bleed into sprinting, yet beautifully musical, solos. Album closer “From Ruin” is a great counterpoint to both “Bloodletting” and “Isolation” as it slowly and sadly descends into a man and his pleas with the powers that be for the strength to carry on. The music on “From Ruin” contextualizes the somber lyrics with sharply clean guitars and spiraling melodies that wind down to a dark conclusion.
The real highlight of Desolation is “Flesh To Nothing.” Pounding tom grooves act as a foil for melodies fit to tell a Homeric epic as Pendegrast and crew launch into possibly one of the best riffs Khemmis has laid to tape yet. “Flesh To Nothing” confidently marches toward a crushing Paradise Lost-style rendition of the opening salvo before continuing the bombast on an extended and very-much-needed solo section. The song ends with an acoustic interlude that Khemmis frankly could’ve made into its own track. It’s that good.
Then there are “The Seer” and “Maw Of Time.” Both seem to be compiled from offshoot ideas of Desolation‘s other four tracks and are rife with interspersed hooks promising more substance that never quite materializes. “The Seer” attempts Khemmis‘ classic brooding doom sound to fairly flat results that salvage themselves partially in the second half, while “Maw Of Time” just feels like a lesser version of “Flesh To Nothing.” They’re not terrible songs, and there are points that you’ll remember on repeat listens. It’s just a little disappointing that after three phenomenally good songs, you’re left with back-to-back tracks that add no drama or resolution to the album.
The problems with Desolation are minimal. “The Seer” and “Maw Of Time” aren’t the best songs Khemmis has ever committed to an album but they’re innocuously errant brushstrokes in the bigger picture. The other issue with Desolation is the lack of repetition of main themes, the main offender of which is “Bloodletting.” The song sets up a great motif in its first half but then veers off, finds a second mini-motif and rolls with that up to the end. The same goes for “Maw Of Time,” whose main focus is more on shredding guitar solos than anything else, but whose seven minutes has some really great moments worth repeating.
Desolation is a great effort from a band clearly trying to push their own boundaries. Khemmis marries their doom roots to a very New Wave Of British Heavy Metal sound with varying degrees of success. Songs like “Isolation” and “Flesh To Nothing” are instant classics that should serve as the framework not only for their future material, but will likely serve as a boilerplate for countless ripoffs in the years to come. Khemmis have been hailed as innovators of their craft in recent years and Desolation will absolutely keep that praise deservedly coming.
Buy Desolation here.