Hunted by KhemmisRelease date: October 21, 2016
Label: 20 Buck Spin
Colorado’s most famous musical export is arguably the legendary jazz trombonist Glenn Miller. If you prefer your music with just a tad more bite, they’ve also given the world grindcore stalwarts Cephalic Carnage, and the Lovecraftian horror of Vale of Pnath. Sweeping all these aside are up-and-coming doomsters Khemmis, whose 2015 debut Absolution firmly established them as a force to be reckoned with. Acting as one of 2016’s few redeeming features, their newest release Hunted is a solid follow-up, neatly clearing the awkward hurdle that sophomore albums often present.
Hunted announces itself with little fanfare as ‘Above the Water’ kicks off proceedings with a series of cannon-esque blasts in the opening bars. A minute in, Phil Pendergast’s mournful clean vocals arrive, and the album does not let up from there. The pace is furious, the melodies are gorgeous, and the doom is heavy. Phil’s guitar work merges seamlessly with Ben Hutcherson’s fantastic riffing across the album, most notable on the title track, supported by a seriously heavy bassline from Dan Beiers and pummelling drums from Zach Coleman. Khemmis appear to be a band that improve by degrees: the core sound is the same, but the chemistry is a little tighter here, the songs a tad less prone to wandering off into a doom-laden abyss, and the band are more confident in their sound than they were on Absolution.
\Dan and Zach are also given more interesting work to do on Hunted, especially in the punishing introduction to ‘Three Gates’, the album’s shortest, most immediate and attention-grabbing song. Ben’s snarling growls are given their best outing here, opening and threading through the entire song’s vocal line. The song’s frenetic pace also helps in getting rid of the stoner-doom elements of the previous album, which have instead been replaced here with well-constructed, dual-guitar riffs in the style of Iron Maiden.
Absolution was liberally peppered with Ben’s guttural growls, which were well-juxtaposed to Phil’s clean vocals. By reining them in for Hunted, the cleaner singing is allowed more prominence, bringing a melancholic beauty to the album as a whole. The defiant statement “But I won’t die/It isn’t my time” is enough to bring grown men to tears. The two styles are most skillfully juxtaposed and interwoven on ‘Beyond the Door’. Its opening bars show a restrained guitar that is then allowed to roam freely as the song continues: lie back and let the breakdown towards the end wash over you, and enjoy the chills you’ll feel when the terrifying growls reappear at the eight minute mark, neatly woven with the gorgeous clean vocals.
The hazy production values favoured by stoner-doom fans are still on show, which is the only real sticking point of the album for me. It somewhat muddies the soaring melodies in the guitar work that would otherwise shine out brilliantly. This is most noticeable on the album’s closer, which has a gorgeous breakdown and solo that demonstrates a vast improvement in riff composition on those released just a year ago. However, on repeat listens, the fuzz won me over: too clean a sound simply would not sound right. The moments of beauty stand out amongst the haze rather than in spite of it.
2016 may well go down in history as one of humanity’s worst ever years. Not so for Khemmis, whose sophomore album manages to improve on its predecessor while retaining its core elements.