Denver-based quarter Khemmis burst onto the metal scene seemingly from out of nowhere back in 2015 with their stunning debut Absolution. That album was a damn near perfect hybrid of melodic doom in the vein of Warning or Yob and the classic heavy metal twin guitar attack of Iron Maiden, culminating in the breathtaking “The Bereaved,” which might be the best song of its kind released this decade. Little over a year later, they returned with Hunted, which might be even better than their debut, earning the band Album of the Year honors from the venerable metal mag Decibel. Currently on the road with Oathbreaker, they’ll be playing a one-off headlining show at Carnahan Hall in Lafayette this Friday, April 7, along with local favorites Drude and The Mound Builders. In anticipation of the gig, the band were good enough to collectively answer a few questions for us via email.
Indy Metal Vault: Hey – thanks for agreeing to the interview. We’re pretty big Khemmis fans here at the Vault, so we’re definitely stoked for the upcoming show in Lafayette on 4/7. First off, congrats on how well-received the new record has been, particularly the Album of the Year honors from Decibel. Are you surprised at those kind of accolades, or did you have a feeling when you were in the writing/recording process that you were on to something special with Hunted?
Khemmis: Thanks! We are very happy with the accolades and general reception for Hunted. We have been surprised insomuch as we had no idea how the rest of the world would receive the album, but we knew that we had created an album that the four of us found compelling. We worked our asses off in the practice room as we focused on writing the strongest songs we possibly could.
IMV: I’ve always been curious about the genesis of the band’s name. Khemmis is (or was?) a city in Egypt, right? What drew you to that name?
K: It is indeed the city wherein Horus was born, but really it just sounds cool.
IMV: You guys are currently out for a couple of weeks with Oathbreaker. I know a couple of you are grad students, and therefore don’t generally tour for extended periods. How did you end up on this particular tour? Is this going to be the longest you’ve been on the road for one stretch?
K: We all have careers and families that make hitting the road difficult, but not impossible by any means. The circumstances and timing are always critical, as we have to maximize the impact of any touring. Our agent, Andy Rice, came to us with the offer to support Oathbreaker and it lined up really well with our work schedules. Ben teaches and Phil works as a stats consultant on campus, and the first half of the tour happened to coincide with Spring Break. We are entertaining a number of options for the fall/winter and next spring, and we are hoping to be on the road even more as long as those runs work with our non-band life schedules. As always, we have to ensure that any time we spend out on the road is the best expenditure of our limited time away from home.
IMV: What’s the songwriting process like for you guys? A lot of your songs are built on interlocking guitar parts and a fair amount of harmonies – do you generally write separately, or do you tend to get together in a room and jam songs out that way?
K: Ben and Phil come in with ideas and we dial them in and figure out how to structure the songs as a group. We already have a dropbox folder full of everything from nascent riffs to potential songs, but everything is fair game when it comes to editing or outright dropping ideas for the sake of producing the strongest material possible.
IMV: Along the same line as the last question, it seems like there was a bigger emphasis on the band’s melodic side on Hunted, particularly in terms of the vocals. Was it a deliberate choice to use fewer harsh vocals, or was that just what the material you were writing seemed to call for?
K: Our approach to all of our musical elements, from vocals to drum beats to guitar and bass tones, is always one of “What serves the song(s) best?” rather than “We should have more X and less Y.”
IMV: When listening to Khemmis, some of your influences are fairly easy to pick out: I hear a lot of Yob, Sleep, Iron Maiden, Thin Lizzy. I’m sure you also draw inspiration from less obvious sources as well – do you have any influences that might surprise people?
K: While we have some significant overlap in our influences, we each have a diverse set of personal musical inspirations. Everything from second wave black metal to outlaw country to psych rock to Motown informs how we write. As we’ve started collecting ideas for album three, some of the names mentioned in our conversations include Metallica, Asphyx, King Diamond, and Queens of the Stone Age.
IMV: I always like to ask questions about gear, particularly when a band has killer tone. What’s on your pedalboards?
K: Thanks for the kind words! We spend a lot of time chasing tone, so we really appreciate when folks ask about our gear. We’ll go one step further and offer our full setups.
Ben: Gibson V (with Lace Drop of Nitro pickup pair) -> Dunlop Mini Bass Wah, TC Electronic Polytune 2 Mini, Black Arts Toneworks Black Forest and Quantum Mystic (the latter of which is in the loop of a Zvex Loop Gate), Eventide H9, Mr. Black Ambience, BAT/DOD Boneshaker -> Ampeg V4 -> Atlas Cabinets 2×12 and 2×12 + 1×15
Phil: Reverend Volcano (with Billy Corgan P90 Railhammer pickups) -> TC Electronic Polytune 2 Mini, Black Arts Toneworks Coven and Black Sheep (both in the loop of a Zvex Loop Gate), Abominable Electronics Unholy Grail -> Carvin X100b -> Atlas Cabinets 2×12 and 2×12 + 1×15
Dan: Dunable Thunderclapper (with a Seymour Duncan Quarter Pounder pickup) -> Korg Pitchblack, Black Arts Toneworks Pharaoh, Wren & Cuff Pickle Pi B, Seymour Duncan Pickup Booster -> Verellen Meatsmoke -> Atlas Cabinets 4×12 and 2×15
IMV: So what’s on the horizon for Khemmis? Your first two full-lengths came out in pretty quick succession – have you started work already on album three?
K: We just recorded two songs with Dave Otero in February. One is a cover for a split with an excellent band that should come out in late summer/fall. The other is an original song that will be featured on a Decibel flexi later this year. There will be more details on both in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!
We are always excited to create new material, but we’re focused on the current album cycle right now. Once we finish up the tour with Oathbreaker and Jaye Jayle, we’ll fly out to Philadelphia for the Decibel Metal and Beer Fest; later this summer we will head to Psycho Las Vegas, which is going to be an absolute blast. At some point this summer, we’ll start digging through our collection of riff ideas and figure out which ones are keepers. We hope to have the bulk of the writing for the next record done by the end of the year and return to the studio in the spring.
Clayton T. Michaels (Senior Editor) is a mild-mannered college English teacher by day, and a craft beer drinking, black metal and grindcore loving misanthrope by night. He’s also an award-winning poet and rabid Red Sox fan. Send him your promos at [email protected]. You can also find him posting pictures of black metal cassettes and beer can labels on Instagram as @ironhops.