I’m normally not one to wonder if a given release will “live up to the hype,” but that stance is challenged when it comes of Khemmis’ third full-length Desolation. I still think 2016’s Hunted is a literally perfect album and I feel no shame putting it on the quality benchmark as classics like Powerslave or Ride the Lightning. The band is already a growing influence in modern doom and the deal with Nuclear Blast sets them on an even broader platform than before. It’s also interesting to see how Khemmis has evolved stylistically as their trajectory seems to be moving toward a specific vision.
I expected Khemmis to push their classic metal influences out to the forefront on their third album, and Desolation sure doesn’t disappoint in that regard. The vocals quickly demonstrate this development, not only sitting higher in the mix but playing a more active role in delivering melodies than before. There are also frequent lead guitar and harmony parts on display this time around, and songs like “Isolation” feature active gallops without going into full-on Maiden worship.
But at its core, Desolation preserves the Colorado group’s patented workman-like approach to epic doom. The riffing style retains the chunky tone of its predecessors and the method of song structure suggests that the vocal lines remain indebted to the guitar work rather than the other way around. The band’s extreme metal roots also remain intact as tracks like the opening “Bloodletting” and “Maw of Time” throw in black metal exchanges.
If there’s anything to nitpick on Desolation, the song flow isn’t as seamless as it could be. The actual songwriting is on point and there’s a similarly narrative atmosphere as on Hunted, but the transitions aren’t as stirring or climactic in comparison. That said, “Bloodletting” sets the stage pretty well, “From Ruin” is the band’s third brilliantly epic closer in a row, and nothing in between truly qualifies as filler. It may just be a matter of it needing a few more listens to properly sink in.
Desolation isn’t as accessible as I expected it to be, but it is great to see Khemmis continuing to incorporate traditional metal influences this tastefully. The way the vocals have stepped up is particularly impressive and the more active guitar parts also help this album feel like more than a Hunted repeat. I’m not sure if this’ll hit the perfect level of its predecessor in my eyes, but I can imagine it coming close with even more listens. Either way, Khemmis remains a top recommendation for literally anyone with the slightest interest in anything metal.
“Flesh to Nothing”
“Maw of Time”