Fighting a dragon and drowning in the swamp of despair, simultaneously.
For Fans Of:
Pallbearer, Iron Maiden, At The Gates
Listen To: Isolation
Doom metal has maintained a consistent sonic aesthetic which, for its many variations, can almost always be traced back to the first wail of guitar on Black Sabbath’s eponymous opening track in 1970. Denver doom quartet Khemmis take their cues from a very different pool of inspiration, however. “Stick Thin Lizzy or Iron Maiden in a tar pit and watch them struggle to play those dual melodies… that’s the effect we’re going for,” grins Phil Pendergast, one half of the band’s vocal/guitar assault. As far as images go, it’s provocative yet effective, perfectly capturing the disparate dynamic of hopelessness and epic bombast that Khemmis evoke. This is particularly evident on Desolation, the band’s third record and an enormous leap forward in craft, drawing inspiration from everything from Judas Priest’s Stained Class to Mercyful Fate’s Melissa to create something simultaneously progressive yet purist in essence.
“We wanted to make a record that felt like one of those that inspired us,” explains Phil. “We were having a hard time in our personal lives, so to be able to go back and take inspiration from the records that baptised us in this heavy metal thing we love and care about was therapeutic, in a way.”
Khemmis have a history of using personal strife as fuel for the emotional fire that propels them forwards, stemming from an experience Phil once endured while he was indulging in psychedelics. “I had a really bad experience,” he says.” I ended up breaking my jaw and almost biting my tongue off. It was the most terrifying thing that ever happened to me, but it was also very surreal. It felt like I’d activated a darker side of my brain, which is really conducive to writing this kind of music!”
But, while the band have always erred towards the side of darkness, Phil admits that Desolation goes even deeper still. “I don’t want to get into it too much, because I can’t speak for the other guys,” Phil explains. “But some of us lost family members; we were struggling with fears about our mental health and I was trying to finish a dissertation for my PhD. We were all experiencing setbacks in our personal lives. Culturally, it’s also a very difficult time to be in the US and that compounds everything you feel on a personal level. It leaves you feeling alone, like you’re the only person who sees the world in the way you do.”
Doom isn’t exactly known for its feelgood qualities, but there’s no denying that the genre offers a sense of emotional catharsis. It is this catharsis that Khemmis tap into with Desolation, mixing it with the communal spirit of heavy metal to offer a sense of rebellious victory. “There was a lot of grief and anger, so we felt really motivated to kick everyone’s ass with this new record” Phil agrees. “We wanted to go more aggressive and extreme, but also more ‘fist in the air’ metal than we’d ever been before. Desolation plays out in my mind like a cycle of grief. It starts out hopeless and lost, and ends on this note of acceptance and resolution, getting darker along the way.”
By embracing this darkness, Khemmis are able to offer… not quite comfort, but the same sense of respite one might get as they accept they are drowning at the bottom of an ocean. It is the ultimate expression of inevitability and release; of finding solace in the looming darkness. And lord knows, there’s plenty of it about.