The phrase “traditional doom” is thrown around a lot these days. In fact, it’s used so frequently you’re bound to picture yourself in the middle of a doom renaissance. As with all marketing trends, however, a word of caution is in order. If you ask me, contemporary practitioners of good ol’ doom fall into two camps. On the one hand there are bands like Hour of 13 or Magic Circle that overall remain faithful to the stylistic formulas devised by 70’s and 80’s originators such as Black Sabbath, Saint Vitus and Candlemass. On the other hand there are musicians whose dedication to the style is mainly a question of aesthetic. These are bands like Warning or Pallbearer that sound like doom on the surface, with low-tuned guitars and ponderous rhythms. In terms of composition, however, they point towards the multifarious styles of indie rock. Warning is basically a gothic act wrapped in a thick blanket of doom. Pallbearer is essentially a post-rock outfit painting its psychedelic textures on a canvas of leaden riffage. All considerations of taste aside, it’s quite a stretch to dub such music traditional doom metal.
Another band habitually labeled trad doom is Khemmis. And again, I would argue, these snail’s pace rockers belong to the recent school of indie-doom hybrids. As usual when genres are mixed, a lot of hype is in the air. Some people go so far as to call them Colorado’s answer to Pallbearer. When the dust settles, however, these Denver doomsters don’t seem all that innovative. In 2015, they introduced their melodic stoner/sludge sound with Absolution, which was a decent debut album. Little more than a year later, we are already graced with Hunted, their problematic if occasionally brilliant sophomore.
On Hunted, Khemmis takes its doomed out racket a few thousand feet up the Rocky Mountains. The result is full of contrasts. Adventurous, almost jubilant harmonies in the vein of Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden give way to plodding verses and gloomy choruses, in which a clean-sounding singer contemplates his sorry existence over slow-moving chord progressions. From time to time, he meets his demons, which explains why the listener has to endure some sections of harsh roaring. Vocals and lead guitars definitely take centre stage throughout the record. This rocking attitude, I have to say, comes at the expense of solid metal riffing. Only on a few occasions am I truly convinced of the band’s riff-writing abilities.
On each of Hunted five songs, Khemmis has a tendency to indulge in extended bouts of guitar soloing. These crafty passages put the band in the same league as near-instrumental jam acts like Valkyrie. In contrast to the latter, however, Khemmis does possess a capable vocalist. It’s a shame, therefore, that his talents are wasted throughout many of those doomy sections, where his spotless delivery clashes with the emotional gravity of the underlying riffs. On the up side, his voice works better during the verses of the last two songs. In Beyond the Door, guitars and vocals suddenly start to gel when the band locks into a simple Southern groove. On the title track, the khemmisty is even better (pun intended). Once again, the guitarists maintain an easy-going rhythm, while the singer absolutely nails those verses. Why a band witch such obvious assets should waste any of its time playing monolithic “doom” is truly beyond me.
Long story short, Khemmis doesn’t really work as a doom act. Deep down, these Denver musicians know they can only succeed as melodic hard rock with slight indie flavourings. Maybe this has been the plan all along: to mature a radio-friendly sound with the help of the latest underground fad. Here, we are instantly reminded of the careers of American rock institutions like Mastodon or Baroness. Abolution was Khemmis doing its hottest or red album. With Hunted, the band has arrived at a cooler stage, hence the blue album cover. The future will bring yellow and green, and maybe, just maybe, purple, which was always the colour of rock stardom.
Release date: October 21st, 2016
Label: 20 Buck Spin
1. Above the Water
3. Three Gates
4. Beyond the Door