Review: Khemmis’ Hunted is Full of Enchantments

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I’m really glad Khemmis’ label, 20 Buck Spin, doesn’t charge me every time I listen to this album. I’d already be a few hundred in the hole.

It seems impossible that I have only known about Khemmis for less than a year, since the impression they have made on my musical tastes has been so profound. I was first made aware of their debut last year when Moshoff put Absolution in his top 10 for 2015, and over the next few months, I started to realize that there was such a thing as good, exciting, and relevant stoner/epic doom. When I caught wind they were releasing their sophomore album this year, oddly my first reaction was a sense of fear that they couldn’t live up to the bar they set so high. I think a part of their success was the total shock to the system they gave the genre, and a follow-up that sounded pretty similar might not accomplish the same thing.

Irrational fears aside, when I first saw the album art, I noticed that they seem to be going the Iron Maiden route in having an album-art mascot, which I find perfectly acceptable because wizard-bro looks like he can evoke a thematic tone for years to come. The similarity in imagery made me wonder if there was a connection between lyrical themes as well. I’m not the type to obsess over lyrics, so I had to refresh my memory on Absolution, and more dauntingly, try to type out all the lyrics in Hunted. I won’t share my full transcription because it’s full of question marks and riddled with inaccuracies, but I’ll share some excerpts along the way.

Album opener “Above the Water” is all about fuzz, riffs, and solos. It sets the tone for a slightly more aggressive album than we are used to but is thankfully still recognizable. I caught a somewhat strange lyrical passage that I was sure I misheard, but the more I listen, it seems to confirm:

There in the darkness
I felt it was too late
I saw my father swept away
Just like my lover
Who slipped beneath the sheets
Unto the water rippling

I’m still not quite sure what to do with that, but I noticed that it confirms a continuing theme of watching death drift away into a current that appears often on both albums. Also, water as a destructive/cleansing force makes a recurrence.

“Candlelight” gives us our first taste of some evil phlegmy growls. While there were sparse harsh vocals on Absolution, it really adds some nice diversity on most of the songs on Hunted. For this song in particular, the harsh vocals create a beautiful contrast for the explosive soaring conclusion. Speaking of contrast, the album is full of opposition between light and dark, sometimes confirming that the unknownness of darkness is preferable to what light ultimately reveals.

Fears given life
By a flickering light

So reveal the darkened figure
Eyes adjust to the flame
Creeping like those boney fingers
Stretching into the sky

The boney fingers line instantly reminded me of the album cover, with wizard-bro reaching out and leading his demonic force. I’m sure there is an obvious metaphor running across this album, but I almost prefer to just speculate on what that is so it can retain some element of fantasy.

“Three Gates” opens with a speedy chugging riff that has been stuck in my mind for days. The urgent pace is captivating, and the opening line sets the scene:

I awake in a perfect hell

And the song concludes with:

The choice is easy
Awaken from my sleep
Or wash away my ashes in the sea

In every song on Hunted (and many on Absolution), there is at least one mention of light/darkness, water/sea, dreams, or death, and often times a mix off all of them. Though I can’t speak to authorial intent, the consistency in lyrics, haunting topics, and especially the grandiose delivery all combine to form some kind of fantastical reality. One of the main appeals for me is that it feels like a work of fiction, yet reveals just glimpses of plot. It’s a world to get immersed in, but Khemmis only gives us a few blurry snapshots of the imagery. The cathartic vocals and mysterious lyrics leave us wanting more in the best possible way.

“Beyond the Door” is yet another excellent dark and heavy song that continues with these motifs (being unable to do anything about a horror that you can barely see), but let’s skip ahead to the s/t track “Hunted.” First of all, Khemmis knows how to end things. The end of every song is a triumph, and so far, the closing acts on both albums have been earth-shatteringly beautiful. Take note, writers of Lost, Dexter, etc. Lyrically, I also found it interesting that it ends in direct opposition to Absolution:

I see him, He comes forth, From darkness, He takes form
I see him he is I, I am cursed, and I am dead. I am Dead.

Whereas “Bereaved” (possibly my favorite song of 2015) ends with:

And I wasn’t dead
No, I still had life

Does this spell the end of this theme? Either way, I hope they keep going with this surreal feeling they so expertly imbue. Knowing “Bereaved” comes from a personal story about maybe a little too much fun with psychedelics might take some air out of my conspiracy theory, but it’s an interesting little easter egg, nonetheless.

khemmis_dsc3247-photo-by-travis-heacockI didn’t really talk about the music all that much, partially because I assume with their previous critical success, this album will be reviewed backward and forwards for the next few days/weeks, but here are just a few notes. It’s GOOD DOOM! Not enough? Fine.

The production has a nice warm crackle that I love throughout. The solos are a throwback to some old school metal but are certainly not stale. Some of my favorite parts are when they expand beyond doom and fuzz, showing they can do more than just perfect one monoculture of a sound (see about 10:00 in “Hunted” for an example). THE RIFFS! They got stuck in my head almost immediately. It’s just all so good good good.

So did Hunted live up to the insane expectations? I’d say definitely, but maybe it also brought them back down to earth a little bit, now that we are expecting greatness.

4.5 out of 5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell

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Pre-order the digital album on bandcamp, and check out the awesome physical media formats at 20 Buck Spin.

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