Reviewed: January 2022
Released: 2021, Nuclear Blast
Reviewer: Kieron Hayes
Despite only just coming up on double digits of age as a band and their fourth full-length, Khemmis have already made a solid name for themselves among doom fans. Their approach manages to expertly tap into the epic might at the core of heavy metal, consistently producing something that stands out for its effectiveness and power even as it sticks to well-worn tracks.
Deceiver is no break from that, though for a slab of doom metal it does work with a surprisingly uplifting message at its core:
“Thematically, all of the songs are about the many ways that we are tricked into believing these stories about ourselves–that we are broken, that we are not good enough, that our genetics determine our fate. This title is the label that we put on our minds as a force that tricks us into believing these stories,” describes vocalist and guitarist Phil Pendergast.
“While our minds and hearts are responsible for this kind of deception, so too is the world around us. There is this dialectic between the two that produces suffering. Anyone who has struggled with mental health or suffered any sort of trauma will tell you that there were times that the mind is its own beast that has to be wrangled,” explains guitarist and vocalist Ben Hutcherson. “In that sense, we become the deceivers ourselves; we believe we deserve to be the vessel for this pain and this suffering that is being inflicted on us both externally and internally.”
It makes for some potentially fascinating and fertile ground for Khemmis’ kind of music: a dark and dangerous topic, but one that also feels like it’s aiming to bring light into that darkness and illuminate a way out. Thematically, it’s reminiscent of Swallow the Sun’s When a Shadow is Forced Into the Light.
As has been the case for the band in the past, they benefit from some very crisp, clear production. It doesn’t aim for deliberately muddy, gritty sound, but it’s not needed for the music to still carry every bit of grim weight it requires. Khemmis also continues to make use of a sprinkling of harsher vocals, perhaps a little more so now, as they appear at one point or another in almost every song. “Avernal Crown” even delves a little further into this, throwing in some blackened touches with its ramped up tempo and vicious snarls. These add some good flavour, though it feels like they could be taken even further to aid in the band’s evolution over time.
Still, the band’s more than capable of entertaining even without these harsher aspects: album closer “The Astral Road” is fucking outstanding, the shroud borne for most of the album shed as the rider takes off at a fearsome gallop. This one really carries you along and stands proud as one of the best Khemmis have done.
Elsewhere, it’s more standard but still perfectly enjoyable doom fare, with vocals equal parts mournful and operatic, big, stomping riffs and atmospheres dipping into the gloom where it works best. It’s good stuff, even if Khemmis’ own past heights maybe works against them a little here. They’ve set such a high bar for themselves, it can make tracks that would be highlights anywhere else feel “standard” in an odd way here.
Certainly it would be good to hear them branching out a bit more, perhaps in a darker direction in future, pushing that extreme metal influence a little more. But even “normal” Khemmis is still quality stuff, and well worth a dip for doom fans.