Album: Hunted (2016)
Where to buy: Bandcamp
In an instant, the opening chords of Hunted (2016) evoke the orchestral overtures you want to hear from good power metal, before the heavy doom of the rhythm guitars overtakes your senses. Khemmis does not let up for a moment on this five-track album, which still clocks in at nearly 44 minutes in length. These songs are opuses, moving through motifs and reprises in grand fashion and with an intense instrumental stamina. It feels like the band is fighting a war – or a raging sea, or oncoming madness, or the terror of mortality, or any of the songs’ themes – and you feel like you’re fighting alongside them, but you’re glad about it. The song structures unfold both measured and restrained, taking their time and really drawing out crescendoes with a patience that would be maddening if it weren’t so good at convincing you that a slow plod is exatly what you want. That turns out to be exactly the case. For as much as you anticipate the upcoming resolution or crescendo or modulation, you end up appreciating every drawn-out beat and ritard and grand pause. This is the soundtrack of a long fall from a tall building (or castle) rather than of the frenetic swordfight immediately prior.
Hunted is just the right amount of fuzzy. The guitars and bass use a dry, low overdrive that fills out nicely in a good, thick wall. For being so fuzzy, the phrasings are tight and timely. There’s no mud on these tracks, a testament to their production and the discipline of the band. Particularly striking is the quicker-paced third track, “Three Gates,” which ramps up and down from double time to cut time and back, and the fuzz keeps right up without dragging or obscuring the chordal voicings and melodies. The lead guitars are just right, too; they harmonize beautifully and focus on hitting and holding the right notes instead of simply being fast and loud. Again, the restraint shown here is both mature and effective, because instead of feeling like not enough or too much, the songs are just right. Their moderation satisfies more than moderately.
Hunted is heavy. Vocalist Phil Pendergast occasionally gives his velar growl the spotlight, but most of his lyrics come out clean and clear, as well as mournful and melancholy. This absolutely works for the songs’ subject matters and themes. His wails lilt over the distortion and give you something human to hold onto as you fall under the weight of the tracks. Along with the lead guitar, his melodies do more than sit on top of the rhythm instruments. His voice is the vanguard of this album, giving the songs the final bit of mass they need to steamroll you into doomy, contented surrender. And as you are crushed beneath the music, you thank Khemmis for having composed such beautiful doom.