Best of SXSW 2016: Khemmis
While it may seem unfair to single out any one band from this year’s South by South Death lineup — we love them all! that’s why we invited them to play! — we knew what we were getting with five out of the bill’s six bands. But Denver’s Khemmis? Mostly an unknown entity, added to the showcase when Toothgrinder dropped off, solely on the endorsement of MS scribe Emperor Rhombus, who’s been singing their praises for almost a year now.
And while the “unknown” factor may have added to the excitement of their set — how rare is it that you see a band you’ve barely heard before tear the fucking house down? — to do so would be to sell Khemmis’s obliteratingly powerful set way short. Apparently I’m the last person on earth to still categorize Khemmis as “unknown,” though; The Dirty Dog was packed for them, only the second band in the running order, and their crowd rivaled only Conan’s in sheer numbers. It won’t be too long before even the slightly less mysterious “underground” tag doesn’t apply to them anymore, either; reps from every metal record label both big and small in town for the festivities made sure they caught Khemmis’ set, as the band hasn’t done a whole lot of touring yet and SXSW provided the perfect built-in showcasing opportunity. Once the band’s current deal with 20 Buck Spin expires (they’ve got one album left), yeesh, watch out, world!
In any case, the show: it was ridiculously on point. In order for me to reeeeally get into doom, a band needs to have a little of something else going on to spice things up. And while Khemmis’s music is certainly rooted in doom — it’s slow in pace, it’s deliberate, it’s vaguely Sabbath-influenced — there’s plenty of other ear candy to give their music appeal beyond just the doom diehards. The vocals are reminiscent of Pallbearer’s Brett Campbell — melodic, artful, bellowy — and for that reason alone I’m sure Khemmis will draw many a Pallbearer comparison as they grow in popularity. But what will ultimate set this band apart from the pack is their heavy reliance on trad metal tropes, especially through the use of giant-sized, bombastic, flawlessly executed guitar harmonies. And lots and lots and glorious lots of them! One gets the sense these men listen to as much Maiden and Priest as they do Yob and Neurosis, and the combination is way more sonically pleasing than you might think. Best of all, the band is polished, tight and professional; they sounded like a seasoned act that’s been for touring for years and years, not up-and-comers who are just starting to make the rounds in the metalsphere.
So: go see Khemmis if you have the opportunity. They only have one date outside of their hometown currently on their schedule (it’s in Arizona in October), but we can all but guarantee you’ll have plenty of chances soon enough. Here’s their 2015 release Absolution to give you a taste.