Ben Hutcherson – vocals/guitars
Phil Pendergast – vocals/guitars
Daniel Beirs – bass
Zach Coleman – drums
Release date: October 21, 2016
Man. After doing my State of the Art: Colorado on Khemmis earlier this year I have been flat, wearing out Absolution (2015) and chomping at the bit waiting for Hunted. Once we were able to procure a copy of this wicked release, Dragon and I debated on who was going to review it. Both of us are huge fans but in the end he let me have it (Yes!) due to a couple of scheduling difficulties with other MN responsibilities. We are singing from the same hymnal, so, in the end, don’t think either of us would have been too far off from the other. One thing we definitely agree on is that Khemmis’ Hunted is one of the best albums of 2016.
Hunted is the second release for this, what Khemmis term Doomed Rock ‘n Roll (slowed down Rock without the endgame of a Doom sound) phenom hailing from Denver, CO; which is their second dance with producer Dave Otero and the 20 Buck Spin record label. Having back to back releases while working on Doctoral degrees, teaching and running the TRVE Brewing Company, is impressive by itself. To outdo what is already becoming a classic like last year’s release of Absolution is nothing short of spectacular. For a full appreciation of what Khemmis has accomplished here, please listen to Absolution before listening to Hunted because the progression is striking. As good as the first album was, Hunted flows much more organically within individual songs and from song to song while keeping their trademark dark themes stoutly intact. The new album also has a sharper, less oppressive and compressed sound that is more aggressive, energetic and a bit faster than Absolution without losing the duel, Iron Maiden–esque guitar work, Thin Lizzy inspired vibe, stirring vocals and emotional drive that makes not being pulled into Khemmis music damned near impossible. Having such a unique tone, Khemmis has left just about every door open and has chosen to head in a Prog Metal direction similar to that of, say, Opeth or Mastodon. This provides a beautiful and brilliant platform from which to accentuate the overwhelming songwriting and musical prowess that Khemmis embodies and continues to develop. With the overall quality of production going off the scale, Hunted was a preeminent winner, but is so much more than this shallow adjective. These are five of the most emotionally charged songs spanning some forty-three minutes that leaves the listener yearning for more, requiring a re-spin to pick up what was missed the first, second or tenth time around. As a bonus, it gets better each time too!
Loaded for bear, “Above the Water” starts Hunted off with a very heavy, fuzzy Rock/Doom feel that is characteristic of Khemmis of olde, but at a faster pace. Ariose in the use of both guitars layered with the unmistakable vocals of Ben Hutcherson, we are introduced to the dream world of a child. Unable to distinguish the loneliness of a sinking ship or a burial at sea, childhood innocence finds a blurry line between the dream state and reality when wakened suddenly from a nightmare. Certainly a lasting memory we all have as we grow up and experience again as parents. Innocence is lost, a victim to the destructive hand of perceived reality. “Candlelight” continues this terrifying theme, juxtaposing light and dark at a slower pace and more oppressive sound. Clean and rough vocals tell a story of a fragile, tiny flame giving enough light (hope) for a fleeting illusion of peace while reaching into the unknown dark sky (God?), without response. In their recent press release, Khemmis explains: “’Candlelight‘ embodies our approach to this album — sludgy, melodic, and ultimately triumphant. The lyrics tell of a haunting dream that cannot be contained. Horror emerges, formless, from the void and consumes all hope.” If this is not the full embodiment of Hell, “Three Gates” “detail[s] the terror of being trapped in another person’s idyllic life, a perfect hell.” Much faster, angrier and abrupt, Hutcherson states that “’Three Gates’ is the fastest song on the new album. It allowed us to channel our love of Motörhead and High on Fire. [Guitarist/vocalist] Phil [Pendergast] and I knew we wanted heavy vocals for the verses and that death growls wouldn’t work. Enter Grant Netzorg, our friend from [Denver band] In the Company of Serpents, whose vocals were perfect for the song.” Just as a dream within a dream, reality is twisted into a sad, self-deprecating sense of worthlessness where no peace or salvation is found, even in death. We are left with only questions that have no answers. Towering in its introduction, “Beyond the Door” slows and then builds in a fuzzy, retro-aggressive fiend. Again, with a mix of rough/clean vocals and arguably the most emotive solo on the record, no light is found in the illusion of empty reality; the worst of dreams are realized when one is awake. The inner voices of reason and the demons of emotion battle for personal dominion. Eventually, almost upbeat in its feel, “Beyond the Door” ends with acceptance being the only real hope for escape. At thirteen minutes, the title track is the longest, most complex and philosophically charged track on Hunted. With great tension and release throughout, we revisit the hope vs. fear theme, laying the scar deep and ugly. Death, the demons of our past and regret hunt us relentlessly every day and we cannot outrun their cold grasp because they are part of what and who we are individually as human beings. With this heavy foundation, the song and the album end in a fiery climax of emotional chaos. The connection of music to emotion is visceral and serves as a fitting end until you fire Hunted back up for another listen. Trust us, it never gets old!
The real magic and genius of Khemmis Hunted is the black hole of emotional connection that is made throughout this spectacular album. With such dark, mature and imposing themes, I would expect to feel overwhelmed, fearful and depressed, but somehow am left with the feeling of triumph over the demons that fight to distract attention from small, individual daily victories. Facing fears and torment, knowing that they will always haunt me; knowing that I will forever be Hunted. This is a work of art that the members of Khemmis have a lot to be proud of.
Tracklist for Hunted:
“Above the Water”
“Beyond the Door”