Let’s begin with the riffs: Although Khemmis is often wont to bury them, shorten them, thin them out with single note harmonies or otherwise intercept the flow, there are some very solid riffs across Desolation. In fact, the album opens strong. ”Bloodletting” has riffs stacked upon riffs. Sure, there are extraneous parts—mini-bridges of a sort that last from 2-6 bars or so—but the track is largely successful due to the almost complete exclusion of harsh vocals. But then, right there towards the end over an ill-advised, nearly hokey guitar solo, those harsh vocals rear their ugly head and disrupt the flow and fly in direct contrast to the more poppy vibe that Khemmis tends to create.
That upbeat, poppy version of doom is immediately apparent on “Isolation.” Opening with a sliding guitar that sometimes noodles around with some trills, the backbeat is swinging and what is an effective rock-groove is in full effect.
“Maw of Time” opens similarly: bends and screeches layer themselves before the album’s best vocal performance drops—vibrato and harmony on full display. It’s catchy, bouncy and altogether enjoyable. “Flesh to Nothing” follows the same pattern, but it employs the lowest vocals and throatiest wails, which is a nice alternative to harsh vocals. Plus, some of the most intoxicating and simple descending patterns of riffs, rhythm chords and lead lines.
Yet, every single one of these tracks falls victim to the same impingement: harsh vocals. Perhaps “Flesh to Nothing” has the most awkward transition from clean to gruff, due to the success of the alternative low (nearly baritone) vocals in contrast to some of the more aggressive tenor (nearly alto) vocals. Also worth noting that, once the harsh vocals subside, “Flesh to Nothing” has the best solo on the album. Thus, a seven-and-a-half-minute track is ruined as a result of approximately one minute of poorly placed harsh vocals that feel nothing short of forced.
Tracks like “The Seer” are deceiving, and thus represent some of the biggest letdowns. Before the roughly two-and-a-half-minute mark, the composition is solid. The guitar tone is ideal and layered to fuzzy perfection. An upbeat intro gives way to a more doom-laden chorus with professional harmonies and slick vocal-slides. The bridge chugs along forebodingly, indicating an impending change. Unfortunately, that change is harsh vocals. Remove those and the bridge suddenly leads over sludgy shallows into an alteration that not only makes sense, but is solidly composed, written and executed. Near the four-twenty mark the song folds back onto itself, turning the bridge into a riff-heavy, Pallbearer-esque outro of gigantic proportions.
It’s easy to read this review as pompous. Hell, it’s probably easy to read most of my writing that way. It’s also easy to read it as overly critical of Khemmis. That’s not the intention. The intention is to press both reviewers and musicians to make a better effort to justify their extreme praise or distaste in an album. Khemmis is a band that could very easily turn around and make a solid doom album, particularly by ditching the harsh vocals and simplifying much of their composition. But, as it stands, a band full of really great dudes, with some true potential continues to be hampered by imprudent decision making, failures of editing, and the inclusion of those darn harsh vocals. And the general music press continues to laud these setbacks rather than forcing Khemmis to up their game to become all that they have the ability to become.