Soundtracks for video games introduced me to much of the music I enjoy today. Were it not for the soundtracks for the WWE SmackDown! vs. RAW games, which included acts like Breaking Benjamin, Powerman 5000, The Dillinger Escape Plan, and Disturbed, I can confidently say that heavy music would not be the norm for me. Add in the rhythm game craze of the late 2000s, and video games are directly responsible for not just my musical taste, but much of my teen and young adult years.
As my fiance and I started our first playthrough of The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan, we were greeted by a familiar tune. “O Death,” which was sung by Amy van Roekel, played over the opening credits of Supermassive Games’ previous cinematic horror title, Until Dawn, which holds a place in both of our hearts. The version in Man of Medan was heavy, sludgy, and immediately brought a smile to my face. Unlike Until Dawn, my fiance had never played Man of Medan till we started it together, so she had no prior knowledge of this iteration. I took down the name Khemmis, and as luck would have it, they released that song, “A Conversation with Death,” on their newest EP just days after our first experience with their music.
Doomed Heavy Metal is truth in advertising and in its title. The six tracks, consisting of two covers, a B-side from a Decibel feature, and three live performances, are steeped in despair in both lyrics and composition. With the band’s recent signing to Nuclear Blast Records, Khemmis looks to spread their gloom-laden fare further than ever before, and with several features among top metal albums of the year lists, they certainly have earned a reputation.
Their cover of Dio’s perennial classic “Rainbow in the Dark” is less flash and more forward, trading in some of the guitar pyrotechnics and drum fills for a double-time instrumental break. Further, a dual guitar harmony takes the place of the original’s trademark synthesizer line. The band, in doing so, keeps true to their style, and that style brings them a winner of a cover. Given the source material, that is an achievement for sure.
“Empty Throne” is Sabbath-like in its construction and execution. A rattling bass riff compliments a subtle drum part before the entire band kicks in. The dual guitar harmonies in the chorus and post-chorus sections sing over the rhythm section, showing that hammering riffs aren’t the only things guitarists Ben Hutcherson and Phil Pendergast do well.
“A Conversation with Death” is an update on an early 20th century folk song “O Death,” originally recorded by Dock Boggs and presumed written by Appalachian preacher Lloyd Chandler. This interpretation keeps enough folk tendencies to honor the original, but again wraps the song in heavy riffing and a simple vocal melody to make it utterly doom metal. Death waits for no man, and the pacing of this song makes no allowance either. Even the middle section of the instrumental break is mid-tempo at fastest, and serves as more of a fist-pumper than a mosher.
The live recordings consist of “Bloodletting,” “Three Gates,” and “The Bereaved,” each song coming from one of the band’s previous three full-lengths. As far as live recordings go, these three tracks, recorded in the band’s native Denver, Colorado, are clean-sounding, unhampered, and resonant.
As an introduction to Khemmis, Doomed Heavy Metal is a surprisingly loaded collection. The band seems to know themselves and what they stand for, and has executed their brand of the divisive doom metal genre better than most. If their inclusion in Man of Medan was the invitation, this EP is a reason to keep coming back.
Doomed Heavy Metal is available now via Nuclear Blast Records and 20 Buck Spin.