Perhaps the most notable band on the metal spectrum to have emerged from the Denver region in the past couple of years, Khemmis has stormed the national consciousness with a brutally intense combo of Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Neurosis.
Yet even the bandmembers were surprised when, at the end 2016, Rolling Stone listed their Hunted album at number eleven in the publication’s “Top Twenty Metal Albums of the Year,” handily sandwiched halfway between Metallica and Black Sabbath.
“We’ve gotten way more exposure than we ever thought we could imagine,” says guitarist/vocalist Phil Pendergast. “It started off slow, but by the end of the year, we were frequently seeing press where people listed it among their top albums of the year. I don’t think any of us expected to be in Rolling Stone. Number one in Decibel . The list goes on and on.”
The album, Khemmis’s second, is a superb piece of work. While the stoner licks and power-metal melodies are all there, it’s the sludge-heavy grind-noise of Neurosis that is arguably the clearest influence. This isn’t a band looking to make friends with all of the right people and land all of the right opening slots. This certainly isn’t a band willing to compromise in order to get on the radio or make a few bucks. Any success coming the way of Khemmis will be entirely on the bandmembers' terms, and that’s exactly what is happening.
Khemmis formed in 2012 when Pendergast and guitarist/vocalist Ben Hutcherson bonded over a shared love for extreme metal and classic rock. Bassist Dan Beiers joined soon afterward, after answering a Craigslist ad, with drummer Zach Coleman swiftly following.
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“We wanted to be playing some slow, riff-heavy kind of stuff, and we couldn’t really think of too many other bands who were doing that kind of thing with all these guitar harmonies,” Pendergast says. “Collectively, we all have really different influences. The things that we share are the things that we try to emphasize with the music, and that’s definitely a shared love of Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden, ZZ Top, plus Sleep and Yob — drawing equally from these by-now classic, newer stoner-metal bands and these older, classic, traditional metal influences.”
All of the bandmembers are based in Denver except for Pendergast, who lives in Longmont. Still, Khemmis has never played a show in the suburbs, and Pendergast says that — arguably more so than in other cities — metal-heads are happy to journey into the city to listen to live metal music.
“In our experience, the bikers are the dudes who come out to metal shows in Denver,” he says. “It's the punks, too, but our crowd draws equally from all those different people. There are plenty of metal-heads going to shows in Denver. We've played in Fort Collins and Colorado Springs and had a good reception there, too. But as far as I can tell, Denver is pretty full of metal-heads that are looking to go to shows.”
Pendergast points to the rich metal scene in the region as a possible reason for so many groups doing different things within the genre. The bands here are keen to spread out in many different directions and not go the traditional route.
“It’s pretty awesome,” he says. “There are so many bands doing different things. I don’t think there are many bands in our area that are very much traditionalists. I wouldn’t say there are bands that are strictly adhering to genre guidelines. That’s something that I think we try to consciously avoid. Something that other bands like Call of the Void, In the Company of Serpents, Primitive Man — all these bands that are doing their own thing. Tons of bands that are really forging their own paths, drawing from whatever they think is interesting.”
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On January 7, Khemmis plays the Larimer Lounge, a show that the musicians see as a trial run for forthcoming shows in Chicago and New York.
“We’re flying out to play longer headlining sets, and we want to give it a trial run locally before we do that,” Pendergast says. “We’ll be playing for about an hour or so — a good mixture of stuff from the first and second albums. Look for us to have a good time. We always like playing hometown shows, and we’re playing with some of our friends. It should be a good time.”
After that, Khemmis has a tour scheduled for March and April, plus a number of festivals around the country and in Europe later in the year. As word spreads of the band’s intense and brutal brilliance, so the workload increases exponentially. For that reason, this should be a huge year.
Khemmis plays with Abrams and Pueblo Escobar at 8 p.m. on Saturday, January 7, at the Larimer Lounge, 2721 Larimer Street, 303-291-1007.