Khemmis Makes "Doomed Rock 'n' Roll" — and Debuts Absolution Saturday

On Saturday, August 1, Khemmis unleashes the physical copies of its debut full-length, Absolution, on 20 Buck Spin at the hi-dive. The four-piece came together in Denver at the end of 2012 when bassist Dan Beiers spotted recent transplant Ben Hutcherson's Craigslist ad and got in touch. The ad featured Jawas from Star Wars carrying a Sunn Model T amplifier instead of R2D2, perhaps subconsciously referencing ambient doom act Sunn O))), and cited inspirations including Neurosis, Rwake, Sleep and Yob  — which made working together seem like a great fit.

Early on the duo's music was part doom and part stoner rock, but when they brought in drummer Zach Coleman six months into the band's existence — through Reed Bruemmer of Speedwolf, a mutual friend — they all bonded over a love of classic-rock bands like Thin Lizzy, ZZ Top and Jethro Tull. That shifted the sounds and dynamics in an unusual way for a band that embraces the designation of doom metal. The band's sound also owes a lot to the members' diverse musicial backgrounds. 

Beiers moved to Denver from Chicago in the late '90s and found it a bit of a musical void for the first few years, until he started to meet many more musicians, especially those who shared similar interests in the kinds of music he wanted to make. As a member of Stab the Monster, Sonatine and the Fugazi-style post-hardcore Belly of the Buick, Beiers didn't exactly have the background you'd expect for a musician playing heavy metal today. And as a member of Uncle Larry's Bitch, Beiers rubbed shoulders with the Swayback as the two bands played in the same practice facility.

Coleman moved to Denver from Denton, Texas, and had an extended, long-distance project called Visaleth, which has a few records on the well-known Profound Lore imprint. But even with a background in death metal — and technical death metal, at that — Coleman had become more interested in music well outside of metal, and a fan of both Wovenhand and Slim Cessna's Auto Club.

"I saw Slim Cessna's Auto Club within the first six months of being here,” says Coleman. “I have a friend who works at a record store, and he said I should check out these bands [from Colorado]. I was listening to bluesy stuff that wasn't necessarily even dark. I also love gothy bands like Sisters of Mercy and Fields of the Nephilim and Scott H. Biram. [Wovenhand was] like Scott Biram meets Sisters of Mercy.”

Hutcherson moved to Colorado around the same time as Coleman,after working as a professor at the University of Mississippi. He enrolled at the University of Colorado to get a Ph.D. in Cultural Sociology, and by an odd quirk of fate, Khemmis's other guitarist and vocalist, Phil Pendergast, is in the same department earning a Ph.D. in Criminology. With Coleman having a masters in technical writing and Beiers working as an engineer, the common denominator in Khemmis is not just a love of heavy rock and an eclectic taste in music, but a great deal of education.

Over the past two years, Khemmis has made a name for itself as one of the most interesting bands in the local heavy music realm; Olympia, Washington-based 20 Buck Spin signed the act up for its debut album. And so Khemmis joined the ranks of an increasing number of metal bands signed to out-of-town labels while still somewhat ignored in Denver proper outside of the metal community thats attend shows. To name a few, Call of the Void and Primitive Man are both signed to prestigious underground metal label Relapse Records, Nightbringer with Season of Mist and Wayfarer with Prosthetic Records. 

Khemmis also got a boost from its local community by recording with Dave Otero, known for his work with Cephalic Carnage and heavy bands from around the country; it was also put on bills by scene veteran Ethan McCarthy of Primitive Man. “He props up the scene and he loves it,” Beiers says of McCarthy. “He's a central figure in our scene. If it weren't for Ethan, it would feel somewhat chaotic. He's always been good to us and for him to do us another favor is awesome.”

Kim Kelly, music journalist for Noisey and Rolling Stone, recently called the music of Khemmis “doomed rock 'n' roll.” But with both a refined sense of humor and the obvious affection the guys in Khemmis have for their community and each other, clearly the term applies to how the music sounds and to the dark yet cathartic subject matter of some of the lyrics — not the band itself. An album as diverse and as beautiful as Absolution, adorned with a striking, Frank Frazetta/Richard Corben-inspired image courtesy artist Sam Turner, should bring Khemmis the wide spectrum of attention it so richly deserves.

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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.
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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.