Khemmis have mastered their multi-layered “doomed heavy metal” on their latest batch of auditory excellence. The Colorado-based act’s record, Deceiver, out November 19 via Nuclear Blast, is a reflection on what it means to be doomed by our ancestors and history, revealing a new level of metallic heaviness the group only hinted at in the past.

While every new record is hailed as a modern doom classic, Deceiver takes things to a whole new level, with a greater emphasis on disparate influences (John Prine, death metal, Metallica), while also leaving behind their previous emphasis on fantasy-tinged metaphors.

From the start, Deceiver pushes the weight of human experience to the forefront, resulting in an album that’s as lyrically and musically powerful as any heavy record released since Yob’s heyday. All of this came about during a very harrowing time for guitarist and vocalist Ben Hutcherson, who found a new sense of purpose leading up to this record:

“Starting about halfway through 2019, I started spiraling into the worst depressive episode of my life. I knew that I had experienced depression before, but this episode lasted seven or eight months. It culminated with this period of complete suicidal ideation. I lost all interest in being alive and was really consumed with the idea of dying.

“Between my amazing wife and fantastic [professional help], I got help when I needed it. I got the right medication and the right therapy. What had changed for me was, I think that the point, sort of late spring, early summer of 2020, a lot of people were really finding themselves needing to find things to hold onto, to latch onto. So, a lot of people were starting to dip down. I was coming out of the absolute ass bottom of my emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being.”

“Rather than trying to find that comfort food, if you will,” he continues, “I felt more motivated to create across the board more than I ever have. I had this newfound joy. And this newfound dedication to joy. To creating it, finding it, and sharing it. At that point, we didn’t know when anyone would ever be able to see anyone else ever again. [I was driven by this idea:] ‘What can I put into this rotten, miserable world that’s going to make things hurt a little bit less?’ Because literally, everyone is suffering.

“I guess it’s worth prefacing this by saying my favorite bands are Steely Dan, Jethro Tull, Neurosis, and YOB. So, anytime anyone asks me, ‘What are your favorite classic doomers?’ But seriously, I listen to old Sabbath. I never got into that—sort of ’70s and ’80s proto-doom and first waves of doom Just was never my thing. So, whenever I want to hear something that sounds heavy and kind of sad, I’ll put on John Prine’s self-titled. I love John Prine. All three of us worship at the altar of John Prine.”

“[Guitarist/vocalist] Phil [Pendergast] and I wrote the lyrics collaboratively. More so than on any other album, we wanted to be more direct. You get to a point in your mid-to late-30s where you start asking questions about, ‘Well how did I wind up this way?’ and, ‘Is there such a thing as fate?’ Not in, like, a cosmic sense, but in an epidemiological sense.

“The confluence of genetic factors and social environment. Are we destined to be who we are? I come from a long line of addicts and people with various forms of non-addiction related mental illness. It wasn’t until I was officially diagnosed as having a mental illness that I started asking questions and looking at my family history. Being like, ‘What the fuck? Was I always destined to be this way?’

“I got sober about three years ago, which, to say it’s a rarity in my family is not even close. I think I’m the only person who ever got sober in my family. It’s either people didn’t have an addiction problem, or they did, and it winds up, one way or another, killing them. So, these questions of, ‘Are we only the offspring of our parents, but also our genetic lineage? Can we transcend the bonds of family and family trauma, of social class? And if so, what’s our obligation to ourselves and others as a result?’”

The record really resonated with me and my current sense of imposter syndrome (hello professionals in our thirties) as well as a lingering depression about my chronic pain issues. Is it selfish to take care of yourself to better care for others and the world around you?

“You said a word,” Hutcherson interjects, “and then you caught yourself, and I think it’s interesting. The word ‘selfish.’ This is a word that I have been unpacking for my therapist for a long time. Because whenever we say someone is being selfish, we use it in a strictly pejorative sense. But the idea of caring for oneself is essential to being something other than a martyr.

“You talked about people burning out in your field. I was a professor for 10 years, and I burned out. I had this martyr complex. I was like, ‘I’m going to save the world through teaching. I’m going to change these kids’ lives.’ And that’s a big part of why I wound up in such a dark place, is because that’s not sustainable. That’s no way to live your life in a meaningful way, if you are only living to literally sacrifice yourself for others.”

“It’s romanticized,” he adds. “At every level in our society: in religion, popular film, literature, and discursively, but it’s not sustainable. The best way to share love and joy is to feel love and joy. It’s those epiphanies of realizing you don’t have to find more suffering, because suffering is everywhere. You suffer from the moment you’re born until the moment you die. I wholeheartedly believe that that is the nature of existence. That is unchangeable. So, what do we do with that?

“I went as far down one path as I could without literally leaving this world, and thankfully, I am now on the other path. The other path is the knowledge that pain and suffering are universal, and that they are going to happen in your life constantly. We spend our entire lives trying to control the future. Trying to place bets and hedge our bets about the future. In doing so, we miss out on the only thing we can control, which is right now. I try to keep that centered every day, that idea that this moment is literally all we have. The lyrics for this album try to emphasize that everyone’s past is filled with horror and pain, but right now is all you have. Right now, your obligation is to yourself and to your fellow man.”

“One of my favorite memories of my dad is, we took a car trip one day to sell a piece of musical gear. Because I had this ridiculous piece of hardware that would hold two amp heads and some rack gear. This was 10, 12 years ago, and it was hard to sell. I was still living in the South at this point. A guy hit me up from northwestern Alabama, and he was like, ‘You bring it over here; I’ll pay you for your gas, and I’ll buy it off of you.’

“So [my dad and I] took a car trip one day. And we listened to a bunch of Little Feet, a bunch of Steely Dan and ZZ Top. I put on John Prine’s Self-Titled, and I’m driving, he’s in the passenger’s seat. It gets to ‘Sam Stone,’ and we both just start crying. He sees me crying, and I look over and see him crying, and we both start laughing. And he was like, ‘I can’t listen to this song.’ I was like, ‘I can’t listen to this song either!’”

“I like that memory for so many reasons,” he continues, “not the least of which is, when we think about the things that we inherit from our parents or our grandparents, which is that idea of the things that we accrue generationally. We talk about it explicitly in terms of trauma and pain. But we often ignore the fact that we get good stuff, too. You know?

“My dad was a Boomer, so emotions, crying, were really not on the table for him. I didn’t even see him cry until he was 60, you know? Having this moment where it’s like, ‘Oh shit, you have feelings about this, too?’ and just getting this bond over that, and laugh about that, and really just have that experience together.

“That’s in this album, too. Those moments of joy. You were talking about this idea of duality earlier. I think even though this is, by far our darkest album, we’ll never go purely pessimistic misanthropic. Nor would we ever go completely the other way because that’s not the world that we experience.”

He adds: “So, even when things are at their bleakest, there’s still, if you know where to look for them, those little slivers of joy. At the same time, when things are feeling really good, it’s important to stay grounded and remember that, not so far away, you’re not that far out of the shadows.”

Check out the video for “House Of Cadmus” here:

 

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Photo courtesy of Khemmis and Jason Sinn

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