Rocky mountain riff-masters Khemmis release their new album Deceiver on Friday. Their first three albums have all claimed spots on Decibel‘s top 40 list, including the coveted throne as top album (Hunted in 2016). So a Khemmis release date is basically a bonus holiday at Decibel. Deceiver is the band’s darkest and most personal album to date. Their evolution since Absolution‘s stoner doom genesis is a path of creative freedom, songwriting prowess, and technical growth. They retain the shadowy doom and capital-H Heavy Metal on Deceiver, but continue to push their sound into shadowy new territory. There’s also an emotional sincerity to their music that gives each clean or growled note intangible heaviness.
Khemmis was kind enough to share some of the music that influenced them during the writing and production of Deceiver. Read the list from each member below, and stay tuned for the album release on November 19th from Nuclear Blast Records.
PHIL PENDERGAST (Vocals, Guitars)
Massacre – From Beyond
This kind of putrid thrashy proto-death metal was a constant part of my musical diet in 2020. There is something wonderfully escapist and lunk-headed about this record that helped pull me out of depressive slumps or overthinking, existential crisis, and back to the guitar. I tried to tap into a similarly primordial, lizard-brain headspace for a couple of riff sections on Deceiver. I also drew inspiration from some of the darkly psychedelic production aspects of this record when we were crafting the longer, more drawn-out transitional parts on the album. If you haven’t heard this one in a while, turn down the lights and crank it up!
Katatonia – Dance of December Souls
I had never listened to this particular Katatonia record before late 2019, when I put it on for an evening walk during that magical part of the year where the leaves are still crisp on the ground and the first snows are falling. Sometimes a record just blends perfectly with a moment in time, and this was one of those perfect pairings. We had enough ideas percolating for Deceiver by then that I had a vague sense of what it might feel like, style-wise. And here was this record that combined a sort of melodeath influence with death-doom in a way I hadn’t really heard before, aside from what we were writing. There was something kindred there, in the spirit of this album, that reassured me this type of sound would work and pushed me towards making certain melodic or arrangement choices that I otherwise may not have, in an effort to reach for something similarly evocative.
Ibrahim Maalouf – Kalthoum
It might have been a function of the books I was reading at the time, but I found myself drawn to a lot of Middle Eastern music during the darkest days of quarantine, early on in the pandemic. I was particularly drawn to a few different jazz artists from this region, and did basically nothing but read and listen to these albums for about two months. Of those records, Kalthoum by French-Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf had probably the greatest influence on the new album (though I would not say it was my absolute favorite of these records — that honor goes to Tunisian Oud player Anouar Brahem’s Souvenance). Several tracks feature bombastic, horn-led melodies that create a very heavy groove against the rhythm section, and I tried to recapture this feeling in a couple places on Deceiver. The verse riff on the first track, “Avernal Gate,” would be one example. In fact, quite a few melodies on the album are based on musical scales and modes that you hear in this kind of music, which lends the record a slightly different and more mysterious harmonic language than our past albums.
Judas Priest – Sin After Sin
Over time, I have developed a really deep appreciation for this era of Judas Priest (along with Sad Wings of Destiny and Stained Class; I could have picked any of these albums). This is the sound of one of the best bands to ever do it, and my personal heavy metal heroes, stretching out fearlessly into the unknown, totally unencumbered by expectations, success, or genre barriers. While they soon went on to write the blueprint for capital-H Heavy Metal, and have more or less kept to that sound ever since, here they cannot be so easily defined. “Sinner” flat-out rocks and foreshadows what is to come, while “Call for the Priest” and “Here Come the Tears” bring the theatricality. “Dissident Aggressor” goes so hard that it practically invents thrash and death metal in 1977. Across this album, Priest are completely unafraid to take you to the highest highs (seriously, Rob Halford’s final harmony part on “Sinner” and opening scream on “Dissident Aggressor” are way up there!) and lowest lows, while remaining totally authentic to themselves. I have always thought that we should strive for a similar freedom of expression with Khemmis, and Deceiver is really the first album where we have been confident enough in ourselves and skilled enough in our craft to fully attain that vision.
Tom Waits – Mule Variations
If you are unfamiliar with this album, for all intents and purposes, Mule Variations is basically a career-spanning greatest hits collection, except that every song is new (or was, in 1999). Now, this is a great album, and the sense of setting that Waits creates in each track is inspiring enough to me as a songwriter to include it here. But the remarkable thing about this record, to me, is that Tom Waits has been such a restless artist his entire career, constantly reinventing himself to deliver a body of work that is unparalleled in its breadth and depth. Given that, it must have taken a lot of guts to look back, embrace all of these earlier versions of himself, and deliver material in each of these styles that is just as vital and emotionally resonant as anything he’d done before. That courage is admirable. As artists, it can be really tempting to either create new works that actively defy what you’ve done before, or attempt to simply recreate past glories. Only those who are truly comfortable in their own skin can expand out while embracing their legacy, as Waits did here. Now, I am not going to claim that we have anything approaching a “legacy.” But I do think that with Deceiver, we have matured enough as artists and as people to recognize and play to certain strengths of our sound without abandoning experimentation or the drive to innovate. We can still make a pretty damn “doomy” album without being just a doom metal band, and it doesn’t have to sound anything like Hunted or Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. It can just sound like us, here and now, the imperfect but honest expression of our past, present, and future that we all are, as human beings.
Zach Coleman (Drums)
Darkthrone – Plaguewielder
I listened to a lot of Darkthrone, again, over the last year. I specifically spent more time with mid-era albums like this one. All killer! Fenriz is such a creative drummer and one of my favorites.
Twin Tribes – Ceremony
This was recommended to me by a friend who knows I’m really a goth at heart, and I’m sure glad. Great riffs, programming, and excellent lyrics. Definitely seeped into my subconscious when working on Deceiver.
Tim Hecker – Harmony in Ultraviolet
This has become a go-to album for me when I need something meditative. For me, It’s sonic escapism that makes me want to create. This in turn, eventually makes me rethink whatever I’m working on, including drum parts.
Swallowed – Lunarterial
It’s easy to get possessed by the atmosphere of this record, and I’m not immune. But it’s the madman style of playing that keeps me coming back. That absolute freedom and focus on capturing a certain type of performance over perfect form/tempo/technique has always been something I’m into. But it was more on my mind in the studio because I’d been listening to this record so much.
Slowdive – Souvlaki
This album is a masterpiece and has been a constant companion for me for most of my adult life, but I really started digging back into shoegaze when the pandemic hit. I love how quiet and loud, restrained and bold, less and more the whole thing is. The drumming perfectly serves the songs while also moving them along.
Ben Hutcherson (Guitar, Vocals)
YOB – Clearing the Path to Ascend
Everything this band does is incredible, but this album is the one I return to most often. Mike [Scheidt]’s approach to playing guitar is an endless source of inspiration for me. He runs a masterclass in storytelling with the instrument and in using the entire range of the guitar in a way that disrupts the “low notes for riffs, high notes for solos” dichotomy. No other guitarist can cause me to weep with sorrow as well as with joy with a single chord shape.
Weakling – Dead as Dreams
John Gossard’s playing and compositional style has been a massive influence ever since I heard this record my freshman year of college. I did not understand what I was hearing. The vocals were terrifying. The songs were so, so long. Nineteen years after I first heard it, I still find new points of inspiration in this record. When writing Deceiver, I think the oppressive, visceral atmosphere of Weakling (as well as Asunder) manifested in a much more explicit way than on any of our other releases.
John Prine – John Prine
This is our most introspective and darkest album to date, and that necessitated a willingness to just be and to let that being come through the music and lyrics. Prine has a catalog filled with beautiful songs that are ostensibly about fictional characters but are somehow also very much about his life. That balance between the universal and the personal is one that we have always sought to find in our own songwriting.
Run the Jewels – RTJ4
This album is an incredible piece of art that shows how you can write music about the horrors of the modern world while not wallowing in a sense of helplessness or shallow nihilism. The willingness of Mike and El-P to open their hearts and put their anger and hope into a collection of songs encouraged me to let the “big picture” shape the music and lyrics I wrote for this album without hesitation.
Necrophagist – Epitaph
Muhammed Suiçmez changed my world when I heard Onset of Putrefaction, but even that didn’t prepare me for Epitaph. The leadwork that he and Christian Münzner laid down on this album provided a blueprint for combining technical precision with classical compositional sensibilities. While I doubt you’ll ever hear as many sweep arpeggios in an entire Khemmis album as these two played in any single song from Epitaph, the way they approached leadwork as a compliment to a song’s overall story remains a guideline when I begin composing a lead.