Restlessly awakening from the depths of a feverish slumber, doomed heavy metal masters KHEMMIS return to reveal their fourth full length studio album, DECEIVER, arriving via Nuclear Blast Records in November 2021. Six tracks of desolate, soul-awakening heaviness encapsulate a project that has been nearly three years in the making. With a title that reflects the internal struggles that many of us battle in our daily lives, DECEIVER is a ferociously honest and appetizingly raw piece of musical artistry.
“Thematically, all of the songs are about the many ways that we are tricked into believing these stories about ourselves–that we are broken, that we are not good enough, that our genetics determine our fate. This title is the label that we put on our minds as a force that tricks us into believing these stories,” describes vocalist and guitarist Phil Pendergast. “The record’s lyrical trajectory is similar to Dante’s descent into an Inferno of his own making. It is our darkest album to date.”
“While our minds and hearts are responsible for this kind of deception, so too is the world around us. There is this dialectic between the two that produces suffering. Anyone who has struggled with mental health or suffered any sort of trauma will tell you that there were times that the mind is its own beast that has to be wrangled,” explains guitarist and vocalist Ben Hutcherson. “In that sense, we become the deceivers ourselves; we believe we deserve to be the vessel for this pain and this suffering that is being inflicted on us both externally and internally.”
The first single LIVING PYRE signifies far more than just the beginning of another musical endeavour for the band; it is a substantial benchmark for emotional struggle and growth. “When it comes to my own mental health, when I’m in a bad place, I can’t access the part of me that creates art. After reaching that understanding of myself, the bulk of this song came out in one sitting. I was feeling stable. I was feeling hopeful–even though so much outside in the world was not exactly inspiring. All of us needed a reason to feel a glimmer of hope,” recounts Hutcherson. With a big, quintessentially KHEMMIS chorus embellished by a swampy sorrow, this song incorporates familiar elements of the band’s sound with a touch of Swedish death metal in its latter half. “The reason that this was the song that came first lyrically was because I was juggling all the things that were happening with the inside and outside world intersecting. All the lyrics for me feel very ‘of the time.’ So much was happening in this world, and they were just my efforts to contend with it,” explains Pendergast. “Like Ben, this was a breakthrough moment for me. Once I got the song out, it allowed me to write other songs for the album. It’s less about the fire metaphor implied by the title than about the fact that in order to escape fire you have to find water. You find the deepest, darkest cavern…you just want to stay there forever. It slowly fills up and you eventually drown.”
HOUSE OF CADMUS was another deeply collaborative writing effort between all three members of KHEMMIS. “I thought the opening riff had this cool almost-swing to it…but evil,” recalls drummer Zach Coleman. “I was drawn to the atmosphere of that first riff, and it felt like it needed to be a song that was dark the whole way through. Ben and I discussed getting some New Orleans-style sounds somewhere on the album, and I think this is where we were able to sneak some in to tie together other aspects of the song.”
“I knew that I wanted the lead guitar line in the second half of the song to tie two very different parts together,” explains Hutcherson, “but the idea was all really abstract until we were in a room together. It wasn’t until we jammed out that big funeral/death doom bridge and the slow, sad coda that we found out what we wanted that lead line to be: memorable and emotive. It was a very honest musical moment together.” The writing and recording processes of HOUSE OF CADMUS were so emotionally driven that even producer Dave Otero of Flatline Audio (Cephalic Carnage, Cattle Decapitation, Act Of Defiance) encountered his own deeply personal and intense connection with the song. “With the lyric turn at the end, I was inspired by Dave’s imagery,” says Pendergast. “This idea of a person leaving some important part of themselves behind as they float away and leave the thing they love on the shore. The sound of this song is like a lighthouse beam cutting through the fog in a dark night on the ocean.”
While the lyrical themes of DECEIVER – sorrow, pain, longing for hope – will no doubt be familiar to longtime fans, these six songs display a broader collection of musical influences than on any other KHEMMIS record to date. “It being our 4th album, especially after the transition between the last two albums, it felt really freeing. We felt that we could really do anything on this record,” explains Coleman. “There’s a lot here that we’ve never done before,” adds Pendergast. “In some areas it gets darkly psychedelic. I think we found a cool way to mutate things using transitions that feel really natural. There is a subtle symmetry between the first and last songs which is one of the things that makes listening to the full album a satisfying holistic experience. It builds from almost nothing, becomes very dark, and then you slowly crawl out of that lowest circle of hell.”
KHEMMIS’ DECEIVER is a beautiful, musically ambitious journey from beginning to end drenched in impassioned melody and complex, unrestrained variations of sonic savagery adorned with chilling, intensely tragic cover art by frequent collaborator Sam Turner.
Read our review here.