Allow me to start this review with a couple of statements that may cause some surprise. Firstly, I’ve been sat on this recording for a couple of weeks before being able to give it a decent spin as amazingly enough this reviewing lark doesn’t actually pay the bills and work has been throwing around overtime like it was going out of fashion. Secondly, despite this being their third album, and having quite a buzz around it (it’s even appeared just the other day in physical format on the shelves of my local and compact HMV surrounded by a bunch of very favourable quotes, indicative of the faith that Nuclear Blast must have in the album), they are a band I’ve never consciously listened to. That doesn’t mean that I listen to that much music whilst unconscious, albeit Bloodstock 2018 with a wide range of scrumpy in VIP is calling, and that may happen, it’s just that I’ve not come across them. As such, I guess I’m coming at the album afresh, with no preconceptions.
First impression, based on the cover that looks like it escaped from a 1980’s copy of White Dwarf, as well as titles like ‘The Seer’ and ‘Maw of Time’, made me assume this would be some sort of NWOBHM riff-fest with a bit of sci-fi inspired Prog mixed in. Even the name Khemmis, an ancient Egyptian city, reinforced this idea, and indeed opener ‘Bloodletting’ does start with some classic twin guitar harmonies in the finest traditions of Judas Priest. However, rather than building up to a gallop, the track settles down into heavier, doomy trudge, lyrics delivered in a clean sustained fashion, albeit toward the end of the track the pace picks up with a nicely delivered guitar solo straight from the book of Iron Maiden and there’s even a bit of extreme growling thrown in at the end; so far so good. ‘Isolation’ continues very much in the same vein, with some fine guitar heroics, as does ‘Flesh To Nothing’, Khemmis showing a degree of skill and confidence undoubtedly built up over their so far three album career. However, not all is perfect, and on the latter track it sounded to me as if they were trying to throw a bit too much into the mix as if trying to tick the boxes of all their influences: more growls, tick; more harmonies, tick; more twin axe “foot on the monitors” moments, tick; even a bit of a Spanish inspired acoustic guitar work at the end to show a sensitive side, tick. Don’t get me wrong, it was all skilfully delivered, it just seemed to my ears, well, a bit too much. This same need to impress continues with ‘The Seer’ and ‘Maw of Time’, where the harsher growl gets a bit more air time, before the whole thing closes with the epic ‘From Ruin’, where the whole pace slows, and the song meanders over a near ten minute length, the volume and intensity of the music ebbing and flowing like an angry sonic tide.
Everything in the album was solid, and indicative of a band that is really coming into their own. However, for me, sometimes it sounded like the tracks needed a bit of a trim, maybe the firm hand of a producer to tell the band that not every number needs to have everything chucked into the mix, and I say that as somebody who is happy to sit down and listen to classic Yes, an act hardly known for their musical self-restraint and brevity. I’ve no idea if the prior releases by the band had the same feel to them, but there’s not quite enough on show in ‘Desolation’ for me to want to go back and compare and contrast. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good release, and I did enjoy listening to it, but considering that I live in a house with thousands of CDs competing for my attention, there was not quite enough on show here to have me nudging the band towards the front of the musical queue vying for my attention, but what do I know?