Khemmis stopped in Chicago on a Friday night for their North American Desolation MMXIX tour.
Date: Friday, July 26, 2019
Place: Reggies (2105 South State Street; Chicago, Illinois 60616)
Ticket Price: $15 ($19.43 after fees)
Khemmis are a doom metal band from Denver, Colorado that started in 2012. I saw them last July at Reggies too. They played on the first day of the month, which was on a Sunday night. It was a cool show not just because Khemmis rocks but because they had just released their third album called Desolation on June 22 via 20 Buck Spin. Chicago was one of three places where they played Desolation in full, which was an awesome show. The first time I actually saw Khemmis live was in February 2018 at the Metro opening for Enslaved on that year’s Decibel Magazine Tour. It was a Friday night and I got to the show late since traffic was terrible. I missed almost all of Khemmis’ shorter set, which stung a lot since I was so hyped to see them for the first time. This show and the last one definitely made up for that though.
I’ve been listening to Khemmis pretty heavily the last few months. Desolation and Hunted are such great albums. Khemmis are creeping up the list as one of my favorite bands. This February the band signed a worldwide deal to Nuclear Blast, so they are on a major metal label now. Khemmis went out on their “North American Desolation MMXIX” tour in 16 cities between July 11-28 to support Desolation.
The show took place in Reggies Rock Club, which is the venue’s bigger building with the main stage and larger open area. I haven’t been to Reggies in several months but have seen plenty of shows there. It’s one of the best places to see shows in Chicago because they get so many great bands and the sound is fantastic. The building is located a few blocks away from Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood. Every time I go down here the whole street right by the CTA Red Line station leading into Chinatown is under construction. It’s funny. This same street is perpetually under some sort of construction. Since at least last summer there have been times when the road is all tore up, the sidewalk is blocked off or traffic is getting redirected. It was even more blocked off this time around. Like how long does it take to finish whatever project the city is doing?
The doors opened for the show at 7 p.m. I got there around 7:55. I forgot my ear buds for the show. I figured I was going to pay for it later on but at this point I’m so deaf my ears weren’t really killing me afterwards. That’s probably not a good thing. It was a pretty packed house by the time the show started. I would guess there were a few hundred people there when Cloak and Khemmis played but it was also packed when Huntsmen went on.
Huntsmen are from Chicago. They were fantastic. I never heard of them before. Knowing nothing about them before this show they surprised me with how great they were. I think there’s this potential bias against opening local bands that they might end up sucking. I had no expectations about them going into the show but Huntsmen are another great local Chicago band that is killing it. Huntsmen released a full-length album called American Scrap in February 2018 on Prosthetic Records and have done a few EPs before that.
I think they opened the set with “Canary King” from that record. The singer and the bass player started by singing cleanly together without any instruments. This song had a great riff a few minutes in. Huntsmen played five songs. The singer mentioned a few of the songs they did are going to be on the band’s upcoming album coming out early next year. For their second song this petite, tattooed woman came out and sang with them. The song had a line repeated that said it feels like summer has arrived. I don’t know the name of it but it will be on their next album. I liked the song a lot.
Huntsmen had this combination of metal with like an alternative aspect to the band, to put it broadly. The songs would start slow or mellow then eventually break out into heavy riffing and a faster tempo with yelled vocals. The songwriting was terrific. Each song felt like it was all built around a couple core riffs that were just great. It felt like the lyrics had stories to them too. Chris Kang, the band’s vocalist and guitarist, had a good voice when singing cleanly. The drummer would also do screamed vocals for different parts of the songs. The bass playing from Marc Stranger-Najjar stood out in the live setting especially. It sounded so good. He has got a great sound. The whole band just mixed well live together. The band’s songs had this relaxing yet heavy combination to them. A few of the guitar solos in the later songs reminded me somewhat of the effects that a band like Windhand also uses, which sounded fantastic. The band ended their set at 8:37, so they played close to 40 minutes. Huntsmen rocked hard. It’s so cool to discover new high quality bands, especially ones from Chicago.
This was my also first time seeing Cloak. I had never heard of them before. They were pretty good. The band formed in 2013 and are from Atlanta, Georgia. They do like a black metal, death rock combination style of metal with melodic parts too. They released a full-length in November 2017 called To Venomous Depths on the metal label Season of Mist. The band also just put out a two song EP called 2 Hits From Hell this March.
Cloak didn’t do anything groundbreaking but played some good, solid metal. They all certainly had the look down, dressed in all black with tight leather pants, black boots, the long hair and the singer wearing a black shirtless vest. At first glance their bass player looked like a younger Lemmy. He had the black long hair, the same type of beard and style of clothes that Lemmy wore in Motorhead. Pretty cool.
Cloak started around 9:02. The band played five songs. I really liked the vocals from Scott Taysom. They had some pretty strong riffs in each song too. The songs were on the longer side, maybe around six minutes in length. The third and fourth songs they did were “Beyond the Veil” and “Into the Storm.” The band reminded me a bit of Skeletonwitch. At some point during the fourth song the guitarist Max Brigham stopped playing and went offstage. He didn’t return until the band was already into the fifth song. It seemed like they had some technical problems. Some in the crowd cheered when he came back to play. It didn’t hurt the set that much though. The rest of the band kept jamming on. They ended their set at 9:37.
Cloak had some cool stage effects and an overall good presence. They had these sweet smoke effects and red lightning that made it look like the stage was on fire. The band did a lot of headbanging and metal poses with the raised fists, raising the guitars in the air and things like that. Cloak are still a younger band with only one full album under their belt and should only get better in the future. I really dug their style of death ‘n’ roll, black ‘n’ roll or whatever combination you want to label the band as. Cloak does a lot of cool stuff, especially combining the metal elements and slower tempoed sections of the songs with the great riffs building to the faster parts.
Khemmis had a sick setlist. It featured some of the best songs from their last two albums. I think this might be one of the best shows I’ve been to. Khemmis were so good. While they’re labeled as doom metal, they’re actually a lot more than what comes to mind for a doom band. Before going on stage Judas Priest’s “Screaming for Vengeance” played in its entirety, which seems like Khemmis’ intro song. There were a lot more people here for this show than the one at Reggies last July. The floor was packed with people. It’s probably because this show was on a Friday night instead of Sunday and Khemmis is also hopefully gaining some traction. Khemmis came on stage at exactly 10 p.m. They all gathered by the drums, toasted each other, came toward the front of the stage and then raised their drinks to the crowd. The band immediately went into “Above the Water” from their second album Hunted. The energy and vibe in the room cranked up right away.
The band played for over an hour doing eight songs. They didn’t play anything off their first album Absolution that released in 2015. After “Above the Water” they went into “Candlelight” from the same album. Phil Pendergast on vocals was great the whole night. Ben Hutcherson did most of the talking in-between songs. He seemed like a cool dude. Both him and Pendergast have great stage presences. They were either headbanging a lot, going right on the edge of the stage and playing guitar or getting really animated with great facial expressions. They went into “Bloodletting” and “Three Mirrors” following “Candlelight.” There’s alternating vocals on “Three Mirrors” where Hutcherson does these rough growls during certain parts, which sounded great live. After the song Hutcherson said they loved Chicago and mentioned Khemmis were at Reggies a year ago playing the whole Desolation album.
Khemmis then played “Flesh to Nothing” and “Isolation,” both from Desolation. The acoustic ending of “Flesh to Nothing” played over the room when the band finished their live part. “Isolation” was so good live. It was fun to sing along with the band on that song. There were some effects on the lead vocals that made Pendergast’s voice echo and travel across the room during the band’s set that I liked a lot. The drumming from Zach Coleman was killer too. All the heavy riffs and guitar solos absolutely ripped live. It was basically nonstop heaviness for the whole hour they played.
“Hunted,” the title track from their 2016 release, is over a 13-minute song. It didn’t feel like 13 minutes when they played it live. It was so killer and went by fast. It’s an amazing song. To be able to play something that long live and keep up the energy is fantastic. A good mosh pit started in the center of the room near the beginning of the song. Later on into it Hutcherson got the crowd going with the “hey, hey, hey” bit. Hearing and seeing them play “Hunted” live was phenomenal. Not only do the band’s songs rock hard on the actual records but in a live setting every aspect of them sounds just as awesome.
The band finished the set with “Maw of Time.” Hutcherson dedicated the song to Immortal Bird, a Chicago band that just released their album Thrive On Neglect earlier this month on 20 Buck Spin. As Khemmis wrapped up “Maw of Time,” the whole band joined together again around the drum kit and jammed out until the song was over. They ended their set at around 11:06. Pendergast thanked the Chicago crowd and said our energy was infectious. He told us to have a great rest of our night and drink some Malort (Chicago’s own) because the band was definitely going to.
On the way out I checked the band merchandise by the entrance. The Huntsmen and Cloak guys were selling their merch. Huntsmen actually had a lot of stuff to sell, from several shirts to their albums. Cloak were selling their shirts for $20. Khemmis had a tour shirt and a few other band ones for $20 each. They had the vinyl of their last two albums for $20 too. It was a beautiful night out after leaving the show. It must have been in the upper 60s or lower 70s with a nice summer breeze. Chicago weather has been mean and ugly the past few weeks so it was a nice change. It was perfect for walking outside and just chilling out from the killer music.
Khemmis crushed it big time.
Photos from the show: