Geared up for the week­end

Metal band Khem­mis def­i­nitely isn’t in it for the money

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Joe Ru­bino YourHub

It’s a clas­sic rock ’ n’ roll story.

So­ci­ol­ogy grad stu­dent meets free­lance en­gi­neer­ing project man­ager through on­line ad. En­lists fel­low so­ci­ol­o­gist with shared loved of slow, sludgy mu­sic. Head brewer at lo­cal brew­ery pulls up a drum stool. A lit­tle more than three years later, band lands a spot in Rolling Stone mag­a­zine’s best metal al­bums of 2016.

Maybe “clas­sic” is push­ing it, but Den­ver doom quar­tet Khem­mis has made it work. The band will roll into the Mar­quis Theater Mon­day night rid­ing a wave of mo­men­tum al­most as big as the sound on its head- bang­ing, heart- wrench­ing sopho­more re­lease “Hunted.”

De­spite its crit­i­cal suc­cess, Khem­mis’ metal means re­main mod­est. The band prac­tices in a claus­tro­pho­bic re­hearsal space be­hind the Wal­nut Room that it shares with lo­cal post- hard­core trio Mus­cle Beach. A bus would be nice, but this tour’s rides are a Honda Civic and a ’ 78 Chevy van lug­ging a trailer. The band has re­ceived just one roy­alty check in its ca­reer. (“Some peo­ple, their car pay­ment is aboutwhat that roy­alty check was,” bassist Dan Beiers said.) They are draw­ing in­ter­est from larger in­die la­bels, but Warner Bros. Records isn’t kick­ing down their door.

Care­ful planning and smart de­ci­sion- mak­ing have been es­sen­tial to keep­ing the band from be­com­ing a fi­nan­cial drag on its mem­bers, es­pe­cial­ly­when it comes to tour­ing,

which the group and its agents knowit can only do in short spurts.

Though Khem­mis is an up­start on the na­tional scene, it’s in ex­act con­trast to the devil- may- care band of young’ns that im­age con­jures up. These are ca­reer men, ei­ther mar­ried or in com­mit­ted re­la­tion­ships, their early 20s well in the rearview. Singer/ gui­tarist Phil Pen­der­gast is the youngest at 28, Beiers the oldest at 41. Pen­der­gast and fel­low ax man/ growler Ben Hutch­er­son are so­ci­ol­ogy grad stu­dents at the Univer­sity of Colorado in Boul­der. ( The band’s cur­rent 15- date tour was sched­uled with spring break in mind, but Hutch­er­son said he was planning to grade some pa­pers in the van.) Drum­mer Zach Cole­man is the head brewer at South Broad­way’s Trve Brewing Com­pany, and Beiers will spend most of the next 18 months draw­ing up blue­prints for the re­design of the Guam air­port. The self- em­ployed en­gi­neer has an 8- year- old daugh­ter and doesn’t get paid va­ca­tion.

Pro­fes­sional and per­sonal com­mit­ments have kept Khem­mis from throw­ing it­self head­long into the realm of op­por­tu­nity it has re­cently opened up for it­self. Just as it was get­ting started, the band had to pass on a 6- week tour with Vik­ing metal stal­warts Amon Amarth.

“In the mo­ment, it­was like, ‘ Oh, man, this might be the only cool thing thatwe ever get of­fered.’ And thank­fully, it hasn’t been,” Hutch­er­son said. “It’s some­thingwe’ve al­ways made clear as a band. We love the idea of be­ing rock ‘ n’ rollers butwe’re not 20 years old and­want­ing to jump in the van at amo­ment’s no­tice and come home to over­due bills or all our ( stuff) out on the lawn or­what­ever. We’re for­tu­nate to be in a po­si­tion wherewe don’t have to take ev­ery of­fer, and I think, to some ex­tent, that helps us.”

That doesn’t mean that if the right op­por­tu­nity came along— say a tour with Me­tal­lica or Slayer— the band wouldn’t jump at it. For right now at least, Khem­mis is much more a self- sus­tain­ing hobby that pays for an oc­ca­sional stop at a cool brew­ery on the road than a ticket toMot­ley Crue-burn­ing- down­hotel­rooms lev­els of suc­cess and ex­cess.

“Some­times it feels like we’re right on the of cusp of some­thing. A change. A big change. But if it hap- pens, it hap­pens. It’s kind of out of our con­trol,” Beiers said. “At one point, I would say we didn’t even en­ter­tain the pos­si­bil­ity of do­ing the band as a thing for all of us for some pe­riod of time. I can’t speak for these guys, but I know I’ve entertained it now. If some­how it got to a cer­tain level, of course, I think we’d see it through.”

Cer­tain as­pects of Khem­mis’ wild ride still strike the grounded crew as sur­real.

“Peo­ple are like, ‘ Are you guys go­ing to tour Europe?’ ” Cole­man said. “And I’ll go, ‘ Well, our agent is work­ing on it.’ Then it’s like, oh! That just came out of my mouth.”

But the band is keenly aware that its tight, emo­tion­ally grip­ping al­bum work is at the cen­ter of its ap­peal. The­wheels are al­ready turn­ing on the next record, seem­ingly be­fore the amp tubes cool down from the last ses­sion for “Hunted.”

In many ways, that al­bum was a re­flec­tion of the per­son­al­ity of the band it­self. In­tro­spec­tive, pol­ished and filler- free, it’s more re­fined and ex­pan­sive than its pre­de­ces­sor, thanks to thor­ough self- edit­ing. It smoothly weaves to­gether slab- thick riffs ca­pa­ble of in­duc­ing “Wayne’sWorld”- ian bouts of spon­ta­neous head bang­ing, Iron Maiden- tinged har­monies, Thin Lizzy shuf­fles and sparse, sor­row­ful clean parts while tack­ling hon­est, hu­man themes like fear and doubt.

The five- track epic, re­leased in Oc­to­ber on su­perindie la­bel 20 Buck Spin, not only earned the self- de­scribed “doomed rock ’ n’ roll” out­fit that ( dig­i­tal) ink in Rolling Stone, but­was also named 2016’ s al­bum of the year by ex­treme scene author­ity Deci­bel mag­a­zine. That came af­ter Deci­bel ranked Khem­mis’ de­but, “Ab­so­lu­tion,” theNo. 9 al­bum of 2015.

Among the peo­ple least caught off guard by Khem­mis’ rise from lo­cal band play­ing for free ad­mis­sion and beer to crit­i­cal dar­lings wasDaveOtero. He pro­duced both their al­bums at his Flat­line Au­dio stu­dio in West­min­ster. Otero said the band brings a level of self aware­ness and thoughtfulness to its song­writ­ing— just like it does tour­ing— be­yond that of your av­er­age noise­mak­ers.

“Khem­mis is one band that has abil­ity to en­vi­sion a path and ac­tu­ally re­al­ize it in their writ­ing in a way that most bands don’t,” Otero said. “They know what they want and they have a clear vi­sion. It’s rare to see a band that for­ward­think­ing. And they have a lot of eyes on them now.”

While mem­bers plot and pon­der Al­bum No. 3, the band con­tin­ues to stock­pile an ever- more im­pres­sive cat­a­log of ca­reer high­lights. It played a sold- out head­lin­ing show at Brook­lyn rock haven Saint Vi­tus Bar in Jan­uary, weeks af­ter thrash leg­end­sMe­gadeth rocked the same stage. The night be­fore that, the band mem­bers re­mem­ber the crowd at a head­lin­ing show in Chicago scream­ing bloody mur­der be­fore they even picked up their in­stru­ments.

Still, the band hasn’t for­got­ten its roots. Though they, like so many, are trans­plants, Khem­mis proudly flies the red, blue and gold flag of the di­ver­seif- nascent Den­ver metal un­der­ground that birthed it. Hutch­er­son and Beiers said the sold- out “Hunted” al­bum re­lease show at the Hi- Dive in Oc­to­ber re­mains among their top mu­si­cal ex­pe­ri­ences so far, right up there with Saint Vi­tus.

Mon­day night is a home­com­ing show of sorts, but once Khem­mis re­ally comes home af­ter the tour ends on April 8, its mem­bers will set­tle back into their nor­mal rou­tines: draw­ing air­ports, brewing beer, teaching classes or crunch­ing stats in CU’s crim­i­nol­ogy depart­ment and get­ting to­gether on Thurs­day nights to jam and re­hearse for the next show. What­ever spoils of tour come back with them are to be con­sci­en­tiously in­vested.

“We’re not go­ing to be so flush thatwe’re all buy­ing Bent­leys or­what­ever,” Hutch­er­son cracked. “But may­bewe knock down some in­di­vid­ual- level debt.”

John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

Dan Beiers, of lo­cal metal band Khem­mis, prac­tices in the band’s stu­dio at the Wal­nut Room in Den­ver.

Pho­tos by John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

Lo­cal metal band Khem­mis pre­pares for prac­tice in its stu­dio at theWal­nut Room in Den­ver. The group is go­ing on tour with Oath­breaker, a Scan­dana­vian metal band.

The­mem­bers of Khem­mis— Phil Pen­der­gast, Ben Huther­son, Zach Cole­man and Dan Beiers— fit their “metal” life around jobs and fam­ily.

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