In 1916, Appalachian preacher and musician Lloyd Chandler claims to have been visited by Death, who spoke to him and left him with a song. That song, titled “A Conversation with Death” (or, in some versions of the story, “O, Death”) was performed by Chandler throughout his life while preaching through the Southeast, and eventually ended up on the Grammy-winning soundtrack to the Coen Brothers’ 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, alongside other folk songs from the era.
Today, just over a century after its inception, the song is being covered by Denver stoner/doom metallers Khemmis. Their version draws a clear through line between the gothic, apocryphal folk of Appalachia and the more haunting strains of heavy metal, so much so that “A Conversation with Death” sounds like a natural move for them.
Their cover, with its soaring vocal harmonies and dueling Flying V solos, could seamlessly fit onto their excellent 2016 album, Hunted, which brought a rock and roll sensibility to crushing doom riffs and epic song structures. “I'll open the door to Heaven or Hell,” sings frontman Phil Pendergast, the band’s unique blend of catharsis and poignant sorrow manifesting both sides of the coin that Death presents. Considering how neatly these styles fit together here, it’s a mystery why more modern American metal bands haven’t attempted to merge their styles with the creepier strains of Southern folk.
Khemmis’ “Conversation with Death” is taken from an upcoming split 7”, on which desert rockers Spirit Adrift cover another early 20th Century gem, “Man of Constant Sorrow” (a song that also happened to appear on the O Brother soundtrack). Pre-order that split, aptly titled Fraught with Peril, on Bandcamp.