2 out of 5
Label: Hydra Head
Producer: Korecky (engineered)
I know, I was surprised too. I thirsted forever for this album. Keelhaul’s first was a sludgy slab o’ rock, ‘Subject to Change’ is one of my favorite nuggets from the instrumental metal genre, and ‘Return to Obscurity’ was wandering but solid rock. I never owned II, but the reviews were good. Now I own it.
The first song tears out of the gates with vocals – lyrics you can understand – shredding atop a fast paced riff. Eventually things slow down, then speed up. Starting out screaming is always a tough sell. I’ll admit that part of my issue is that I love instrumental Keelhaul with just a dash of vocals, and even then, the singing enchances a moment and isn’t the distracting ingredient… so I suppose II rubs me the wrong way for seeming to shift the focus. But that’s fine, get over it, and I listened to the album several, several times, so there must be something more that drags it down. Indeed: while Andrew Schneider’s production on ‘Subject to Change’ seemed to carve off some edges, the clarity he brought to things was much appreciated. II is very organic, which is cool, reminding me of the first Botch album in the sense that I’d totally believe all this is being played live and crammed in my ear, but Keelhaul’s dynamic range is… not much. They hang out right in the middle with their barrage of guitars. Even that hoarse, angry shouting isn’t too defined of a pitch, it just sits inoffensively in the mid-range. Combine this with ‘Korecky’s’ warm engineering (enhancing that organic sound), and it all just meshes together. The effect of starting out yelling at me is immediately distilled by how malleable the sound is, and even though KH pulls out their build and release tricks, there’s no real sense of either build or release because of this whole mashy tone to the record.
I tried different headphones, different volumes. The songs are good, but nothing really got my toe tapping. It just sounded like standard metal, which is too bad, because I know it ain’t… but if you pare off all the highs and lows and then fuzz it up, it might as well be. That organic sensibility does, also, seem to carry over to the song writing – some extended fills that would normally be used to bridge to explosive moments instead just trail off. I’m sure it wasn’t the case, but writing of that nature gives the direction of the songs an improvised feel, which works against it here. Improvised in the sense that we don’t know where to go with this riff, so we’ll just keep playing it ’til our drummer gets his second wind.
No doubt about the skill, nor about the sweat behind the playing. Alas, to me, it doesn’t translate into a rush when listening.