3 out of 5
Produced by: Andrew Schneider
Label: Hydra Head
This is a knowingly titled album.
Mostly instrumental rockers Keelhaul came galloping out of the hardcore gates with their self-titled disc, fusing the math-core of the Converge-y scene with a more full steam ahead rock mentality. Vocals of the hardcore variety would occasionally appear, but these generally weren’t the pained and strained yells of many of their peers so much as sudden outbursts to top off five minutes of riffing. After a few year pause, Keelhaul resume these patterns on Triumphant, but as indicated by that title, it almost feels like a reluctant resurgence, as though these dudes were just too bristling with skill to sit still, and so had to head to a studio to release some mad rawk pressure. The songsmith wizardry – sudden pacing switch-ups and intricate guitar and stickwork – remains, but prior discs (self-titled, II and Subject to Change) had something of a format to them: an ebb and flow; a beginning, middle and end. Return to Obscurity, sandwiched between some recorded mutterings of a drunk dude, just hits go and doesn’t look back to see if you’re keeping up. That’s not a reference to the speed of the songs, exactly, more to say that these guys are gonna play these songs whether you’re listening or not. Andrew Schneider’s clean production assists this by not getting in the way, but he also doesn’t do much with the mix to emphasize some elements that might’ve given the album more dimension.
Then again: Keelhaul clearly doesn’t care. Triumphant Return to Obscurity is, for sure, a welcome addition to the regrettably small Keelhaul discography, their manhandling of instruments and time signatures as effortless and precise as ever. But the title is accurate: It’s an ephemeral listen, lacking the guttural punch of earlier recordings, allowing the band to trudge off, unseen, back to their cages as soon as the last song stops playing.