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Some CDs should come with warning labels like medication--"Do not operate heavy machinery or motor vehicles while under the influence of this recording." Yanni would put you to sleep at the wheel, Dishwalla would annoy you to the point of road rage, and Keelhaul's self-titled debut would cause you to speed recklessly and mow down pedestrians.

Featuring bassist/vocalist Aaron Dallison, guitarist Dana Embrose, drummer Will Scharf, and guitarist/vocalist Chris Smith, Keelhaul provides an all-out aural assault. Someone needs to redefine the word "instrumental" to describe most of the tracks on the album. "Instrumental" implies something gentle, something harmless--not Keelhaul's "Tuco" or "Khimer," which sound like the instruments are being attacked until they're destroyed.

The vocals are just as aggressive as the drums, bass, and guitars in tracks like "3x3 Eyes" and "Cleanser"--like Pantera's Phil Anselmo on a strict diet of two packs of cigarettes and a bottle of bourbon a day. Lyrics are indistinguishable in both of the songs, amid all the growling and sputtering. For all you'd know, the tracks could be about how the band members like to make daisy garlands for their heads while watching the setting sun.

Or maybe not. "Unleaded" includes the lyrical turn, Smoke a bowl/Burn a hole in the couch/Slept with my head in the john. No wonder they're so angry. This band needs a hug.

If neuroses had a soundtrack, "Enervate" would definitely make the cut, with its aggressive guitars and slinky bass line. In this way, Keelhaul is set apart from many other hardcore bands--the band's members know how to play their instruments, so there's a trace of melody in each song. The last track, "ESP," has an introduction that's almost pretty against the previous attack of screeching, grating feedback and distortion in "Leveling Mechanism." But don't be fooled. "ESP" soon gets heavier, then slows down again. It's like a cool-down in mid-workout--it lets you relax momentarily and get your heart rate back to normal. But make no mistake: Keelhaul is not for the weak of heart.

--Josie Rubio

Cambodia Records
16013 Waterloo Rd., Suite 405
Cleveland, OH 44110


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