As with any subgenre of the glorious, multi-faceted gem we know as heavy metal, there are several ways to approach doom. One of them is the idea that doom should be slow. Take this approach to its logical conclusion and you get a subgenre that we call funeral doom: molasses-thick riffs, rarely rising above 90 bpm at the fastest, ethereal clean textures and eerie reverb-drenched leads. This is the murky corner of the cellar we find Ahab lurking in and with The Giant, the German masters of solemnity have done it again.
Ahab’s first album Call of The Wretched Sea felt like you were aurally being dragged slowly and inexorably to the crushing, frozen depths of the abyssal plain, paralysed by the frigid temperatures and the pressure of millions of tons of water bearing down on you, it was a funeral doom masterpiece. Their second effort The Divinity of Oceans was no less bleak, but was altogether a less claustrophobic sounding record; more the sonic equivalent of being stranded in the open ocean in a tiny rowboat, with night falling and the sea getting choppy, a lonely, melancholic work that invoked an atmosphere of futility and lurking threat. The Giant is just as good as what came before (and is better than Divinity… too in my opinion) but has a very different feel.
Ahab have gotten even more open and expansive with this one, introducing an element of warmth that was absent in their previous work. The lazily meandering cleans of ‘Further South’ and relaxed leads of ‘Deliverance’ have more of tropical beach than deep dark ocean about them, and this makes the sudden, inevitable arrival of a storm of dissonance and clashing chords all the more harrowing.
The Giant shows a more confident, comfortable Ahab than previous outings, their playing more assured. Drummer Cornelius Althammer (fantastic name!) in particular seeming more open to doing his own thing than before, playing jazzily around riffs with delicate ghost notes and cymbal work, as opposed to just keeping time, although there is plenty in the way of colossal backbeats whose tempo is measured in geological epochs too, all of it fitting the mood of the music perfectly. Indeed, never before have Ahab sounded so oceanic (which is saying something, considering how evocative their first two albums were). The skirling leads in ‘Deliverance’ and the coda of ‘Aeons Elapse’ sound fluid and appropriately nautical, and are well supported by arrangements which grow and change in a spontaneous, natural way. There are a lot of ideas here, but the songs never seem cluttered, the music ebbing and flowing organically.
Singer and guitarist Daniel Droste has always been a capable, if reserved vocalist, his mournful wails and guttural lows often taking a backseat to the music, but on The Giant he’s really come out of his shell. His usual tectonic rumblings and mad-prophet style rants are still present, but his cleans have not only vastly improved – they are a good deal more frequent too. As well as the melancholic, wordless melodies we’re used to from him, he’s developed a powerful belt, and even sings harmonies at times. In a first for Ahab, ‘Antarctica The Polymorphess’, one of the album’s standout tracks, even has something approaching a chorus, and despite what you funeral doom traditionalists are thinking right now, it doesn’t suffer for it. At all. Vocally, Droste has put in the performance of his career so far, and it makes what would be an otherwise good album great.
This is undoubtedly Ahab’s most accessible work yet, but it will be a more satisfying listen in the context of their first two records. If you’re new to the band, start at the beginning, if you’ve encountered the funereal masters before now, buy this album as soon as possible.
Ahab’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AhabDoom?rf=107593829263270
Napalm Records’ website: http://www.napalmrecords.com