(Ahab rose again from the watery depths with a new album that was released last month by Napalm Records, and today we follow that up with a review of the album by our Sacramento-based writer DGR.)
Turns out that when a solid chunk of your region spends the first three weeks of the year under flash flood warnings and with one of its main highways effectively underwater, leading to some very dramatic New Year’s photos that aren’t too far from your house, it’s hard to keep your thoughts cogent around a nautical-doom album, no matter the quality. Who knew? Apologies to Ahab on that one.
It is wild to think about just how large the gap was between albums for Germany’s underwater-doom specializers. You never would’ve figured that a band who had a pretty solid track record of new releases every three or so years would suddenly see a near-eight-year gap between albums, but alas, to keep things succinct, it had been a sizeable wait for the group’s newest album The Coral Tombs – with only live albums and collections in between to keep people interested.
Photo by Stefan Heileman
Ahab are an interesting band for me personally, because I swear to this day that the group’s guitar tone on the opening song of their 2015 album The Boats Of Glen Carrig – “The Isle” – is one of the most beautiful guitar tones ever recorded. I have accidentally created – much to my chagrin as a grind guy – more than a few doom fans over the years upon showing that specific song to people.
It is one of the things that have cemented Ahab as a special band for people, as they are particularly good at creating a soundscape that reflects the subjects of their music. The rolling of the waves, the crashing seas, slow depths… if you could find some sort of H20-themed descriptor for Ahab there’s a pretty good chance they have created something like it across their five albums. The Coral Tombs – the group’s latest addition that released on January 13th – is a part of that vaunted club, and once again it starts things off with a stellar opening track, albeit for entirely different reasons.
Of course if you were following the lead-up to the January release of The Coral Tombs then you probably experienced that opening song, “Prof. Arronax’ Descent into the Vast Oceans” – which saw the band calling in reinforcements from the group Ultha on the vocals front as well.
It’s a way different opener than one might have been used to from Ahab prior, since it begins in a frenzied death metal state with a two-fold vocal front keeping things panicked for those first moments. It’s a weirdly-electrifying way to open an album for a group whom most know as being one of the most steady and even-keeled doom bands out there. “Prof. Arronaxí Descent into the Vast Oceans” does settle into its doomier-grooves quickly but it makes for a hell of an intro into a new album; a prescribed shock to the system when you might’ve been expecting to be more easily led into a dreamer’s atmospherics before things get heavy.
Ahab start heavy on one side of the scale and then move over to their version of heavy on the other side. That feeling even carries through into the song “Colossus Of The Liquid Graves”, which at six minutes may as well be a grind song but may be most notable for playing out like the continuation of the song before it. If you’re into the idea of sixteen-plus minutes of doom ‘mood’ at the start of an album then The Coral Tombs will sign that contract for you within its first two songs. After that humongous opening, Ahab make slow-work of constant and steady pulses of drums that hit like thunder and deep rhythmic movements that match the rolling of a ship.
Photo by Stefan Heileman
An entertaining aspect of a doom album, beyond whether you feel its overall quality is good, is finding out what particular song may stick with you more so than all the others. The smaller-in-number tracklisting limiting the options can play out like a goofball’s personality test wherein you discover that your reviewer is a simple being because he harbors such a strong attraction to the opening song of the previous release. In this case, not enough can be said about the song “The Sea As A Desert”, which may be one of the unspoken highlights of The Coral Tombs for Ahab.
While the band made a wise choice in allowing “Mobilis In Mobili” to be the flag-bearer and music-video single, since it may be the most ‘Ahab‘ song on the Ahab record – and a good short course of the album as a whole – “The Sea As A Desert” is a magnetic and fascinating track that makes its ten-plus minutes work for it. Its opening and main guitar riff is buried in guitar effects with plenty of flange and twang to give it an almost desert-western vibe while Ahab slowly build to the first crashing down of the song.
You could ascribe much of the scene-setting on The Coral Tombs as a whole as taking place within this one song, since it seems like its followers often call back to it through repeated melodic lines or similar ideas. “Sea As A Desert” has four or so different Ahab elements happening within it, and then the following three — “A Coral Tomb”, “Ægri Somnia”, and “The Mælstrom” — all expand those further outward and make them stretch for time. From here on out in the album, every song is lumbering forward with each step and rattling the sea-beds upon doing so.
There is probably one person out there, in a forest, living in a twenty-foot hole they dug for themselves underneath a very large rock, who might have been worried that a new Ahab release wouldn’t live up to the previous high marks the band have set. As even the non-doom person around here, it’s easy for me to attest that Ahab albums are a spectacle of their own to look forward to, and I’m willing to shock that person back into sanity by saying that The Coral Tombs is good.
It’s a conventionally Ahab album but there’s enough adventurism here to show that the group are willing to poke, prod, and push on their genre boundaries wherever they can and make it fit the chosen theme of the album. Even with only a surface level of understand of the material that provided the inspiration for The Coral Tombs – or if you have none at all – you’ll get the sense throughout that Ahab are doing something far more with their music than just playing it safe and going low and slow, something they could likely get away with for a release and have few notice.
The Coral Tombs does well with its musical descent into the seas and even while it reaches to the point of sinew snapping for that hour-plus mark, the band keep things interesting and dynamic enough that you’re willing to go along with every laboured footfall.