The Giant (Napalm Records)
The thing about funeral doom is that it takes some facet of the sheer terror, bleakness, and beauty of existence and stretches it out into a swelling, breathing mass of pure sonic depressiveness and introspection. As for nautic doom, the sole purveyor of which seems to be Germany’s AHAB, with the possible addition of SEAHAG, it strives for the same effect, but replacing outright despondency and depression with epic tales of nautical beasts and seafaring melancholy that might well be interpreted as metaphors for the unrelenting loneliness, travails and isolation of modern life. AHAB’s latest full-length, The Giant, follows 2009’s The Divinity of Oceans with another mournful, slow, and doomy effort, crawling along like a man whose lungs are filled with salt water, the last warm touch of euphoria and the grim realization of the end striking all at once.
AHAB’s music conveys the subtle yet massive, tempestuous power of the seas. Tracks like “Further South” come on slow and unassuming, calm yet despondent, with a clean, ringing guitar tone and thoughtful sung vocals that look into the endless deep blue that gives way to black. The sound is expansive, moving into low, croaking gutturals and bludgeoning, distorted sludge and chug—the danger lurking just below the surface. Still, it remains introspective, returning to the mournful clean vocals, like OPETH on a doom trip mixed with the almost subsonic gutturals of LOSS.
“Aeons Collapse,” at the long end of AHAB’s spectrum at over 12 minutes in length, though most songs hover around the ten minute mark, begins with haunting whispers that draw into a tortured yell, like a lost man calling out for rescue, trapped within endless time falling in on itself. The shouting becomes half-sung in places as chords ring out, bent and dissonant, basic but powerful. AHAB utilizes a strong economy of riffs. If something is worth saying, it’s worth taking your time to say it—maximum impact, minimum waste, even in an epic. The glassy clean guitar tone plays off the guttural lows that echo as though captured in a subsurface cavern, while minimalist lead work adds depth. The sonic quality is pristine, and the plodding drums are given room to hiss and boom because the room is there in the music’s slow, viscous crawl.
There’s a touch of MY DYING BRIDE in the clean vocals as well, as can be heard on “Deliverance.” Then “Antarctica the Polymorphess” slogs through the mire of the depths, taking us from dark to light, bottom to surface, with a song as a story of tragedy, horror, and lament that is hugely moving. Everything is given ample space to develop, as it could be three to four minutes before the vocals are even brought in. “Fathoms Deep” brings more of the same, with a passage not unlike the Twilight Zone theme at the song’s halfway point, and another take on the guttural vocals—a vibrating growl rather than the usual croak.
Folk harmonies take over at the beginning of the title track, the album closer, which captures the slow swell of the oceans, desolation, the unknown, with glistening clean guitar highs like sun reflecting off dappled waters moving into slow, sludgy lows. The Giant is music to lose yourself in the infinite possibilities of Challenger Deep, or to close your eyes with the headphones on and contemplate the slow descent to the Marianas Trench. There’s a long way down to go, and the nautic doom of AHAB plots the endless course.
by Joe Reviled