*** Go to our YouTube channel in the link below to see the video review of this record in episode #19 of the SBR Album of the Week.
As the self-styled purveyors of nautical doom metal, Germany’s Ahab take their name from the famous captain of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and base their LPs on classic sea adventure novels. This time they take Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas as their material for album number five, and they sound as cinematic and as captivating as ever. In truth, nothing sounds like this in the canon of doom metal or in any other genre of heavy guitar music.
Ahab received much praise as one of the pioneers of the funeral doom genre for their 2006 debut, Call of the Wretched Sea, but you wouldn’t use that label to describe their current trajectory. Yes, The Coral Tombs seldom gears up beyond 60 bpm, and the band use down-tuned guitars with the same iconoclastic vigour as Gorguts, but this record has more in common with progressive death metallers, Black Crown Initiate, than Black Sabbath. It makes the atonal black metal intro of ‘Prof. Arronax’ Descent into the Vast Oceans’ even more surprising when your expectations prepare you for an introspective piece of morbid posturing. Guest vocalist, Chris Noir (Ultha), conjures the hostile seas in the bite and hiss of his voice as the guitars and drums emulate the aggression of the mysterious submarine that tossed Professor Arronax and Ned Land into the ocean in Verne’s story. Then the guitar chords lift at 01:15 seconds and the storm passes. Clean guitar musings appear, and Daniel Droste switches the mood from chaotic metal to post-rock with his trademark baritone projections. You might think you’ve stumbled into a Radiohead album in the way Droste tries to escape his sorrows. Listen to the magical guitar melodies and intricate bass phrasings as the band navigate back into the arms of danger with a crushing distortion. Where did these eight minutes go in such a short space of time?
The biggest mistake you can make is to assume this is a lethargic album for the niche fanbase of funeral doom. If anything, this is progressive metal. Of course, the band want you to breathe the cold ocean air, inhale the frozen water of the icebergs, and detect the wet pungency of giant squids. But you need a novel to create this sense of place. Instead, Droste’s sinister growl vocals and malevolent drag of the palm-muted guitars heighten your sense of danger. The extended riff passages and high-register guitar melodies sparkle in the darkness of minor key progressions as if you’d asked Radiohead to cover a Mastodon album with Pallbearer as the executive producers.
There’s no reason to be discouraged by the one hour and six minutes running time of this record. ‘Mobilis in Mobili’ utilises a monstrous double-kick beat and enhances the steel-plated stress of the bass strings with My Dying Bride guitar harmonies and discordant fret shapes. Droste’s classical baritone voice aches with anguish and foreboding, like the reclusive Ned Land, who sinks into a great depression in the novel. The B-minor brilliance of ‘The Sea as a Desert’ thrives on a contrast between the conjuring of an evil mind and the determination to seek a haven of safety. Leprous would sound like this if they darkened their songs and started listening to Katatonia.
The intricate chord progressions ruminate in distress. Arpeggios vibrate like diesel-powered machines approaching their warranty date. ‘A Coral Tomb’ dares to invoke Talk, Talk’s later work and the A minor experimentation of the non-singles from the Tears for Fears’ classic, Songs from the Big Chair. Yet the album uses its doom metal foundations as the platform for its expeditionary risks. How can an LP of such great length be so enthralling? This band have no right to enchant you when they have such little concern for your attention. But that’s because they know their music is sophisticated, tense, and unpredictable. Droste’s growl vocals on ‘The Maelstrom’ match the fear inherent in the guitar chords. The desperation in his voice as he recites the famous line in the book from Captain Nemo (“O almighty God! Enough! Enough!”) will make you shudder. Here, Ahab embrace the storm and let mother nature control their destiny. And, of course, the doom metal crunch and searing dissonance of the amps threaten to swallow you into the bottom of the ocean.
The term they use to describe their music might be contrived, but Ahab are right about one thing – they have a unique sound that belongs to them. The Coral Tombs is a magnificent album that leaves you astonished by the quartet’s ability to make doom metal so riveting and addictive. You cannot take your mind off this record during the listening experience, nor can you forget it after the event.
Release Date: 13/01/2023
Record Label: Napalm Records
Standout tracks: Prof. Arronax’ Descent into the Vast Oceans; Colossus of the Liquid Graves; Ægri Somnia
Suggested Further Listening: Black Crown Initiate – Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape (2020), Radiohead – OK Computer (1997), Katharos XIII – Cthonian Transmissions (2022)