Few albums are going to be as anticipated in 2023 as the return of Ahab, the German doom extremists. Their last studio release was 2015’s compelling The Boats of the Glenn Carrig, and whilst fervent fans may have been partially sated by 2020’s Live Prey, it’s indisputable that the band’s fifth studio record The Coral Tombs is what many have been silently hoping for over the past few years.
If you are unaware of Ahab, then you have some catching up to do. My first encounter with them came at 2014’s Damnation festival, where I stood, bewitched, for the entire hour of their set as their nautik doom, the phrase they have coined to describe their sound, washed over me with all its majesty.
The Boats of the Glenn Carrig was based on the book by William Hope Hodgson and this time Ahab take inspiration from a book many more may be familiar with; 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, the masterpiece written by Jules Verne, published in 1872 and immortalised for many in the 1954 Walt Disney film starring Kirk Douglas and James Mason.
Whilst much of Ahab’s music is slow, glacial paced riffage, The Coral Tombs opens with an explosive passage of thunderous blasts, harrowing screams and uncomfortable, angular riffing which is more akin to extreme black metal. The first minute of “Prof Arronax’ Descent into the Vast Oceans” then drifts into the enveloping melancholy which one would usually associate with this intriguing and somewhat mysterious outfit. Guest vocalist Chris Noir of Ultha provides the opening lyrics before Daniel Droste’s evocative vocals take over, hanging in the air, deep and chilling. Cornelius Althammer’s percussion and crashing drums provides the backbone for the overwhelmingly powerful sound the band craft. You can feel the Nautilus descending into the depths of the ocean as the song progresses.
A new album by Ahab is no instant fix. With all but one song reaching over eight minutes, and four extending more than ten minutes, this is a long, meditative, and captivating record. Throughout, the echoing lead work of Christian Hector reaches deeply, effortlessly cutting through to search out the hidden places. This works particularly well on “Colossus of the Liquid Graves”, which sees Droste invoke his demonic death growls alongside his sonic tenor delivery, the blend unsettling yet compelling in equal measure. It’s a huge, crushing track that works with total empathy towards the themes of the song. Similarly, the pulverising opening passages of “Mobilis in Mobili” generate an overall atmosphere of impending doom, with waves of pummelling drums, deranged riffage and Droste’s demonic delivery. It’s a spiralling, cavernous piece that pauses with a haunting, Opeth style mid-section which sprawls before continuing its laboured passage.
Whilst Ahab have used texts previously as inspiration, The Coral Tombs presents more as a complete soundtrack. At times, it is stunningly heavy, the weight of the sheer riffs’ epic. “The Sea as A Desert” pounds, it draws and drags, the sound immersive and overwhelming, smothering in its intensity and power. There is sadness, meditative reflection, all drawn up in this spiralling vortex of emotions. The title track sees the band intoxicate with their imagery, the funeral doom that they weave so magically casting spells, drawing the listener into the cavernous, majestic, and imperious world under the sea.
Two phenomenal tracks complete the album with “Ægri Somnia” delicately drawn out, a 12-minute meandering, gentle passages of guitar smoulder, gradually increasing the notches of intensity, the death growls return as the story ratchets up towards its climax. That conclusion follows with the grand finale, a song of sorrow and melancholy, “The Maelstrom” digging deep, with additional input from Esoteric’s Greg Chandler bringing forth even more doom as his disconcerting screams echo throughout the song.
Quite simply, The Coral Tombs is going to take some beating as album of the year already. It’s a massive record which demonstrates what a mighty outfit Ahab are.
The Coral Tombs in out on January 13th