AHAB
The Coral Tombs

I’m always a little dubious when a band is claimed to be the “fathers of (X-Genre)” these days, especially when that “X” is something really hyper-specific. Take these Germans, AHAB for example: 19 year veterans in the metal scene, so certainly not a newcomer trying to make a name for themselves or anything like that – but with them comes the self-described moniker of “Kings of Nautik Doom” and I just… I dunno… I have to admit it rubs me a little wrong.

For those unfamiliar, AHAB have been serving up their brand of hefty, plodding Funeral Doom Metal with a consistent nautical theme for nearly 2 decades now. And I get it! They REALLY lean into the undersea thing pretty dang hard, each album essentially being a conceptual re-telling of classic nautical themed novels ranging from Moby Dick, to Edgar Allen Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, to William Hope Hodgson’s The Boats of Glen Carrig (they didn’t even bother to come up with a different title on that one). And hey, I’m all for it! I appreciate a good theme. But does that make it its own genre?

ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…

Anyway, since you’ve apparently been kind enough to stick around through my yelling aimlessly at the sea to no one in particular, I guess I’ll get on with actually reviewing AHAB‘s long-awaited new album, this being over 7 years since the band’s last release. That’s a pretty good amount of time for any band to come up with some fresh new ideas – and the approach on The Coral Tombs sees AHAB at perhaps their most morose, contemplative, and maybe even meditative – which when you consider that in the context of Funeral Doom, is saying something. This time around, the band is covering Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, with the title focusing specifically on the underwater burial of a killed crew member in the Coral Kingdom. And let’s be honest, for a nautical themed Funeral Doom band, this is pretty much the apex, right? A funeral… in the ocean… in a kingdom of coral… *MIND BLOWN* That said, the band does pull a bit of a fast one on you at the start on “Prof. Arronax’ Decent Into the Vast Oceans,” which storms out of the gate in a fury of blistering guitars, gutteral growls and deafening, tortured screams, unfitting of a band known usually for it’s methodical, heavy-footed, slow gait. But it’s a brief spat of madness, and when the bubbles clear and turbulent waters calm, the band paints a serene, gentle picture of life underneath the waves, away from the harshness of humanity and the gravity of terrestrial existence. Daniel Drost’s clean vocals enter the fray to match the scene, and help build to an epic, spacious and awe-inspiring sense of grandeur and endless discovery, much like the emotions that must have been going through Prof. Annorax’ mind as he first set his eyes on a world undersea. It’s a monumental re-introduction to the band after a long hiatus.

 

Where prior albums maintained a pretty consistent level of menacing heft, The Coral Tombs instead opts for a more exploratory expedition. While “Colossus of the Liquid Graves” may provide a bit of a heavier offering, it doesn’t necessarily carry a feel of malice or evil. It feels like an effort by the band to solidify the vastness of its setting. I know I’m projecting simply because of the band’s chosen theme, but I can almost picture the overwhelming visions of a giant underwater kingdom, along with the pomp and pageantry of a formal burial ceremony. Conversely, “Mobilis in Mobili” offers up a much more foreboding, sinister vibe – playing out like an anxiety-ridden swim through a dark, unexplored cavern where every twist and turn could be hiding some gigantic eel or viper fish ready to make this your last excursion. It’s a thoroughly unsettling crawl that more than makes up for its lack of heft with an increased emphasis on space and tone that make for a spine-chilling effect. That spaciousness (appropriately) continues through “The Sea as a Desert” and “A Coral Tomb,” both in slightly different ways capturing the feeling of emptiness, loss and vulnerability. The former opens with a pretty clever little riff that almost sounds rooted in country-western, adding to the desert-like feeling and, with the way some of the notes are bent, lends itself to the feeling of onset madness one might feel if left stranded in the middle of the sun-drenched Sonoran wilderness (or I guess, in a crippled submarine at the bottom of the ocean, as the case may be). The latter, in true Funeral Doom form, is a real dirge – dragging you through the emotional depths of despair, and balancing it out at times with lighter, more melancholic bliss as a funeral-goer may remember the fonder memories of the one they’ve lost.

The last two tracks cover the classic novel’s crescendo pretty nicely, though I’d have liked to have heard a bit more of that chaotic, more aggressive burst that we heard at the beginning of the album – especially when covering Captain Ahab’s eventual bloodthirsty revenge for his dead wife and daughter (“Ægri Somnia”), and certainly when Annorax and his partners are caught in the Maelstrom near the story’s conclusion (“The Mælstrom”), fighting for their lives against the power of nature itself. Granted, if they hadn’t busted out that new wrinkle at the start of The Coral Tombs, I probably would have been more satisfied with the end of this album, but since they made it apparent they were willing to go THAT hard, I’m left wanting more of it. That all said, they’re hardly weak tracks, I just feel they could have used a little more or an emotional punch and they do little to change the overall impact of The Coral Tombs – which is that it’s an immense, immersive record that shows the creative brilliance of these four musicians. From the stunningly beautiful cover art (which I want painted on the sign of a van, if not at least just framed and put on display somewhere prominent) to the depth of moods and tones used to create such vibrant settings, AHAB have clearly used their time away well and made an album worth taking the time to sink into and explore thoroughly – and in a genre that, I’ll be honest, I often find myself struggling to differentiate one release from another, it’s pretty remarkable that they were able to create something that indeed stands on its own apart from the rest of their catalogue.

Just don’t call it “Nautik Doom.” At least not around me.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
January 23rd, 2023

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