Interview with Ahab

It is not often I’m totally smitten with a doom band, much less a funeral doom act, but Germany’s Ahab has shocked and awed me ever since I reviewed The Call of the Wretched Sea, the act’s second release (after The Oath EP) in a trilogy (the “Nantucket Saga”) of sea-based tales, based upon stories […]

by Scott Alisoglu

It is not often I’m totally smitten with a doom band, much less a funeral doom act, but Germany’s Ahab has shocked and awed me ever since I reviewed The Call of the Wretched Sea, the act’s second release (after The Oath EP) in a trilogy (the “Nantucket Saga”) of sea-based tales, based upon stories from the likes of Melville, Chase, and Phillbrick. This year’s The Divinity of Oceans is even better, thanks to some stylistic expansion and a better sense of melody. While Ahab has always championed the crawling tempos and lengthy compositions that define funeral doom, they’ve excelled at not only writing great riffs, but also impacting melodic leads, effective directional shifts, a range of accents, and – on the new album especially – a vocal range that moves from the deepest growls to clean, albeit haunting, singing. Daniel Droste (vocals/guitars), Christian Hector (guitars), Stephan “Norz” Wandernoth (bass), and Cornelius Althammer (Drums) deserve mass praise for their new masterwork. If you’ve been on the fence about funeral doom, Ahab may be the band for which you’ve been searching. Both The Call of the Wretched Sea and The Divinity of Oceans are excellent, but it is the latter that is truly magnificent. Daniel Droste is here to introduce you to Ahab’s corner of the ocean.

Where and how does the origin of Ahab begin? Was the original idea to form a funeral doom band that dealt with nautical topics?

Ahab was founded back in 2004. I also was guitarist in Midnattsol at that time, and played in a local death metal act besides. After the death metal band broke up, I decided to create a project to compose a dark contrast to Midnattsol. Because I was sick of playing this “fasterharderlouder” death-metal stuff back then, and above all was a fan of the early releases of Anathema and My Dying Bride, I decided that my new baby had to sound slow, dark and heavy. So I went to our former bassist’s studio to record a song on my own (“The Stream”), which was later released on our The Oath demo. On that song I already used sea-related lyrics and wanted to keep that; I always was fascinated by that topic. Without knowing of my plans, Christian Hector who was also playing in Midnattsol back then told me that he wanted to start a funeral doom project. He told me that he wanted to name it Ahab, and write music about Herman Melville’s Novel Moby Dick! Well that was exactly what I was searching for. I showed him my song, he liked it, and so we decided to join forces!

Who is responsible for most of the lyrics and what kind of research is involved in writing the stories that are told on an Ahab album?

The lyrics of two songs on The Divinity of Oceans were written by a friend of ours, Christian Hoffarth of Bann. He already wrote some lines for us in the past. I helped him out by playing some guitar lines during their recording sessions. It’s already something like a tradition that we “help each other” in a creative way. Chris wrote most of the lyrics. The main sources were the books of Nathaniel Philbrick and Owen Chase.

The Divinity of Oceans is considered the final installment of a three-part trilogy known as the “Nantucket Saga” and is inspired by the books In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Phillbrick and The Wreck of the Whaleship Essex by Owen Chase. Please discuss the topics covered in the trilogy, which also includes The Oath EP and The Call of the Wretched Sea.

The Call of the Wretched Sea and The Oath are lyrically and musically based on Herman Melville’s famous novel Moby Dick. Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick. He was heavily inspired by the books In The Heart Of The Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick and The Wreck Of The Whaleship Essex by Owen Chase. These books tell the tale of the Essex crew and the failed whale hunt which saw the ship end up at the bottom of the sea and doomed its crew to the horrors of cannibalism and an uncertain fate. The Divinity of Oceans is the third and final chapter of our Nantucket Trilogy. The adventure that began with The Oath EP in 2005 and continued through The Call Of The Wretched Sea in 2007 has come to its logical and bitter end in the shape of a factual report set to music.

Now that the trilogy is complete, have you thought about topics for the next album?

We actually discussed topics for the forthcoming release and we’ve already chosen one. The only things I’m going to tell is that it’ll be a real challenge this time and we’re really looking forward to that and it’ll be about a nautical topic of course!

Ahab has truly made funeral doom about as closed to accessible (and I say that in the most relative of ways) to the traditional metal fan as one can get, yet never loses the essence of what funeral doom is all about. In other words, fast tempos and short songs are not what the band is about, yet you inject melody and accent in a way that keeps one from concentrating on a song’s duration. What this your intention from the beginning? What’s your secret?

I would say that my main intention is to compose moods or pictures I got in my mind which refer to the story we’re working with. The song has to flow, to sound organic and you have to find the balance between varied and monotonous parts. Choosing the right length of those monotonous parts is very important. If they are repeated too often it’s getting boring, if they’re not long enough they are not effective. I guess the secret is to find the right mixture of all those elements our music is about!

You have made an even more dynamic take on funeral doom in The Divinity of Oceans. The vocal range (the deepest growls to clean, yet still dark, singing) is even more impressive this time, as are the guitar melodies.

On The Call of the Wretched Sea we used stylistic devices of funeral doom to compose the story. We’re dealing with a different story and didn’t want to limit our music so I tried to keep the songwriting more open minded when I wrote the stuff for The Divinity of Oceans. The result is an album that is more complex than its predecessor, but the roots and the connection they have are still hearable. I wanted to develop the contrasts of beautiful melodic themes and evil heavy parts; I guess the best example for that are the vocals!

The Divinity of Oceans has been described as being akin to Carcass in slow motion and Morbid Angel going beyond the slowness of Blessed Are the Sick. Please elaborate. What about your assertion that the album could be considered something along the lines of Devin Townsend gone doom metal?

First of all I have to say that I am not happy with comparing the stuff we wrote to another band, although I know that it is necessary nowadays that the reader gets an impression what the “product” is about. A dear friend of ours who is working for the music press wrote those lines for us. It is very important that an outsider is doing this job in my opinion. When I compose I try to do my own thing, but of course I am influenced by the stuff I’m listening to. And to answer your question, I definitely like the bands you mentioned above and I was influenced by their style, so it is quite possible that you can find some similar elements on The Divinity of Oceans. I guess I have to listen to our record again carefully under that aspect.

By the way, do you in fact use the term “funeral doom” or just “doom?” Do you even make a distinction between the two?

Funeral doom is a very special and extreme sub genre of doom metal that’s apart from other doom styles. You have to make a distinction between death-metal and metal too, otherwise Manowar fans would kick your ass I guess. I would describe our music as a mixture of death doom with some funeral doom elements. Because our music doesn’t fit in common doom sub genres and the fact that its development is completely based on nautical stories leads us to open our own small sub genre that we call nautic doom.

What is the songwriting process like for Ahab and how do you think it may differ from a more traditional type of metal band (and by traditional I mean “non-doom”)?

I guess that the way you write songs doesn’t have to depend on the kind of music you play. We are no typical band for example. Most of us play in at least two bands so we don’t have the time to do rehearsals with Ahab; we just meet to play together before gigs. I hope we’ll be able to meet more often in the near future. I think that especially doom is a kind of music that is made for composing music by jamming. The songs of The Divinity of Oceans were written in my little home studio where I did solo jam sessions to collect riffs and melodies, and were later arranged by the whole band.

Drummer Cornelius Althammer also produced The Divinity of Oceans and has done a magnificent job. Has that made it easier for the band to get its ideas across in the studio and achieve the kind of sound that you’re looking for?

Most ideas were already written before we started recording. But an important aspect was that we had the possibility to compose some additional stuff in the studio like vocal lines or guitar solos without paying the extra time we needed. I guess we’d never been able to pay that in an official studio. We were also more flexible by having the producer in the band because you can work with your own timetable and choose the dates for recording sessions whenever you like.

Are there things Cornelius does in the studio that an outside producer may not think to do in capturing your sound?

I know not much about that recording stuff so actually I have no idea what Cornelius did in detail.

It would seem advantageous to a band like Ahab that the listener is almost required to pay stricter attention to the music and spend more time with your music to fully absorb it. But does that aspect make it more difficult to keep the attention of a metal fan that may not be used to the longer and slower compositions? Or do you really even care?

First of all I have to say that we neither cared if a song is easy to consume nor composed under such an aspect. For me it is easier to listen to a 15-minute doom song, than listening to a three-minute math-core song; that just depends on the musical taste and has nothing to do with the kind of music or the length of a song or a record. Of course, we want the listener to keep attention to our music because it’s full of details and for sure not composed as something like mellow background noise.

Does Ahab perform live much? What are your future plans in this regard?

This year we played quite a lot of gigs if I compare it to our live presence in the past. We just finished our first tour across Germany with Dornenreich, so the next step for us has to be a European tour. I hope that we’ll be able to realize that in the near future!

Are there certain bands that had an especially big influence on the members of Ahab? Can I also assume that some members are bigger fans of doom than others?

We all like doom; otherwise we wouldn’t play that kind of music. I don’t exactly know who’s listening to the most doom bands or has the most doom LPs at home, but there are differences in the personal tastes of course. Chris for example really likes the Scandinavian scene and bands like Shape of Despair for example. I’d prefer the English scene with bands like Warning and (old) Anathema. As a composer you of course try to sound as unique and original as possible, but stuff you like always has an influence on your work, it’s impossible to avoid that. There are many many bands I really like, such as Opeth, Black Label Society, Carcass, and Porcupine. Tree, Mastodon’s Crack the Skye is a real masterpiece [and so is] the latest release of Alice in Chains.

Ahab seems to be a good fit for Napalm Records.

I would rather say that Napalm Records is a good fit for Ahab. For a doom band we have a quite a big label and that offers you more possibilities of course. We’ve already worked with Napalm in the past and were satisfied so it was just logical for us to take that offer and go through that open door. They still keep us so I guess that they’re also satisfied with our work.

That about wraps it up. Any closing thoughts?

Thank you very much for this interview. Cheers!



  1. Commented by: Jobby

    Great interview. I’ve been completely awestruck by these guys ever since I heard The Oath.

  2. Commented by: Morris

    Nice read! I was fortunate to see them play in Calgary last year for a one-off show and they were beyond amazing. Really hope they get over to this part of the world again, and can’t wait to get my hands on this new album!

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