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February 1 2005
Ahab - The Giant
Added: June 18th 2012
A more appropriate title they could not have chosen
Of all of the doom bands I listen to and love, there are few that consistently conjure imagery as vivid as that of Germany’s Ahab and fewer still that write music to such a ridiculously high standard. Their tales of the sea have spanned multiple themes including Moby Dick (2006’s The Call of the Wretched Sea), The Essex Whaleship disaster (which was the inspiration for Melville’s Moby Dick) (2009’s The Divinity of Oceans), and, now, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. With each different thematic backdrop Ahab has brought a slightly different approach to their music yet still maintained a majestic and sprawling underpinning that is familiar and very much “them”. This is a trend that continues with The Giant – an album that I hoped would see the band continuing along their excellent trajectory and one that does so with an unwavering confidence.
The delicate use of cleanly plucked or strummed strings that featured in places throughout The Divinity of Oceans sees much more prominence on The Giant than on its predecessor, as does an increase in musical dynamics that serves to accentuate the band’s heaviness while adding texture and depth to the narrative of the tale. Different also this time around is a greater use of the clean vocals of Daniel Droste whose mournful wails cry out, serving as the voice of the story’s protagonist and amplifying the epic, nautical vista at the same time. In one sense it is very much an Ahab album but it is also a lot more progressive than we’ve come to expect at the same time.
While there is a familiarity that exists at the core of music of The Giant that immediately identifies it as being from Ahab, the songs themselves this time around stand out from their predecessors through their grand and highly melodic scope. Ahab has taken the already excellent formula that they’ve constantly been refining and found a way to further express the beautiful, soaring highs, and the crushing depths of the lows. The interplay between the light and shade of their sound has never been so delicately and intricately woven, and nor has it sounded quite as evocative and grandiose as it does here.
Starting with the quiet and subtle clean guitar of Further South, The Giant is a sprawling tale told through six songs that see Ahab incorporating greater subtlety than has previously been present (though was hinted at on The Divinity of Oceans) which makes it possible for the material to ebb and flow, build and collapse, in ways that it never really did before. This emphasis on dynamics and swirling crescendos that at times almost border on post-rock has admittedly come at the cost of a fraction of the band’s practically trademarked thunderous weight but it was a necessary refinement to a sound that can only go so far before running the risk of becoming formulaic and pedestrian if relied on too heavily. By allowing their music to build and release freely and naturally they have brought greater emotional depth to their melodies and actually made their music heavier overall by simply making the songs heavy when appropriate as opposed to heavy all the time. It’s such a simple change when you think about it but few bands seem to have the courage or foresight to change things up while the going is good.
The added benefit The Giant sees from this musical change is that its 61 minute running time literally flies by – it is a journey you want and even need to undertake and see through to the end which isn’t something I can honestly say about the band’s previous albums. I loved The Call of the Wretched Sea and The Divinity of Oceans, no doubt, but I felt less inclined to tackle either of them as one giant piece than I was to cherry-pick tracks here and there, or to listen to half of an album then go back and finish the other half at some point in the future. No, The Giant, for me at least, comes across as a much more coherent story and one that, once you’re ensconced within, dilutes time and washes it away.
Coming into this album I was immensely hopeful that it would continue Ahab’s legacy of writing high quality music but I was also just a little sceptical that they’d be able to maintain their upward trajectory as well. Not only has the band lived up to my expectations, they have also far exceeded them. The Giant is, in a word, beautiful and it showcases exactly why the band are such an important entity in the funeral doom genre.
Reviewer: Michael O'Brien
Related Link: Official Website
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