Review Summary: the realization of what they started in their last album, Ahab deliver their unique and powerful doom to the best effect of their career.
A transition from one style to another can be tricky when you have an album that is held as one of the greatest of its kind in your pocket. This is Ahab's dilemma, many fans still not getting over the idea that Ahab could be anything but the crushing wave of funeral doom that was their debut, Call of the Wretched Sea
, a gritty, heavy, pummeling and oppressive opus that provided a fairly accurate audial representation of what it would be like to drown and then subsequently get crushed by a whale. Their sophomore album, The Divinity of Oceans
, was rather different - the clean vocals more prominent, the clean mix, the lack of anything crushing you like a 50ft wave. But this album did have something the first did not, a unique atmosphere and sound. The almost 'floaty' lead guitars, the oddly sea-like melodies, the oddly soothing tone of guitars that used to be rather abrasive - some saw it as a move in a more accessible direction and I can't lie in thinking that this move was more incidental than anything as opposed to an intentional move to appeal to a wider audience. In any case, it would only make sense that the next move would be in an even cleaner direction. Well as it turns out, despite Ahab not adhering to the wishes of the fans of the debut, they are definitely adhering to logic, as The Giant
plays out as the perfect successor to their sophomore. The prominence of the clean sections (and vocals) in contrast with the "heavier" sections is much larger, some of the songs being half slow clean guitar sections with gentle drumwork and half doom. In many ways you could compare it to the way post-rock songs develop, build and explode into huge distortion filled climaxes.
That's where this album edges its predecessor; The use of dynamics used effectively suits the less-heavy approach to doom, making every moment seem less samey and more climactic. It seems like every single moment where the doom hits is used to the best effect as opposed to taking the near-paper-thin doom moments that had the majority share of the second album's sound palette reign supreme and ultimately tire out. It displayed a viable idea for doom metal of a certain distinction despite sacrificing a good deal of the heaviness, and The Giant sees it done right. Be it the far, far improved clean vocals that take much more of a prominence on this album (and rightfully so), or the wonderfully tranquil-yet-tense quiet moments with subtle though busy and effective drumwork, or maybe even the hypnotic delay-drenched clean guitars that build up and onwards (or descend into the sea, depending on your perspective) - everything is used in such a better context. In fact, the drumwork here is partially what keeps everything afloat, the chimey and rhythmic delivery that perfectly compliment treading the line between tranquility and tension, far from the norm in a lot of metal nowadays which makes for a refreshing change. Coupled with the bass that thankfully isn't often sitting there doing what the rhythm guitar is doing, this album has a groove that keeps the songs sailing along until in the blink of an eye it changes back to the funeral doom sounds that riddled the previous albums. Not to mention that the psychedelic vibe only helps to keep that groove going.
Though as mentioned before this album definitely isn't as heavy as the first or second album, it's the subtlety and control that this band have adopted that makes it seem like both of those albums and more, knowing how to accentuate and get the most out of every aspect of the sound. It doesn't matter how often you hear the clean vocals from Daniel Droste, it still turns out wonderfully and sorrowfully every time you hear it. Conversely, his fantastically low and rumbly growl hits to the most dramatic of effects whenever it dominates. The balance behind aspect of this album is easily what leads it to the success it is, knowing just what to do and when to do it, and actually doing it. Every song on this album has a moment or conclusion worth writing home about, be it the alternation in the vocals of "Further South", the satisfying climax of "Antarctica the Polymorthess" where the lead guitars perfectly lay waste to the track in style rarely seen these days, the band's sense of melody making it all the more worthy of repeated listens. If you wrote this band off after the last album not being crushing enough, there's a good chance you'll come to the same conclusion here, but I still think it's worth a look because of how masterfully Ahab have found their own sound and went with it so effortlessly with no glaring faults to be talked about. Ahab have crafted an excellent album in a style completely of their own, and whether you miss their 'whale falling on your face 72 times' beginnings, you can only support a band that finds their own identity and runs with it. A perfect gateway album to doom metal, but also an album that delivers for experienced doom listeners due to its versatility and variety - don't let this one pass you by.
Or, sail by you. Unless it sinks, or you sink, kind of difficult to say what'll happen. :]