Review Summary: A superb doom album that builds and expands off previous album 'The Divinity of Oceans', even if it doesn't quite reach the classic status of the debut, 'The Call of the Wretched Sea'.
German funeral doom metal band Ahab takes an interesting approach to the microgenre snuggled deep under the hugely expansive heavy metal umbrella. Funeral doom metal is a tough pill to swallow for many listeners, even within a genre of music as committed to sonic and emotional extremity as heavy metal, mostly due to song lengths averaging at over 10 minutes long with tempos crawling at a glacial pace, and a potent lyrical fixation on themes of depression, despair and terror. Ahab, who released their excellent Moby-Dick themed debut album, The Call of the Wretched Sea, in 2006, self-described as “Nautik Funeral Doom,” with a lyrical fixation on oceanic themes – their sophomore album The Divinity of Oceans played like a soundtrack to infamous sinking of the Essex at the hands of a sperm whale and their brand new album, The Giant, takes its thematic inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.
Ahab’s fascination with the ocean doesn’t stop at the lyrical themes; sonically, The Giant is extremely evocative of the terrible might of the sea. The dynamics switch from soft to heavy, delicate to violent at a moment’s notice along the songs’ epic running times, recalling the unpredictable savagery of the ocean. The songs ebb and flow with menace and beauty alike – the album’s opening number “Further South” is a good exemplar of this. It leads in with spacious and delicate guitar notes, subdued drumming and sung vocals for nearly half of its 9 minute running time before the dynamics suck the listener out to sea with the unpredictable violence of a riptide, closing off the song with a maelstrom of churning doom metal riffs.
A prominent factor one familiar with Ahab’s previous work will notice is the increased dynamics present in frontman (and guitar player) Daniel Droste’s vocals; instead of sickeningly phlegmy grunts dominating his approach like on the debut, he switches between the aforementioned grunting and melancholic, chant-like singing, as well as burly bellowing evoking images of a grizzled, mangled ship captain tossing verbal abuse towards his crew (see “Aeons Elapse” for one such example).
Some other album highlights include “Deliverance (Shouting at the Dead)”, which bolsters achingly beautiful guitar harmonies during the climax of the song. “Antarctica the Polymorphess” is perhaps the album centerpiece, centered on an absolutely mean doom metal riff that offers perhaps the first truly ‘headbanging’ moment on the album, so to speak, before it breaks apart into more of the potent melancholy that characterizes the rest of the album (this time in the form of mournful, soaring vocal melodies, with harmonies courtesy of Enslaved keyboardist and singer Herbrand Larsen). Unfortunately the album peters out with the final two tracks - Fathoms Deep Blue and the title track - both of which meander and plod along their lengthy running times rather aimlessly, failing to captivate quite like its’ competition, ending the album on a disappointingly mediocre note.
Upon first listen, The Giant was disappointing to me. While the album delivered in terms of production, stylistic diversity and a fitting atmosphere, it remained lacking in the same way The Divinity of Oceans was when standing next to their masterpiece of a debut album, The Call of the Wretched Sea. Dynamics be damned; I came in wanting my soul to be obliterated by some funeral doom, and The Giant strayed away from this kind of sonic and emotional excess, favoring a move towards cleaner production, an increase in dynamics with the inclusion of more singing and sparse, clean guitars as well as an atmosphere that leaned heavily towards solemn melancholy instead of pure Lovecraftian terror.
However my opinion of the album was positively raised upon coming to terms with the fact that the Ahab of 2006 is a entirely different beast than the Ahab of 2012 – while The Call of the Wretched Sea was a suffocating, looming funeral dirge that dragged the listener into the crushing depths of the ocean like the White Whale dragging Captain Ahab himself into his watery grave, The Giant makes a move towards an atmosphere that’s solemn and melancholic. Once removed from comparison to previous works and judged on its own merits, The Giant becomes an engrossing experience and captivating journey, and one of the better metal albums released in 2012 so far.