Review Summary: There's hogsheads of sperm ahead, and that's what ye came for.
Ahab (the band) can, should, and do feel proud of their achievements to date. The Coral Tombs
' official press release even refers to their previous record, The Boats of the Glenn Carrig
, as “chart-impacting”, and I'll give a juicy whalesteak to any good Christian who thinks they can dispute this verity. It might seem funny to you, omni-cognisant peruser of all things musical, but this is a big deal for a[n ex-]funeral doom metal band.
We'll move on from this fish-in-a-barrel routine of japing about/at a formerly solemn metal band's marketing strategies momentarily, but there's one more detail disclosed in the press release that proudly spoils the opening moments of The Coral Tombs
, and it bears mentioning. Take your expectations and cast them into the Mariana Trench, throw yourself in afterwards, and grip that brass Mark V with all of your God-given might, because this one's a doozy: it starts with a blast beat!
Pull, will ye? pull, can’t ye? pull, won’t ye?
Simple and satisfying though it may be to heap chum on the self-appointed pioneers of Nautik Doom (patent perennially pending) for indulging in such shopworn late-career metal memery, The Coral Tombs
is a good/great album. Purchase it immediately, hold it aloft, and rejoice, for this bathysphere is big enough for the both of us, and plus-ones are allowed (if—as always in the realm of metal—discouraged, should you want to maintain any existing fellowships you have formed).
Do keep in mind though; we are dealing with a band who have put self-serious funereal tendencies in the backseat. Ahab are not wearing cloaks and masks and hiding alleged epistemological epiphanies behind a screen of lo-fi production and disarming composition choices. They are adapting Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
to the musical realm and are doing so with gaiety and jollity, even when portraying tussles with leviathanic beasties — this is Fun Doom, just not in the Sabbathian tradition (as, uh, far as that statement goes).
That said, mellow excursions frequently ballast the augured cataclysms, and these subsist in a simple subtlety defined by stark guitar lines with light coatings of effects. Turbulent opening aside, you'll have to float through a fair bit of beauteous grandiosity before the defining Riffs of The Coral Tombs
(found in 'Colossus of the Liquid Graves' and 'Mobilis in Mobili') allow you to cast your Ornithopter into the tempest and trust that Fate's got your back. For me, these hard-earned moments of surrender to the swirling swells will always be the appeal of the genre, and these two instances in particular do a more-than-fine job of establishing the universal problem of all things
as the principal adversary. The latter track even cleverly uses plodding guitar work to accentuate some unearthly vocal harmonies before reprising its ship-sinker of a Riff to really get the ambergris flowing, and the resultant harvest is bountiful and beautiful and I wish I could live in its ever-expanding ripples.
Outside of these clear highlights there is almost an entire album. That album is amicable, and I like it. Atmosphere of a decent strain is evoked, and Ahab give us an adept medley of their bag of tricks. Each track is thoughtfully composed, and 'The Mælstrom' in particular closes the album out with career-spanning aplomb. Elsewhere, the enveloping fog sometimes threatens to disperse, compromising the integral and egregious grandiosity that is so essential to the genre. If your attention is snatched away from a patient build, the resultant Riffage does not retain the inherent potency to snatch it back. Then, as you tune into the vocals for a second or two, you might just hear snippets like “funeral procession” or “hadopelagic, entirely unknown”, and think precisely nothing of it.
I hate to cast my own expectations over any artist in particular, but I can't help but feel that Ahab's trajectory at present is one that pushes them away from ambition. They are not overshadowed by their early work so much as they have chosen to sail to safer shores (as they insist on remaining literally littoral)—shores that allow for chart-impacts and live shows with live people. This is cool, and I endorse it, but it does not make for albums that distinguish themselves quite so thoroughly from their peers. Fortunately, Ahab's contemporaries track as mere whaleboats to their Pequod
, and the chops of the fated ship's instrumentalists prove that wicked though they be, their product is spotless as a lamb. I guess it's like the good book says: “better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.”