Essential Albums #8: Ahab, “The Call of the Wretched Sea”

Ahab

Today, I’m going to perform a dubious favor to you: I’m going to recommend an album you’ll have to work to find. 

I don’t listen to much doom metal, but I have great love for Ahab. Those sea-obsessed German doomsters create music that is both achingly beautiful and so heavy that listening to it feels like being crushed fathoms deep against the sea floor by a behemoth great whale. The band’s 2009 release, “The Divinity of Oceans,” is one of my favorite releases of the year. 

But “Divinity” is not Ahab’s best work. Three years ago, the band released a monumental doom epic with the 2006 concept album “The Call of the Wretched Sea.” The album is painfully slow and precise, with enough space for the band to insert unusual melodies and moments of unexpected loveliness . Meanwhile, the band mixes the crushing heaviness with acoustic moments and clean singing that make the songs complete compositions rather than boring, droning, endless riff-fests. 

“Call” is indeed a concept album, based on on Herman Melville’s masterpiece “Moby-Dick.” Perhaps you’re thinking creating a concept album around Melville’s novel is not exactly original – after all Mastodon’s “Leviathan” (which was released in 2004) was also based on “Moby-Dick.” 

Although both bands used the same source material for their inspiration, all resemblance ends at that moment … and anyone crying “copy cat” might first want to hear the albums back to back and compare. “Leviathan” is certainly heavy … but the riffing and melodies are more Iron Maiden than doom metal. Ahab creates a very different vibe: Mastodon’s album feels like chasing the whale. Ahab’s disc feels like being swallowed by the monster. 

Some of the lyrics are taken directly from “Moby-Dick,” which is all very interesting if you want to go back and re-read passages from the novel and compare. But the aura created by the music is more important than the lyrics – and the band captures the premonition of certain doom that Melville weaves throughout the novel. 

“Below The Sun” is a showcase of everything Ahab does right. After a creepy keyboard intro, the song launches with a crushing riff and gutteral vocals from Daniel Droste that seem like they could not have been produced by a human throat. Then, the song shifts up in tempo and switches to clean vocals … only to change again, unleashing a stomping riff and double-bass attack that is powerful and obliterating. The song loops back to the mid section for the finale.  

“The Pacific” is doom, doom and monster doom – heavy and unrelenting throughout. But there’s beauty in the guitar lines – and the acoustic middle section is completely unexpected. The end is a nightmare of chanted grunts over a suprising Middle Eastern guitar line. “The Pacific” is a song that takes on more shades and textures with repeat listens, but it’s worth the effort.  

“Old Thunder” begins with an undistorted melody and a quiet solo. After less than two minutes, however, the song is overwhelmed by a roar of distortion and tempo becomes a slave march. An intertwining guitar line swirls just below the pounding and the clean vocals sound like Gregorian chanting than actual singing. The mid-section reaches for the epic, before the doom stomp resumes and the song circles back round to the original march for the finish. 

“Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales” is an interlude of cold, deep-sea menace and fear. It’s meant to be bleak and horrifying – and it accomplishes its goal quite nicely. It’s also short and turns into the opening of “The Sermon,” arguably the most impressive track on the album. The opening riffs are mountain heavy and the opening growls defy human vocal chords. The main riff, however, is uptempo (or at least as uptempo as any piece in the largo time signature can possibly be) and the guitar lines again ring with hints of Middle Eastern music. The double bass kicks in briefly, turning the song into a charge … before the whole things fades into an intermission that reminds me of the middle section of Iron Maiden’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” After several minutes of ambient music and movie dialogue (from Gregory Peck’s film adaption of “Moby-Dick,” I’m guessing), the stomp resumes, as brutal and relentless as ever – but then shifts back to clean vocals and a seemingly hopeful note. 

“The Hunt” is the album’s bloody, emotional catharsis. The opening riff is creepy, the clean vocals sound like funeral dirges sung by drowned souls and the onslaught of the distortion is devastating. The keyboards give the song a larger-than-life feel – and the end is the sound of blood in the water and unstoppable death. It’s beautiful and full of horror, the sound of a whaling vessel splitting in half after being rammed by a whale. 

“Ahab’s Oath” has a rather psychedelic feel, with keyboards driving the melody and providing texture throughout. Droste’s vocals are bone-chilling, as he (as Ahab) binds his sailors to his fatal quest to kill the white whale. After “The Hunt,” “The Oath” feels more like an epilogue than a climax and ends on the album on a suitably despairing note. 

This is a great album … but as I said at the opening, there’s a catch. Ahab is on Napalm Records – which I’d never heard of before I heard these guys – and their music seems to be somewhat hard to find. I had to special order my copy of “Call of the Wretched Sea” from a local music store. CM Distro carries copies of Ahab’s albums, but they seem to sell out quickly after they’re restocked. In short, good luck.

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1 Comment

  1. there are alot on ebay


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