Doom metal isn’t the most innovative genre. I admit I have not immersed myself in the genre as I have in other styles of metal, but I’ve heard enough funeral dirge metal to know I’d mostly rather get doom from the original masters — Black Sabbath.
The one exception to my “no new doom” rule, however, is Germany’s Ahab. Ever since the band’s first release — the suffocating yet oddly beautiful “The Call of the Wretched Sea” — I have been a fan and have always eagerly await news of new Ahab albums.
The band’s 2012 release, “The Giant,” is not a disappointment. In fact, “The Giant” is a great leap forward for Ahab, as the band moves away from their already-hybridized version of “doom” and more into progressive metal. Not every fan will like the band’s musical direction — but if fans look back on the band’s previous two albums, “The Call of the Wretched Sea” and “The Divinity of Oceans,” it should be clear that “The Giant” was Ahab’s next logical step.
Like album’s past, “The Giant” is a concept album, this time based on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.” But you don’t need to know your Poe to enjoy “The Giant.”
Vocalist/guitarist Daniel Droste still employs his dead-man’s sludge-filled grunt throughout the album — but Droste sings much of the album with “clean vocals.” Now, singing clean isn’t new to the band; there were moments of clean vocals in “The Divinity of Oceans,” and what I’d guess you call “clean chanting” on songs like “The Sermon” and “The Hunt” from “Call of the Wretched Sea.” But Droste does something new here, singing almost entire songs (“Fathoms Deep,” “The Giant” and “Time’s Like Molten Lead”) entirely with clean voice.
Droste’s “regular” voice isn’t Bruce Dickinson’s, to be sure — but the vocals fit the melancholy feel of the disc. How much the “clean” vocals bother you will like depend on how much of death metal purist you are — certainly, some older bands of the band have not loved the new style. On the other hand, the juxtaposition of clean and doom vocals gives the band a much broader musical range and depth.
Speaking of “depth,” Ahab has always been about the impossibly heavy depths of the sea (all three concept albums are based on sea epics or history of shipwrecks). While the vocals are often clearer, there has been so softening musically; the beautiful parts are steeped in sadness, or are eerie and full of foreboding — while the metal still crashes down and obliterates. A prime example is “Fathoms Deep,” a deceptively lulling song for the first few minutes, until the doom crashes in like a tidal wave and overwhelms everything in its path.
There are a lot of standout tracks here — almost everything works, really, although “Antarctica the Polymorphess” is not quite as interesting as everything that comes before and after. While all the rest are great, my personal faves are “Further South,” Fathoms Deep,” “The Giant” and the brilliant “Time’s Like Molten Lead” — which, I’ve read, is actually a bonus track.
Ahab continues to grow on “The Giant” and is moving in directions I can’t quite predict. While I love the band’s doom metal approach, it’s good to see the band member’s setting sail for different musical shores. I’ll be looking forward to their next musical voyage. Who knows where they’ll go?