Review: Ahab, “The Giant”

ahab

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?

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Skid Row preparing to release new EP (wait — Skid Row still exists?)

If you see this little postie in the next 24 hours, you can hear the new Skid Row EP, “United World Rebellion: Chapter 1” at Loudwire. You can find the EP here, but it’s only gonna be on line for 24 hours. So run. Or, get a time machine if you’re a little late.

In case you missed it, “United World Rebellion” sounds, well, like it was recorded in 1989.

The singer, Johnny Solinger, sounds pretty much exactly like Sebastian Bach on “Kings of Demolition” and “Let’s Go.” That’s not exactly a criticism — there are certainly worse singers to be compared to than Bach — but if you didn’t like the Bach incarnation of the band, you won’t like them much now.

Solinger sounds a little bit more like his own man on “This is Killing Me” … but jeeze, the song might as well be called “I Remember You Again.” Or, perhaps, “I Remember You Too (Two).” You get my meaning? The songwriting team of Rachel Bolan and Snake Sabo have not changed much with the decades.

If you like quasi-dirty-sounding 80s hair metal — or if you graduated from high school in 1990 and have fond memories of shaking your fist to “Youth Gone Wild” before football games — you’ll be happy with “United World Rebellion.” As for me, well, I didn’t love the 80s that much the first time.

But don’t take my word for it. Stream the thing yourself. Also, you can purchase the EP from iTunes, Amazon or Wal-Mart.

(P.S.:  Does anyone else think it’s ironic that Wal-Mart is selling an album called “United World Rebellion”? Imagine the ad campaign: “Angsty  ‘Occupy Wal-Street’ metal, sponsored by Corporate Giant Wal-Mart!” Anyway, funny …)

A Tale of two Queensryches, part two

As you know, Geoff Tate, who fronted Seattle’s Queensryche since, well, forever, was booted from the band by former buddies Eddie Jackson, Scott Rockenfield and Michael Wilton. Myriad accusations were thrown back and forth, alleging physical abuse, financial malfeasance, nepotism and the inevitable irreconcilable musical differences.

Jackson, Wilton, Rockenfield and guitarist Parker Lundgren hooked up with Todd La Torre — first as “Rising West” and later as “Queensryche.” The band is releasing an album of new material in June.

Meanwhile, Tate connected with a new group of musicians, including former Queensryche guitarist Kelly Gray and former Quiet Riot bassist Rudy Sarzo to form a new band, which is also called “Queensryche.” Tate’s Queensryche album, “Frequency Unknown” comes out later this month.

Both bands have released a bit of new music — and both bands are touring heavily on old QR material. Tate’s band is currently doing “Operation: Mindcrime” in its entirety, while the La Torre version of QR has been doing shows based entirely on songs from the band’s original EP and the first four albums.

Both sides — and their various fans — have been bashing each other mercilessly through the metal media for months now. Both sides claim they are the “real” QR and dismiss the other as has-beens (Tate) or cheap imitations (La Torre).

Who’s right? No one.

It seems obvious Tate and Wilton/Jackson/Rockenfield can’t work together anymore. Really, that’s just as well. Tate hasn’t really been interested in the old QR material for a while — it was Tate that pushed the band away from metal toward the mellower, more melodic music found on “American Soldier” or the second half of “Operation: Mindcrime II.” It was also Tate who moved the band to record “Dedicated to Chaos,” an album Wilton and the others later claim to have hated.

I didn’t love “American Soldier.” I thought the album was much too respectful, too tame. What little I heard of “Dedicated to Chaos” was enough to convince me not to buy the album. I thought “Operation: Mindcrime II” was half of a good album.

But even if I didn’t like Tate’s direction, I can’t accuse the man of not taking chances. Nothing in the world would have been easier for the members of Queensryche than to keep bashing out “Empire” clones for the rest of their careers; I can’t say I liked the way Tate was going musically, but at least he was pushing himself.

The La Torre version of QR — at least judging from “Redemption,” the band’s first single from the new album — isn’t treading new ground. Frankly, “Redemption” could have come right off “Empire” — it’s slightly heavier, perhaps, but the song doesn’t stray far from the template the band laid out in 1990.  It’s a listenable song with an excellent central riff, and the song shows the Le Torre version of the band has promise … but it doesn’t pack any surprises.

As for “Cold,” the first single from Tate’s “Frequency Unknown,” well, it’s frankly better than I expected. La Torre partisans love to claim that Tate’s voice is shot. But while it’s possible the man can’t scream like he could in 1981, Tate has hardly lost the ability to sing. Tate sounds better on “Cold” than he sounded on “O:MII” or “American Soldier” — and if the song’s main riff is a little generic, the guitar solo is certainly frenzied and full of power. Tate sounds like he has a fire that was missing on the last few QR albums.

Tate and Wilton’s “divorce” seems like the best thing that could have happened to both sides. If the end result is two good albums and two groups of re-energized musicians, then everybody wins.

But there’s one thing both sides need to do — retire the name “Queensryche.”

Tate doesn’t need it; he wanted to make a break from the past, so he should  cut the old name loose. He’s recognizable enough that people would still come to see him if he went on simply as the Geoff Tate Band or something similar. Dropping the name doesn’t mean Tate has to ditch the old material; if he wants to continue singing “Silent Lucidity” for the rest of his career during encores, who’s gonna tell him he can’t?

As for Wilton, Rockenfield, Jackson, Lundgren and La Torre, their first instinct — to call themselves “Rising West” rather than “Queensryche” was correct. Tying themselves to the QR name means La Torre will be constantly compared to Tate for rest of his career with the band. Even with new music, people will be saying, “well, Tate would’ve been better” or words to that effect. A new name would give the band its own identity — and again, if La Torre and company still want to bash out “Queen of the Ryche” and “Warning” during shows, that’s their right.

Queensryche was a great band, particularly between the EP and “Empire.” But that band is dead now. Let it rest in peace and move on as something new, guys. You’ll be happier that way.