Friday, August 28, 2015

Album Review: Ahab - The Boats of the Glen Carrig

Album Score: A-
Ahab is a band as steeped in maritime mythos as any you are likely to find. Since its first saliferous demos, the quartet has evolved its sound from an otherworldly dirge to a more recognizable combination of largo riffs and ominous atmosphere. The Boats of the Glen Carrig is another step forward for the band after 2012’s The Giant saw the boldest incorporation of clean singing and dual-guitar interplay into its sound, more akin to mid-era My Dying Bride than to Ahab's debut, The Call of the Wretched Sea. “Deliverance” and “Antarctica (The Polymorphess)” showcased a willingness to let songs breathe and grow, and the result was as beautiful as it was hair-raising. Here, opener “The Isle” adds another luminous moment with its pre-climactic break before transitioning seamlessly into thundering growls. Despite the group’s continued use of inhumanly-deep vocals, Ahab is a band whose appeal often lies in the subtler moments of its craft. “I think,” frontman Droste even observes, “we've made some non-doom fans along the way."

Carrying this idea forward, The Boats of the Glen Carrig pushes Ahab’s throttle from “dead slow” to…well, “slow.” While opening songs “The Isle” and “The Thing That Made Search” (baffling title and all) creep and crawl in their opening minutes, “Red Foam (The Great Storm)” hits like a rogue wave. Cornelius Althammer (one of the best names in all of music) bursts out of the gate with tom-tom and double-kick rolls, ushering in a series of propulsive riffs that are bound to induce hair-swinging and headbanging with the best Amon Amarth cuts. Bassist Stephan Wandernoth cited the song as “more sludge-oriented than anything on The Giant,” a sentiment that holds true over much of Ahab’s discography. “The Weedmen” follows with a gargantuan opening chord, but takes a more patient approach as it marches onward for exactly fifteen seismic minutes. Thrice in the song, eerie feedback enters from the farthest reaches of the mix to usher in a new thunderclap of guitar, training the listener to brace for impact; by the fourth, the song lets the suspense simply fade into the album’s ultimate track.

“To Mourn Job” showcases Ahab’s bread and butter – funereal riffs that undercut mournful guitar lines, Althammer’s sparse drumming that makes every hit count, and passages of tranquil beauty that stand as harbingers of a coming storm. Another signature of Ahab’s sound – the injection of tritones into arpeggiated minor triads – graces the slower moments of “Job” (see 9:12 – 10:45), while the falling chords of “The Thing That Made Search” harken back to Wretched Sea’s gigantic opener, “Below the Sun.” Glen Carrig continues Ahab’s fascination with maritime literature, as the outfit turns its spyglass to the titular horror novel by William Hope Hodgson (published in 1907, the work would prove an influence on H.P. Lovecraft). Ahab’s interpretation of the material is appropriately more spirited and chilling than its past works based on the interminable Moby-Dick(Call of the Wretched Sea) and the oft-becalmed Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (The Giant), and more than justifies the band’s adherence to established source material.

Ahab is hardly reinventing itself with The Boats of the Glen Carrig, but at this point the band seems to be in a groove that benefits more from adjustments than overhauls. The more vivacious riffs ofGlen Carrig are a notable departure from The Giant’s slow-burning core, but one would be hard-pressed to call either approach superior to the other, or even mutually exclusive. In fact, the former’s bonus track, “The Light in the Weed (Mary Madison),” is the band’s first with entirely clean vocals. From its most pummeling troughs to its subtlest beauty, The Boats of the Glen Carrig is an album of uncommon breadth; if you seek adventure and are willing to wade for it, then Ahab has served your next voyage.

A sullen growling from afar –
The dark was full of it, I swear
Aye, no word of which I've knowledge
So well describes this hunger, most awesome to the ear

1. The Isle
2. The Thing That Made Search
3. Like Red Foam (The Storm)
4. The Weedmen
5. To Mourn Job
6. The Light in the Weed (Mary Madison - bonus)
Official Site

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