2012 is fast becoming a banner year for doom metal. We’ve already heard Swallow the Sun’s exceptional Emerald Forest and the Blackbird and newcomer Pallbearer’s breathtaking debut Sorrow And Extinction, and Eagle Twin will soon release their eagerly anticipated sophomore album The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale; those are just the first three that came to mind. I’m sure there are countless other doom albums coming out, making 2012 the perfect year to sit next to a rainy window with a record on the turntable and a glass of scotch in hand, and contemplating the futility and misery of the human existence. And now German funeral doom masters Ahab have unleashed The Giant, just to spite you and make you cry forlorn tears into your glass while you wait for the Mayan gods to return and release us all into oblivion.
The Giant begins far more melodically than Ahab’s two previous LPs, both instrumentally and vocally; vocalist Daniel Droste's harsh vocals don't show up until nearly five minutes into the stunning first track “Further South,” but they really aren’t missed. Droste’s clean vocals on the album gave me chills; every note he sings is perfectly pitched to remind you of the saddest you’ve ever been, and then pile even more misery on top of that. His harsh vocals are fine, and they suit the music of Ahab perfectly, but they don’t quite reach the cathartic highs of his clean vocals. The self-titled track is really Droste’s time to shine, as his vocals move effortlessly between melodic singing, bellowing harsh vocals, and even a banshee-like wail. I’d say the vocal styles are split about 50/50, and the rest of the album is similarly balanced, with musical passages both airily melodic and spine-crushingly heavy (often overlapping each other). Even in its heaviest moments, The Giant is unrelentingly gloomy; an oppressive onslaught of despair that’s unsurprising given both the genre and the fact that the album is a riff on Edgar Allan Poe’s novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.
All of Ahab’s albums have a nautical theme, and The Giant is no exception. Its seven tracks work together to bring this to life; “Aeons Elapse” and “Antarctica the Polymorphess” especially convey a sense of vastness that evokes the oceans, bringing to mind a sense of fearful wonder at the mysteries below the surface of the water. This is due in large part to guitarist Christian Hector’s masterful work; while you might not see his name on a list of the best metal guitarists, Hector’s playing is essential to Ahab’s sorrowful atmosphere. Many doom bands rely heavily on their rhythm section to create bleakness, but with Ahab, Hector’s guitar riffs pave the way with their melodies, while bassist Stephan Wandernorth and drummer Cornelius Althammer underscore them with a sense of menace and impending doom, making you wonder whether the metaphorical ship you’re on is about to run aground or be shredded to splinters by some nameless monster of the abyss. Droste also contributes guitar and keyboard work, and together the quartet achieve a masterpiece of sonic anguish.
Much like Swallow the Sun’s Emerald Forest, The Giant succeeds in not only playing doom (the genre), but also creating it within the mind of the listener. It isn’t a happy album, and it’s not just mellow background music. The Giant is a beautifully brutal album of misery, a soundtrack to wallowing in self-pity on a cold, grey day. That actually is my only fault with the album: as incredible as it is, I know that within two weeks, I’m going to shelve it and not come back to it until the cold winds and barren trees of November return. It’s not a slight against Ahab or The Giant; the album is easily one of the best of the year so far and is absolutely worth repeated listens, I just think those listens will have much more weight to them at a time when I’m not wondering if I’m wearing enough sunscreen just to run to the store.
Don’t let something as trivial as blue skies, warm weather, and sunshine detract you from rushing out and picking up a copy of The Giant. You can listen to it now and appreciate the new levels of doom metal excellence that Ahab has ascended to, celebrating their haunting and melodic mastery of the style. And when the days grow shorter and the cold rains fall, it will be waiting for you, calling your name with a rainy window, a glass of whiskey, and the insurmountable weight of the human condition.