Ahab‘s new album, The Boats of the Glen Carrig — based on William Hope Hodgson’s 1907 horror novel of the same title — tells the tale of survivors of a shipwreck who attempt an escape in lifeboats and battle storms, hideous sea creatures, unknown islands and the desolation of the open sea. The music ebbs and flows much like the sea, attacking the listener with fits of heaviness and bouts of mournful sorrow. And while they draw heavily from the novel, Ahab’s ultimately created a stunning work of art that is able to stand completely on its own.
Lyrically, The Boats of the Glen Carrig follows the plot of its novel namesake — sometimes even borrowing directly from the narration. But rather than archaic prose and no dialogue, The Boats of the Glen Carrig speaks through music. The album arc was dictated in 1907 when Hodgson penned his novel: “The Isle” finds the crew on an unknown island of unspeakable horrors; “The Thing That Made Search” tells of a raw meat-like creature that attempts to attack them while barricaded in the state room of an ancient hulking ship; “Like Red Foam (The Great Storm)” takes the listener through the crews attempts to survive a storm of great magnitude while helplessly adrift on the open ocean; “The Weedmen” is yet another island, this time full of dried seaweed, moldy toadstools and slithering, tentacled human-like monsters who attack the men while they take refuge upon a hilltop; “To Mourn Job” recalls the death of Job, a young shipmate who takes ill during a run-in with a giant, squid-like sea creature. And, accordingly, the closing track, “The Light in the Weed (Mary Madison)” concludes, as the novel does, with the narrator rescuing Mary Madison and her fellow shipmates from seven years of being trapped in a great continent of seaweed. The narrator will eventually marry Ms. Madison.
Although they label themselves a doom band, and most people consider then funeral doom, Ahab are essentially a progressive band that draws heavily on both doom and funeral doom elements. At times they sound like fellow Germans The Ocean or progressive experimentalists Giant Squid — specifically the latter’s 2014 island-and sea-themed release, Minoans. The difference is that these guys are inordinately and painstakingly heavy. Ahab’s not afraid of long tracks — The Boats of the Glen Carrig‘s six tracks last more than an hour — and they use their progressive elements to place the listener directly into the plotline.
Themes of solitude, fear and hopelessness are pervasive throughout the album. There’s a pervasive terror of being alone in a vast sea, or on an unknown island, with dwindling supplies, monsters in the dark and no hope of rescue. But Ahab also reveals the beauty in that solitude, the resignation to death and the unseeming terrors of the beautiful, solemn ocean. The tracks have a distinctly mournful feel to them and, at times, ever-so-subtly mimic the rhythms and brightness of sea shanties, even dropping in sounds of camaraderie—as if the guitars are somehow mimicking a mandolin.
Vocalist Daniel Droste has an incredible range. At times, he can sing matter-of-factly in a deep baritone while at others, he screams, growls and vacillates between levels akin to monsters and demons — as if summoning all the strength of the ocean. The drum work is vast and expansive with extendedly tense pauses often taking the place of fills. The guitar work is thick and unyielding, floating brilliantly through chord changes like waves crashing into each other while providing beautiful, arcing melody with lead lines. It’s the album’s longest track, “The Weedmen,” that’s the most captivating, almost entirely as a result of the excellent guitar work.
Ahab’s released four full-length albums since 2006, following a demo in 2005. Their focus is on albums as a whole — albums that tell stories. Thus, their music naturally becomes somewhat of a soundtrack. With The Boats of the Glen Carrig, they’ve created their most complete and beautiful soundtrack to date and potentially one of the more surprising records of 2015.