AHAB – How Slow Can You Row?
January 30, 2023, a month ago
German funeral / nautic doom outfit Ahab have been surging through the underground for almost 20 years, slowly making a name for themselves; emphasis on the word "slowly." One demo, an EP, five studio albums and one live record have brought the band to a point where they are in demand for people in-the-know. Dark, intense and soul-crushingly deep - did we mention slow? - Ahab have unleashed their fifth album, The Coral Tombs, continuing the band's tradition of using literary classics as the foundation for their music. Having created concept records in the past based on Herman Melville's Moby-Dick and William Hope's The Boats Of The Glen Carrig, Ahab decided it was time to tackle what is perhaps one of the greatest sea-faring tales in history, the 1870 novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Seas, by French author Jules Verne.
It's worth noting, however, that The Coral Tombs breaks a whopping eight years of silence between albums for Ahab. They had been consistent with three year breaks between records since the beginning of their career up until 2015.
"The eight years away, that wasn't on purpose," says guitarist / co-founder Christian Hector. "Life happened, that's all. Back in 2015, I think I was the only member of the band with a kid; now there are six kids between all of us (laughs). I don't think we've been on tour for more than five days at a time since then, if we have been out at all."
Given that Ahab dubbed themselves nautic doom from the very beginning, one would think they'd have tackled Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Seas much sooner.
"We thought about doing it for (2012 album) The Giant," Hector reveals, "but we decided on The Narrative Of Arthur Gordon Pym Of Nantucket by Edgar Allen Poe instead. I think it was 2019 or 2020 - right around when Corona hit - when we more or less started to write for The Coral Tombs. Obviously, there were some tunes before those writing sessions, but the main writing process was around that time."
As famous as Jules Verne's book is, the 1954 Walt Disney movie adaptation of the book starring Kirk Douglas - with the slightly altered title 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea - is considered to be a classic in its own right. It also served as source material for The Coral Tombs according to Hector.
"Of course we used the book, but the Disney movie was inspirational for me because most people around my age now know the film from childhood. It definitely had an impact. It wasn't that hard for me to write for this album because I know the story quite well. I love the story, and I think that's where the film kicks in a bit. If you have this imagery from the film in your mind, it's easy to get into the right mood for the music. But, of course, in the book there are more levels. Nemo in the movie is not as deep of a person as the one in the book."
"The first song and the last song on the album are very soundtrack-ish," Hector adds, citing the movie as an inspiration. "And that's actually how we feel about this album. It really is meant as a soundtrack to the story."
Ahab is fronted by vocalist / guitarist Daniel Droste, who possess the remarkable ability to unleash hellish growls and clean vocals that are best described as haunting. Both are on full display on The Coral Tombs.
"You won't believe this, but on the last three albums we as a band didn't hear anything of Daniel's vocal tracks until the end," Hector reveals. "That's a weird thing with Daniel; he's a genius that way. There was one song we heard after the first mix and we told him the vocals were a bit boring, that we needed some clean vocals, and he did what we needed in one hour. It was awesome."
"We've asked him several times when we've been working on new songs if he could tell us something about what he has in mind," Hector adds. "I write the music and Daniel sings my thoughts (laughs). With Daniel, when it comes to singing for other people, he's a shy person. It's hard to believe but he's not that comfortable with showing off his voice. When he sings on stage it's a totally different thing, but when we soundcheck he never sings. Never. He does the growls, but he doesn't do any clean singing."
Anyone who follows Ahab is aware of the large and ever-changing wealth of merchandise made available to the fans. Not something one expects of an underground-ish doom metal band, but their hands-on approach to marketing has proven to be a lucrative source of income that aids in keeping Ahab - pardon the pun – afloat.
"Our merch shop does great business," Hector says. "If you have money to re-invest in new illustrations and new shirts, it works. If people didn't buy our stuff, we wouldn't be able to do any of that. Even over the last eight years when we didn't do anything - okay, we did some live shows - people still bought our merch. I'm not sure, but I guess we have a loyal fanbase. Or, people just want to have cool new T-shirt designs (laughs). But seriously, I do think it's because of the loyalty of the fans."
At the time of this writing, Ahab had played an official release show for The Coral Tombs in Braunschweig, Germany - in a church, no less - following it up with festival show announcements for Italy (Church Of Crow Doom Festival), the UK (Damnation) and the US (Maryland Deathfest XIX). The band is known for their "how slow can you row?" catalogue, which boasts songs that clock in at an average of between seven to 10 minutes. With that in mind, how do they plan a setlist five albums into their career?
"That's always a hard question to answer," Hector agrees. "We have to play the 'famous' songs, but if we do that the set is done (laughs). So, we basically have to throw out two of those songs and put in two new ones. And we have to choose carefully because four songs from Ahab could exceed the 60 minutes we have at a festival. We did think about doing the whole new album for the release show, but then we figured it was only one day after the album release and that people would rather hear the songs they know. We only played four new songs and the rest was a Best Of kind of thing."
Feedback since The Coral Tombs' release, which included the album landing on the German album charts at #18 (!) behind Rammstein, suggests that Ahab are far more popular than they think / thought.
"For an extreme doom band, Ahab is one of the 'big' ones in terms of the underground, I suppose," Hector says. "We're recognized by the doom community, sure, but I have no clue if Candlemass, for example, knows who we are (laughs). Other than that, there are some bands in extreme metal that know about Ahab. We've been around for 19 years now, so I guess that becoming better known just came with time."
(Photos – Stefan Heilemann)