This review has been a long time coming. I first heard the album back in July and have meant to write something ever since (I know I’m awful!). Ahab is a funeral doom band and they are at the forefront of a genre that is quickly gaining ground in Resounding Footsteps. What struck me first, and likely what struck everyone else, is their sea motif. Each release is somehow tied to the sea and the ocean travel tales. I fell in love with their 2016 album “The Boats of the Glen Carrig” within just a few minutes of the first track. It’s over an hour of funeral, gothic doom goodness.
The album is based, at least in terms of the title, from the proto-Lovecraftian story “The Boats of the Glen Carrig” by William Hope Hodgeson. The album definitely has a Lovecraftian vibe to it; it’s not overt cosmic terror so much as very subtle hints of the dreamlands and the things that can’t quite take shape in our normal world. The sound is vast and sweeping, lulling you in at first with some wonderful acoustic pieces and the best cleans vocals I’ve heard this side of My Dying Bride, then Boats hits you with wave after wave of heavy riffs (see what I did there?) that rock the boat pretty damn hard. I would call Ahab a mash up of My Dying Bride and Nile. The riffs aren’t quite as brutal or fast, this is funeral doom we’re talking about after all, but they have all the complexity and technicality.
Overall, I felt like the hour and fifteen minutes this album takes to complete are perfectly spent. The whole thing sort of puts you into a dream like state. But the music has tension too, it is partly inspired by a Lovecraftian type story after all. The listener never quite has the chance to fully relax for the duration of the album, it keeps the listener off balance. The changes in pace, the acoustic interludes are pretty evenly paced while the metal is dirge-like, manages to create a sense of unease. The riffs are deep, not fear frequency deep but deep enough that the listener has a sense of dread throughout the entire thing.
What is it about the sea that creates such mystery and how are bands like Ahab, specifically in The Boats of the Glen Carrig, able to capture the madness and wonder of it? The sea has been called the last real frontier to explore (supposedly we know more about space than we do about the sea). The sea is a mystery, and mystery frightens us. That’s why Ahab is intriguing in my opinion, they explore the nature of the sea both as the literal thing and as a literary concept, the great, vast unknowable beast that claws that the hearts of men.
The Boats of the Glen Carrig paints a distorted, desperate picture of shipwrecked men, mad from hunger and loneliness trying to find their way back to sanity. The guitars are brilliant, churning out death metal riffs that are slowed down so far that they take on a life of their own, they become more and more complex the closer you listen, subtle melodies and counter melodies, playing against each other like the two aspects of the sea. The bass thrums with life, gurgling like some monster from the depths swimming just below visual range. The listener knows it’s there and hears the effects but never really hears the bass itself. I don’t know if that was intentional or not but it definitely adds to the mysterious nature of the album. The vocals, as previously mentioned, range from a beautiful gothic tone to downright nasty, guttural bellows. The dichotomy of the sea has been perfectly captured by Ahab and they are using that dichotomy with devastating effect.
The album is bold and fearless, full of piss and vinegar. This album is the musical equivalent to the character of Ahab in Moby Dick, it’s brash and angry yet calculating; the album’s music exists for one sole purpose: to capture the brutal, metal sounds of the sea. And by the gods it does!
The Boats of the Glen Carrig is the kind of album that doesn’t come around very often. It has the power and slow and ponderous brutality we have come to expect from funeral doom bands contrasted against soft acoustic melodies and gothic clean vocals. If Resounding Footsteps lasts long enough, I can see Boats making the album of the decade list for sure. I tried not to gush too much, and probably failed at least a little, but this is truly a wonderful album, it sways the listener back and forth. When I listened to this I wished I lived anywhere close to the sea because this album illustrates the majestic beauty and the terrifying mystery that the sea holds within it. Listen to Ahab!
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