Ahab – Afloat In the Fever SeaSunday, 31st March 2013
(This content originally appeared on Blistering.com)
From purely a conceptual standpoint, Ahab stands alone. The German-based metallers have brought the stories of Melville’s Moby Dick into the darkened world of doom, going several steps further than the likes of Mastodon, who made their 2004 Leviathan a similar concept to work from. For as all-encompassing Moby Dick became to the band for their 2007 The Call of the Wretched Sea debut and its 2009 The Divinity of Oceans follow-up, Ahab reversed course and made Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket the focus for its third full-length, The Giant (Napalm Records).
Any notions of Ahab being a pure “funeral doom” band will be thrust aside once the opening strands of “Further South” hit, where primordial clean vocals mesh with trampling riffs that simply won’t budge. The melodic air and overall variety in each of the album’s six songs creates a magnificent spread, one that culminates the closing title track that ends on an ominous and abrupt note. Ahab definitely outdid themselves with The Giant, thus eclipsing The Call of the Wretched Sea. With that in mind, we caught up with guitarist Chris Hector to wax on The Giant, its elaborate concept, and where the band stands in the doom scene. Here’s the scoop…
Blistering.com: You shot some studio footage that documented the recording process of The Giant. Was it fun? Or intrusive and uncomfortable?
Chris Hector: We bought a camera two months and our bass player [Stephan Wandernoth] was playing around with it. We shot some stuff in the studio and it was fun. The footage was quite funny. We weren’t in the studio at the same time, but in the evenings, most of the guys showed up. The guy who did the recordings, he’s a really weird guy – he took eight microphones just for the guitars and I don’t know how many for the drums, but it was really funny in the studio.
Blistering.com: I saw that you had some sheet music in some of the shots. Did you actually use it?
Hector: Our drummer [Cornelius Althammer] has been playing cello for 20 years, I think, so he knows how to read notes and stuff. Daniel [Droste, vocals/guitars] is using mostly tab, but he’s also able to read notes. Most of the songs were tabbed in Guitar Pro, but I don’t use any notes or tabs, I just play all of the stuff from my mind.
Blistering.com: Reading guitar tablature isn’t that hard, but I’m with you – I can’t read sheet music.
Hector: I’m just not able to do that because I can’t read notes [laughs]. I learned it in school, but I was never too interested in that stuff. The other guys know how to read [it]. Daniel had main courses in music in school and he also plays piano, so there are some pretty musical guys in the band.
Blistering.com: In comparison to The Divinity of Oceans, was The Giantharder or easier to make?
Hector: I think the new album is more is like the first one again. It’s written more emotionally. It’s the first time we jammed in rehearsals on the songs. It just sounded more…at least in comparison to Divinity, more natural. The first album doesn’t have any concept in mind for music, we just wrote stuff. It just happened to sound like The Call of the Wretched Sea and this time, it was similar like that. And most of the songs were written by Daniel and I wrote only one song for this album. For me, it sounds like it’s more natural.
Blistering.com: It sounds like this one does go back to your debut. When did that become noticeable?
Hector: I got feedback from the hardcore fans of our funeral doom first album and to them, The Call of the Wretched Sea is like a classic album. They say we’ll never reach it again [laughs]. I think that’s okay. If I think of my musical taste, the album which came first are always the classic albums. Concerning the feelings you get when you get to it, that it’s more similar to The Call of the Wretched Sea for sure, absolutely.
Blistering.com: Conceptually, you turned to Edgar Allen Poe this time. Was it a matter of it being time to break new ground on a concept, or you were tired of Moby Dick?
Hector: When I did interviews for Call of the Wretched Sea, people were asking what we were going to do next. People didn’t think we could do two concept albums on the same book. So, the second album was quite cool because the concept was about the inspiration for Melville to write Moby Dick. We already thought about doing some other books for The Giant, but it felt too far away. Our bass player came up with The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, so on one hand, it was close enough…it was the same because it’s about the sea, troubled history of some guy. Also, it was something like autobiographical stuff of Poe and also like science fiction, if you know what I mean. So that was something you could do really psychedelic stuff as well. That’s what convinced us to do it.
At the beginning, I felt like, “When is it going to start and when is it going to get interesting?” Then, it got really weird and at the end, it just ended somewhere in the middle of the story and I was like, “What the fuck?” That was pretty cool because the song “The Giant” stops abruptly as the book. And some of the songs were already written before we had the book and then Daniel read the book, then we had to change some stuff. I think it was the right choice for this album. Probably the next album will be more modern…I don’t know yet.
Blistering.com: I wondered with Ahab if you’ll ever get to the point where you’ll write a regular album without concept. Do you foresee the band ever doing that?
Hector: Eh, no, I don’t think so [laughs]. There are so many bands who are doing that, so I think Ahab wouldn’t be that successful, if you could say “successful” in the underground genre – if we were just one of a thousand bands with no concepts. When I listen to music, I like to have some overall art, if you know what I mean. That’s more interesting. Of course, if you listen to a Motorhead album…
Blistering.com: That’s beer-drinking music.
Hector: Right, and it’s just something different. I think the concept of the band to be a concept band…I think we don’t want to change that. It’s just fun. The fun thing about it is that you can’t just sit down and write something. You have to think about some good, artistic stuff. Then you have to cope with that and that’s a cool thing to do.
Blistering.com: You had Herbrand Larsen from Enslaved join in some clean vocals. What was that like having him contribute to some of the songs?
Hector: I wasn’t there at a concert in Spain – we had a session guitarist at the time. Daniel went over to the Enslaved guys and asked him about their clean singer and him doing vocals. Hebrand wasn’t there when Daniel asked, so the Enslaved guys said to drop him an email, so we did that. We dropped him some rehearsal demos and he actually recorded it in his own studio in Norway, in Bergen. He sent us the vocal lines – we didn’t tell him anything. We were just stunned by it. He’s a really cool guy…we paid him with three bottles with Cognac [laughs]. He’s really nice. I think other guys who are as successful as Enslaved wouldn’t have done it all.
Blistering.com: He adds a great touch to the songs. It also looks like Daniel has opened up his vocals more.
Hector: Oh yeah. Most of my friends kept telling me and I was already thinking about it – this sounds like Alice in Chains. I’m still a big fan of theirs, so I was like, “Great!”
Blistering.com: The artwork really moves away from the traditional funeral doom covers. It leaves a lot to the imagination, so what’s the story behind it?
Hector: We saw something similar with Long Distance Calling. On their last album, they had something psychedelic, and we really liked it. I dropped them an email and they came up with the contact for Sebastian Jerke. We told him about the book and he read it. Then we told him we want something psychedelic with the giant on the cover, and the rest he did himself. When you have a great artist, you’re not going to tell them what to do. He sent us sketches and we told him what was cool, but the rest was done totally by him. He’s a great painter.
Blistering.com: It’s a 70’s-styled cover, which is cool.
Hector: That was done on purpose. I like that kind of illustration personally. I thought it was time to do something different than a classical painting. We wanted to have something on our own. This time, it’s one artistic piece on every level – the music, the lyrics, the illustrations, so you have something that’s a great package.
Blistering.com: I think the whole concept and packaging behind The Giantmoves you away from the funeral doom genre. Don’t you think?
Hector: The problem is no one is “true.” I listen to 70’s stuff; I even listen to 20’s stuff and classic death metal and black metal. No one is like that true. It’s okay for me if some genre purists are like “You’re not funeral doom!” We had that discussion since the first demo. The nice description was like, “It’s tempting to call Ahab a riffing funeral doom band.” I mean, of course, we’re not pure funeral doom at all. We’re not at all funeral anymore. For me, funeral doom was more of the vibe…something like a trance. I listen to Skepticism or Shape or Despair, it’s different.