Ahab – Colossus Under the SeaTuesday, 10th January 2023
Ahab deliver a unique brand of funeral doom with nautical themes, delving deep into their favorite literature as inspiration that matches the intensity of their music. The Coral Tombs is the group’s fifth studio album – using Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as the novel framework for this seven -track, sixty-six minutes plus sledgehammer of a record. Expect more epic arrangements that enthrall the experience for the listener – making you feel the atmospheric touches like you are in the water taking the journey with the band. We reached out to drummer Cornelius Althammer to discuss more the work behind this latest record, how he handles the drumming challenges within the band, special guest choices, the long-term effects of the pandemic, plus evasive thoughts on future touring/anniversary plans.
Dead Rhetoric: The Coral Tombs is the fifth studio album for Ahab – inspired by the Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Take us through the development of the music and lyrical content for the record – did you work on one aspect first before the other, and where do you see this record sitting in the discography of the band compared to your previous work?
Cornelius Althammer: Okay! I’ll start with the musical development, and the development of the compositions. We decided finally to take 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as the lyrical groundwork. We decide it’s going to be this and nothing else, everyone is going to read the book. We tried to develop the music under the influence of the book. It’s like reading, talking about the passages, when I was reading this passage, I heard you like growling as if you were under the bottom of the sea. Maybe we can make a chapter of the record, it’s done like that. The first riffs come, we compose some songs, Christian is tying the lyrical content together. We grow this out, this chapter number to do this and that. This is how things grow and help each other in terms of growth.
It’s a mixture of continuing the Ahab sound, but we have some aspects on the record feeling-wise that we haven’t covered before. Musically we are a little bit more back to the roots. We have more death metal parts on this album, double bass and stuff. On the other hand, we have jazzier and more psychedelic playing than before. It’s in two directions at the same time. It’s darker, it’s deeper, dreamier. You probably should ask this question in five years again and I could tell you more.
Dead Rhetoric: Did the pandemic have a major impact as far as the sound or how much deeper you were able to dive into the music and lyrics compared to previous records?
Althammer: The pandemic was just a pain in the ass. The very first time since we came together, we didn’t see each other for one year. When we met the first time after the break it was fun to be in the rehearsal space. It stopped our work on the album. When we met again, the whole composing of the album happened in four sessions together, and countless sessions at home. It went pretty fast, so you can clearly see the pandemic was holding us back. If we could have met earlier, we would have done this in four sessions as well. We weren’t able to do Ahab for one year.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the special guest appearances with Chris Noir of Ultha and Greg Chandler from Esoteric come up for this record? Have you always respected their work in their main bands?
Althammer: Yes. In the first place Greg is a friend of ours, we had played together on tour with Esoteric ten years ago almost, back then. He is a very good friend, a doom legend. What he does with his voice, and production-wise he has great ideas for vocal effects, guitar effects, it was obvious that one day that Greg had to end up on a record for us. This was the time to have him on our new album. Chris of Ultha, it was Christian’s idea to have a high, shrieking voice at the intro for the first song. We went through who we are friends with, who is cool, and who do we like and has a great voice? Let’s ask Chris.
Dead Rhetoric: Sebastian Jerke handled the cover art once again – active in this regard for Ahab since the 2012 release The Giant. What do you enjoy most about his work for the band – and specifically what he was able to achieve for this cover art in particular?
Althammer: This is the plan behind things. We are very excited about Sebastian’s work. It turned out for us it’s very good to have a healthy surrounding of the band – working with people that you can rely on; they are true friends and good people. Sebastian is one of those people. It’s not a question that he draws for us. He gets better and better; you can see from the new artwork of his – it’s my favorite that he has done for the band. It’s just super amazing. It just gives you a good feeling when Sebastian delivers the artwork that you have always dared to dream of.
Dead Rhetoric: When do you think your early fascination with the ocean began – and how you’ve been able to incorporate this into the main topics for Ahab? Do you believe this has always allowed the band to be distinctive and unique with the brand of funeral doom metal you deliver?
Althammer: Hmm. It started with an initial idea. Back in the day when Daniel and Chris were playing in other bands, they both were joking around about founding a funeral doom band. They came up with ideas and came up with the super brilliant idea to make one project out of it. They have been friends since childhood. At the same time, it was clear for them that it had to be the Moby Dick, Ahab thing. This developed into being… nobody ever thought more than the very first demo. Then it turned out the demo and first album covered Moby Dick, so we have become a band. Next record, what are we going to do? We want to stay in the scene, we related to this maritime topic, it fit so well with the music. Everything we have to struggle now with finding the proper lyrical groundwork, due to this cool and unique idea to base everything upon the ocean.
Dead Rhetoric: And when it comes to your drumming, is it a challenge to be able to play at such a slow pace? A lot of people think playing death metal with blast beats is tough, but it has to be tough to play at these slower tempos?
Althammer: Yes, it is. The first place, the challenge is not to overplay things. You have to feel where the music wants you to just hammer. Or where the music gives you room with a fill when you want. This is the main challenge. And then the second challenge to stay in time and not to lose track (laughs). But playing blast beats and double bass fast is also a pain in the ass. I know both sides of the extreme tempo ranges.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the major differences between Ahab on record and Ahab when playing live? What have been some of your most memorable shows, tours, or festival appearances over your career?
Althammer: We have one beautiful thing that we have never done on record. We have in between the songs we have atmosphere stuff going on. This came from various reasons. Our breaks between the songs live were too long. Out singer and guitar player Daniel, he has very thick glasses – he has to drink water, tune the guitar, keep his face dry so he can see. It took us more than a minute between the songs each time, so no, we can not keep this doom atmosphere and keep the people with us with these stupid breaks. I started to compose the atmospheric tracks, and you can only experience this live at our shows. I hope there are not many differences between the studio and live – we are not a jam band; it wouldn’t work to improvise on stage. I rarely play the same drum fill twice; nobody cares about that though. You should ask the fans more what they think the biggest differences between us on record versus live. I hope it’s not the timing! (laughs).
The second show with our current bass player Stephan was in Calgary, Canada. We were an underground doom band, and this whole trip was super awesome. Being treated like rock stars, the show itself, and getting kicked out of the hotel. It was not our fault- there was a huge party, and somebody called the cops. Our great tours with Esoteric, and some years later with Mammoth Storm from Sweden. Probably the best times in my life that I’ve ever had.
Dead Rhetoric: Being a part of the Napalm Records roster your entire career, how would you assess their development with Ahab in positioning the band in the best way possible to get your music across to the best audience on a global scale?
Althammer: It’s hard to say. In the first place, they are doing great work. As you can see, they are promoting our album, you have it, and you can buy it. Their development as a label is interesting. When we joined the label, by that time I looked through the roster I didn’t like any band on the label. Nowadays they have some really cool bands. The development of the label pleases my personal preferences when it comes to music. We recently had a change with a new A+R person, and that’s for the better. I have no complaints.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see humanity shifting in terms of their emotional/mental well-being considering the prolonged pandemic that shook the world to its core over the past few years?
Althammer: (laughs). I think this will turn out better to know over the next five, six, or seven years, I fear. We don’t want to see what is coming. The long-term effects, especially on children and young adults, imagine you turn eighteen and the day after eighteen the pandemic starts. I have heard of a lot of suicides among teenagers and young adults because of this. We will see. I don’t think we can say anything right now. We might sense something coming, but it’s something pretty wicked that will come this way, I guess. We will get in trouble I fear during the next years. Let’s repeat this talk in five years.
Dead Rhetoric: What would surprise people to learn about the members of Ahab away from your musical endeavors as far as hobbies, interests, and passions you may have – either individually or share as a collective?
Althammer: Hmm. Surprise? For me it’s hard to say, I really don’t care about anything else other than playing music. When I am not playing the drums or writing songs, I am reassembling cables or ordering new microphone stands because the old ones suck. I go to concerts. From the other perspective, my work I am doing for a living has to be adjusted after my bands (laughs). They always come second after the bands. I don’t feel like anything is suffering from the time I spend around the bands.
Dead Rhetoric: What is your favorite concert you’ve attended?
Althammer: At the age of sixteen, Bruce Dickinson returned to Iron Maiden – and they played the Live After Death album material, in 1998. It was the coolest thing I have ever witnessed. Or the Meshuggah show at this year’s Summer Breeze festival. Totally nuts. I was still screaming one hour after the show. I could not believe what I witnessed; it was hard to believe.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for Ahab over the next twelve months to support this record? Will there be any special anniversary shows in the pipeline to celebrate twenty years together as a group?
Althammer: (laughs). Yeah, probably not the shows. I’m not so very sure how serious my bandmates are about stuff that sounds very good. We had talked about this on a day before the show, sitting on the balcony as we have a few drinks. There are very cool ideas in the room what to do with our anniversary. I won’t name anything, because I don’t know how serious the guys were with this. I am never joking with proposals. Probably something very cool will happen. I hope we will manage to do something for our anniversary. It would be lame not to do something.
There are very cool plans for 2023 and even cooler plans for 2024. I don’t know which ones I can talk about, so I’d rather keep my mouth shut because I don’t want to disappoint people. It will be on our website, and you will be confronted with it if you are looking for it.