Funeral doom is about as niche a market as you’ll ever find anywhere. It’s slow as hell, heavy as fuck and requires more concentration than a quantum psychics exam given at a strip club. Not everybody can sit there and pay attention, and fewer still will find it rewarding to do so, even if they’re able. While AMG and other attention challenged folks run for cover at the mere mention of funeral doom, Steel Druhm will hold fast and endure the drone, for the good of all you loyal readers. Ahab is at the tip of the spear of the funeral doom movement, and The Giant is their third foray into their unique, nautical-themed whale tales. While their core sound remains one of glacial doom/death, not too far from Loss or Swallow the Sun, they’re trying new things and introducing some new influences this time out. There’s a slightly more progressive sound and a bit more post-rock vibe to their lengthy compositions, and there’s a little less emphasis on the extreme end of their sound. Shockingly, things are even a wee bit faster and not as monstrously plodding. Fear not though; the riffs are still huge and the pace is no quicker than a woozy snail. In case your cockles aren’t fully warmed yet, this thing is conceptually based on Edgar Allan Poe’s only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gorden Pym of Nantucket. I’m sure that little factoid got you fully onboard, right?
“Further South” opens things with calm and sedate strumming and a playing style that hints at soft jazz. Its thoughtful and tranquil, almost ambient. Forlorn vocals quickly give way to a veritable tsunami of death roars and doom riffs and from there, it’s a twisting Nantucket sleigh ride as the two styles fight for dominance. In the process, there’s a whole lot of cool moments and things never get bogged down in too much drone. “Aeons Elapse” is also very strong and showcases some great, rough bellows from Daniel Droste. He sounds like a more serious version of Monty Python’s Gumby character. The riffs are simple but ponderous, and the song gives you the sensation of having an SUV parked on your chest (the riff at 9:50 stuck with me long after the song ended).
Both “Deliverance” and “Fathoms Deep Blue” have effective doom riffing and enough shifts in dynamics to keep things moving and interesting, regardless of the crawling pace. The title track is more up tempo, with a somewhat direct doom metal approach, not far from bands like Pallbearer or Pilgrim. The clean vocals are particularly resonant here. Only “Antarctica the Polymorphess” misses the mark by dragging along with overextended periods of ambient drone, with little of interest going on (though there’s some decent doom riffage scattered about and quality clean singing).
Regardless of the merits of the individual tracks, The Giant is one of those albums clearly intended to be experienced as whole, and its structured as a type of sonic voyage. When one experiences it that way, it ends up greater than the sum of its parts. Taken separately, they tend to lose their charm and hypnotic power. I doubt most listeners will have the patience to sit through the entire thing, but I highly recommend they try.
Daniel Droste’s vocals really shines here and his delivery takes the material from good to very good. Though he relies on the death vocals less, he’s really developed as a singer, and his ability to channel so much emotion makes up for the death reduction. Chris Hector’s riffs are mostly simple, but a lot of them work quite well. His minimalist solos have a haunting quality and his softer playing is hypnotic and trance-inducing. That said, I think he had better collections of riffs on prior albums.
While I like the overall sound of the album, the guitar tone is a bit weak for a band so reliant on the power of their riffs. Even when the big doom riffs come in, the guitar isn’t quite as huge sounding as it should be. On the plus side of the ledger, the drums have a warm, organic sound.
I prefer their previous albums to this one, but Ahab has kept the quality going strong and crafted another larger-than-life slab of waterlogged doom. If you like music that moves slower than a government worker, Ahab has a cruise package they want to sell you. It’s a whale of an album, and if I had a pet whale, I’d name him Blowhole.