Ahab knot together tsunami-sized riffs and Kraken-strength percussion, and vocalist Daniel Droste roars fervently from the bow into the resulting tempest. The band's latest release is thematically similar to their previous albums—focusing on the monstrously finned and tentacled creatures that lurk beneath the waves—yet stylistically it finds Ahab navigating more temperate waters.
Opener "Further South" rolls atop a breezy post-rock current before the typhoon blasts of doom arrive, and the mammoth 12-minute-plus "Aeons Elapse" is cut with becalming, shimmering passages. Both songs feature Ahab’s most notable change—Droste’s increased use of a more desolate croon. Although his throat-cuttingly savage growls still abound, the cleaner vocals add more textural nuance, offering respite in the eye of the storm.
“Deliverance” and the beautifully evocative "Antarctica the Polymorphess" further illustrate the change in tack, with Ahab pacing their arsenal of riffs more carefully. The songs reveal a band more in tune with the potential power of their funereal harmonics. Balancing the squally mass of doom against jazzier, more melodically intricate passages—exhibited perfectly on the title track, Ahab have crafted their most accessible and resonant work yet.
The Giant is less heavy in overall terms than the band's previous albums; there's no doubt they’ve sacrificed some of their heft for subtlety. However, the mélange of differing shades and rhythms is ultimately the key to Ahab's own longevity. Anyone who felt the band had painted themselves into a corner by adhering to a rigid leitmotif, or stringent sonic parameters, will soon discover that Ahab's palette is anything but monochrome.
Yes, the band have broadened (and in parts softened) their approach, but it's best to keep that firmly in perspective. Ahab may have dropped a pound or two, but they are still contenders for the heavyweight title of funeral doom (something they share with Loss and Mournful Congregation). Even though the band has progressed musically, they haven’t lost an ounce of muscle. Proof of their continued potency can be found in the colossal dirge “Fathoms Deep Below,” where their patented whirlpools of totality are emphatically reaffirmed.
The riffs ooze with corpulence, the solos are set against thunderous backdrops, the songs are elongated to maximize their requiem-like atmospheres, and the portentous storm clouds gather readily upon the skyline. The Giant is momentous, monolithic doom, and the glimpses of sunlight Ahab do allow to shine through are eclipsed by the album's threatening penumbra.
Ahab are not the same band that battled tempestuous seas on their debut. However, venturing forth on a new bearing while still retaining that same boisterous heart makes The Giant a more scenic voyage than the preceding two. It’s a less turbulent and blustery expedition, undoubtedly, but no less epic or rewarding.
(Released June 5, 2012, on Napalm Records)