The Stoner and Doom scene has never been bigger and more vibrant than it is right now. But a plethora of bands means it can be hard to stand out in the crowd. And this is the challenge faced by German doom/sludge quartet Obelyskkh. Continue reading
According to the works of renowned horror author Howard Phillips Lovecraft, The Great Old Ones are a pantheon of colossal, all-powerful gods who arrived on Earth from outer space. These ancient deities ruled our planet long before mankind but have since fallen into a state of deathlike slumber beneath the sea. Continue reading
We need to talk about Howard.
Along with Satan, murder and Vikings, the short fiction of HP Lovecraft is one of the most heavily used – and abused – thematic references in Metal, turning up in the albums of everyone from the kvltest of nocturnal grim panda-faces to Metallica. As you’d expect, Lovecraft’s vision has been treated with varying degrees of respect and authenticity, but Casablanca’s latest concept album takes reinterpreting his legacy to a whole new level of middle-fingers. The stars are right for the Great Old Ones to return (no surprise there) but they’ll meet resistance in the form of The Phantom, the pre-historic proto-human who created Miskatonic University and manifests in the form of a gold-skinned Rock Star Jesus to inspire mankind through songs about fast cars and girls.
The musical background to Casablanca’s gleefully irreverent tale is made of panoramic, hard-rocking Heavy Metal that brings to mind Virgin Steele’s Marriage Of Heaven & Hell mixed with a touch of Graves era Misfits and the kind of whimsical, small-town Americana more associated with early Bon Jovi or even the E Street Band. Not exactly an eldritch maelstrom of writhing tendrils, but it’s sharp and well honed, and the very act of putting lyrics at least ostensibly about HP Lovecraft over music like this seems genuinely iconoclastic. Which wouldn’t count for very much if the song-writing wasn’t there, but Casablanca pull off just the right balance of catchy choruses and driving riffs to make it work.
Perfection can only be obtained by the Old Ones themselves, of course, so a mere mortal Rock band are going to slip up every so often. Miskatonic Graffiti (Despotz) overstays its welcome on several tracks, often missing the opportunity to end the song on a high, and they never quite rock out quite as hard as they should, but on an album as distinctive and rich as this one they seem like minor flaws. Casablanca are very much following their own muse on Miskatonic Graffiti, and it takes them somewhere familiar, but not quite like anywhere their peers have ever gone.
German Doom-meisters Ahab, quite appropriately considering their chosen method of musical communication have, like the slow roiling tide, gradually and steadily progressed, increasing not just in terms of exposure but also musically, with each release improving their status (“It’s because we’ve been around 11 years, so people heard our name often enough to think “ah, they’re still around, now I’ll listen finally!””) and growing a stoic brand of progressive doom metal, all linked by the retelling of literary tales with marine and disturbing themes.
Having covered Edgar Allan Poe, and ridden the leviathan of Moby Dick on previous albums, this fourth time around matters took on a more obscure twist, as The Boats of Glen Carrig (Napalm) takes its tales from the William Hope Hodgson book of the same name. “I don’t know if he and HP Lovecraft were friends but they knew each other”, begins guitarist and lyricist Christian Hector, a quietly spoken man with a very likeable self-deprecating and calm manner.
“What I like about the book is there are some real strange creatures, slug-like man-eating monsters, and kraken type monsters. It is psychedelic, but on a different level, Hodgson wrote about social differences between the crew members, and how this was gone when they were in this special situation. I found this really interesting, especially because this also fits the time nowadays where, for some people, it’s more important who you are, what colour you are, and we dislike that, so it was a good point for us too.”
Asking for directions in a second language is difficult enough, though I’m sure I could find the beach in La Rochelle thanks to secondary school’s legendary Tricolor text books (all coming with standard dick and balls drawn on everyone’s foreheads), let alone retelling an epic, dark tale, a feat Hector has managed with some success. There is a pleasing Olde poetic feel to lyric, reminiscent of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. “There’s nothing more embarrassing than to write something poetic in a foreign language that sounds cheesy!” he laughs modestly. “My problem is not being a native speaker, so I never know if my lyrics are cheesy or if they are appropriate. I’ll take some expressions from the book to get the right vibe of it, and when I’m finished I send them to a native speaker to look over them.
“There were some changes, some weird expressions that were German, but normally I try to capture the vibe of the book, and the story of the book but also try to get something into it that are emotions I have in mind, or something that happened to me and was important to me, but in a way that it still fits the book so you don’t read something into it that isn’t there.”
If the concept is impressive, it’s swamped (pun intended) by the remorseless churning atmospheric riffs and doomy passages that show why Ahab are held as genre-leaders; at one point during ‘The Weedmen’ the song feels like it’s physically restraining an ancient giant moss-beast that wants to escape! “The Weedmen was actually a pain in the ass in the studio!” chuckles Hector, ruefully.
“Because Cornelius (Althammer – drums) and Stephen (Wandernoth – bass) played live together when we recorded, and they were so fucking laid back, and they play behind the click, you have to concentrate on what they’re doing, and this click is in your ear and you’re thinking “Ah, now they are coming!” and “Ah, I’m too late!”
“So this song is a pain in the ass to play that slow, cos if you miss a millisecond, you hear it in doom!”
Taking everything into consideration, with it’s atmospheric, doom metal combining seamlessly with a progressive lilt, is this the defining Ahab album?
“To some extent, yes. The Giant was, we feel a little over-produced, so we tried to have a bit more of an authentic harsh sound, mixed with warmer clean sounds. Some of the songs, too, have things that are new to us; it’s not prog rock, but there’s plenty of progressive music in there and ‘Red Foam’ is, for us, something different; a really fast song.
“The Giant shouldn’t sound like The Divinity of Ocea\yhhhns (both Napalm) and The Boats of Glen Carrig shouldn’t sound like The Giant, because they’re different books, a different feeling”, confirms the guitarist. “If you create these things, you should at least sound in your small universe a bit different. It’s not scientific, more like using what you’ve got in your feelings and the feelings from the book and trying to capture that.”
Adding to the development of the Ahab sound and the Glen Carrig atmosphere is a stand-out performance from vocalist Daniel Droste, whose turn is really impressive; varying sweet cleans, scary growls, atmospheric gravels, and some almost Norwegian, …In The Woods styled alternative cleans…
“We didn’t hear any of the vocals before recording, because like on The Giant Daniel did everything in the studio, so when it was finished we were really impressed. Now, he sounds quite different to the last albums, there’s a bit more 80’s in the clean vocals, and his shouting stuff is more like Gorefest style, which is great. I’m a bit of a vocal fetishist. If the vocals don’t work, I don’t like the whole album. He has a special voice for it. He really did something really good.
“This album probably sums up our whole career and these songs actually sound like they are the bridge between our first album and The Giant.”
Ahab in Europe 2015
Oct 29: Elfer Club – Frankfurt (DE)
Oct 31: Bambi Galore – Hamburg (DE)
Nov 6: Club Cann – Stuttgart (DE)
Nov 11: Schwimmbad Club- Heldelberg (DE)
Dec 12: Eindhoven Metal Meeting- Eindhoven (NL)