The Coral Tombs

rating icon 9 / 10

Track listing:

01. Prof. Arronax' Descent Into The Vast Oceans
02. Colossus Of The Liquid Graves
03. Mobilis In Mobili
04. The Sea As A Desert
05. A Coral Tomb
06. Ægri Somnia
07. The Maelstrom

After creating extraordinary funeral doom concept albums based on sea-based writings by Herman Melville (debut "The Call of the Wretched Sea" and its follow-up "The Divinity of Oceans),  Edgar Allen Poe ("The Giant") and William Hope Hodgson (2015's "The Boats of 'Glen Carrig'"),  it was probably inevitable that AHAB would turn to Jules Verne's "20000 Leagues Under The Sea": a book that, whether you've read it or not, is almost certain to conjure mental images of murderous giant squid and unstoppable whirlpools. We all know how this aquatic tale ends, and AHAB have turned that sense of mounting dread into a slow-motion nightmare that plumbs new depths of heaviness and horror. More than on any previous album, "The Coral Tombs" ebbs, flows, shifts and spreads with the full might of the ever-moving oceans. AHAB have become one with the water.

Almost comically slow and heavy at times, these songs are the strangest and most powerful that the Germans have ever recorded. Aside from having the best title for a single ever conceived, "Prof. Arronax' Descent Into The Vast Oceans" is a genuinely startling entry point into this nautical reverie: kicking off with some atypical blasting and anguished screams from frontman Daniel Droste, it soon dissolves down to acoustic elegance, before erupting into the first overpowering wave of all-consuming doom. Droste's voice switches to an almost operatic croon, spelling out the lyrics' sparse poetry like a ghost narrator hidden in the ocean mist. Eerily serene melodies spiral out from the fog, as the song crawls towards a crestfallen fade; majestic, ineffable and profoundly heavy in every sense.

Relatively succinct by AHAB's usual standards, "Colossus Of The Liquid Graves" is the closest this album comes to a straightforward metal song, but still the watery mission creep of the overarching theme wrings fresh weirdness and weight from every riff. After that, "The Coral Tombs" truly flexes its seabound muscles, expanding out with psychedelic abandon through the pulverizing storms and shimmering oases of "Mobilis In Mobili", and the glacial sludge and post-rock atmospherics of "The Sea As A Desert". A tender but tense ten minutes, "A Coral Tomb" is almost 40 WATT SUN-like in its delicate, gliding gait, while the vast and imposing "Ægri Somnia" is an ever-evolving hymn to the deep that threatens to never end.

Closer "The Maelstrom" is simultaneously dreamlike and devastating, just as it should be. AHAB's muscular but intricate riffs disintegrate to a staggering descent, as the ocean that is the true star of the piece swirls and suffocates, consuming all. Captain Nemo never stood a chance.

A unique band at the peak of their powers, AHAB took their sweet time to deliver this, but now it becomes plain why. Some stories are just too big to be carelessly spewed out. "The Coral Tombs" is an album for the ages, and eminently worthy of your patience.

Author: Dom Lawson
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