originally written by Jim Brandon
For as long as we’ve reached for them, the oceans of the world have proven to be a far superior adversary for mankind to try and conquer, and even now the fathoms claim abundant lives every year. The risk of being lost at sea is still relevant, and thus the subject matter of The Divinity Of Oceans from German doom upstarts Ahab still conveys a respectable amount of emotional power. This interpretation is not about the survivors clinging to The Raft of the Medusa as depicted on the cover, but instead imparts the ordeal of Capitan George Pollard Jr. and his struggles with his Essex whale ship being sunk in the Pacific Ocean in 1820 by a massive sperm whale. The remaining crew members tried to survive in three different smaller vessels, eventually being separated and forced to resort to cannibalism during their months-long ordeal, and those who were rescued were obviously forever traumatized beyond repair.
From a musical perspective, Ahab paints a vivid picture of this battle for life and limb with this admirable follow-up to 2006’s promising The Call Of The Wretched Sea, and they do so in a highly intelligent, and strangely beautiful way. This does not sound like the unbearably dark dirge of a memorial procession, nor does it collapse under its own weight due to ponderous structure, but instead heaves and recedes wildly much like those unpredictable waves, leaving the sky wide open in the process. While still monolithically slow and unhurried, it is apparent just how much care has gone into the vast assembly of this 67 minute journey, for it is a true collaboration that entwines music, packaging, and concept into a top-notch work of classy funeral doom.
You can sense the stomach-grinding mortification of “Gnawing Bones (Coffin’s Lot)”, as the lyrics tell more of internal mental conflicts instead of focusing solely on the grim physical acts. “The Divinity Of Oceans” is when the complete absence of brevity in the situation is confronted, and likewise “O Father Sea” captures the profound terror of nighttime adrift in the rolling sea, with majestic and rippling riffs rising and falling without pause, and a voice to match the sheer dread of the predicament. This album truly conveys in music all the tortured moments those survivors and victims encountered, and yet the waves never truly crash and drown those at their mercy. Even at its heaviest and most visceral, which is highlighted somewhere around 5:20 and briefly onward during the magnificently structured “Redemption Lost”, an adequate balance of solemn resolve appears in a limited amount to bring bitter peace to the song for a while, before Daniel Droste once again howls in hopeless sorrow to close the track in despondent fashion.
“Tombstone Carousal” starts out as far removed from peaceful as you can get, with earth-shaking riffs and deeply bellowed vocals rumbling through for a few healthy minutes before the sound of what must be delusion floats in accompanied by militaristic, far-away percussion in a sparse display of subtlety. By now, the sense that all hope is lost is in full effect. When “Nickerson’s Theme” finally arrives, it becomes clear that even after such a horrific test of will, the hearts of some of the survivors remain among the waves and vast depths. So sullen, and so beautifully orchestrated during the opening you could mistake it for Daylight Dies, when Ahab brings the doom out once more to close the album, you don’t get a sense of reckoning, no happy ending, but not necessarily a total feeling of defeat either. It’s a masterful tightrope Ahab walk, and they do so with no loose strings or clumsy attachments affixed.
While YOB may have unveiled the most caustic doom album of 2009, I’d strongly argue that Ahab have released possibly the most captivating one. It doesn’t leave you utterly spent and emptied, instead it lifts you up and situates you directly into the belly of the beast from the onset with the tumultuous “Yet Another Raft Of The Medusa (Pollard’s Weakness),” eventually bringing you back to safety so you can survey all that has transpired, and wonder how you made it through. This is such a commanding album that even through the most lumbering riffs, the most desolate of harmonies awash in nimbly understated bass playing, and softest vocals, you’re not allowed to drift on to other things. You’re stuck in those boats right along with the crew of the Essex, and The Divinity Of Oceans is a challenging, victorious affair for the members of Ahab, setting them well on course for that absolutely perfect funeral doom album in the next decade. We may have just witnessed the arrival of the new Kings, and they’ve only just begun to rule.