At first listen, The Boats of the Glen Carrig appears to be the first Ahab album that doesn’t see the German doomsters taking a substantial step forward in their evolution as musicians. After essentially mastering funeral doom with their now-classic debut The Call of the Wretched Sea, the band reigned in the oppression ever-so-slightly with The Divinity of Oceans, adding to the epic, adrift-on-the-ocean qualities. With 2012’s The Giant, nearly all traces of funeral doom had disappeared; the great beast from the deep had long swallowed the ship, and what was left was barren sorrow and gorgeous melancholy.
So to some, the fact that The Boats of the Glen Carrig first seems like merely a merging of Divinity and The Giant might be construed as a bit of a disappointment. There is a return of some (SOME) of the former’s funereal tones, and it is overall heavier than The Giant, but that album’s drifting nature and focus on the softer moments remain. Glen Carrig, then, initially feels like the first predictable Ahab album, which is perfectly fine in and of itself, particularly if you were harpooned by any of their earlier works.
But after a few spins, Glen Carrig’s unique aspects begin to come through, as does the nuance of the songwriting and Ahab’s unstoppable talent in the doom/death hooks department. The hints of stoner and sludge riffage heard on The Giant are just as prevalent here, but only as elements of Ahab’s greater sound. More than anything, the band’s has further indulged their affinity for YOB. For example, the opening minutes of “The Weedmen” have that unrelentingly heavy “The Mental Tyrant” thing going on, but Daniel Droste’s deep death growls and the band’s lonely, howling lead lines bring it back to funeral depths. Passages featuring singing and the half wailed/half screamed vocals then emphasize the epic scope of the song. (Droste truly deserves credit for his work as a vocalist. Even if much of his singing work feels untrained, it is ideal for the band’s vibe. And his death growls… damn.)
Elsewhere, the band intimidates like Esoteric, mourns like My Dying Bride, hooks like Swallow the Sun, and even has some fun with classic metal tools (trills in “To Mourn Job”). The album is equal parts beautiful, relaxing, malevolent, and monumentally heavy, while Ahab’s somewhat unorthodox approach to dynamics is also in full force. As heard in opener “The Isle,” the addition of heft does not necessarily mean an increase in intensity. To the contrary, a palpable sense of tension is often sustained over several passages of varying volumes. In all aspects, Ahab employs influences and tools to maximum effect, but it is to their credit that they can do so obviously while still presenting one of the more unique sounds in doom.
The album’s greatest surprise is “Like Red Foam (The Great Storm),” the single and obvious linchpin. It is the catchiest, rockinest, and shortest song of the band’s career at a mere 6:25 (ignoring an interlude on the debut), and one of the most irresistible slabs of metal in 2015. Much of the song sounds like the result of a hypothetical Ahab/Mike Scheidt collaboration (when the latter is in groove mode), while the bridge feels like Wretched Sea melodies being forcefully sped up and back to life. While it would be a tad disappointing if Ahab ever fully abandoned the lurching melodies and long songs, this one shows that they can do plenty fine when working in (relative) brevity.
Still, let’s hope that doesn’t happen, because more so than most bands that claim the “doom” label, Ahab truly integrates that concept into their sound. It could be impending and inevitable (their early funeral work), or a sense of mourning (The Giant), but that idea of doom is omnipresent. The Boats of the Glen Carrig, more than any other Ahab album, presents all sides of this concept. Does this make it their best album? No, but Ahab is not really a band with a best album, seeing as all four are of high and unique quality. It merely reemphasizes their place among the elite of the current scene, making it essential listening for fans that want their doom to be far more than just “slow heavy metal.” In that regard, Ahab are modern masters.