Interview: AHAB

Composing these nautical novels we’re working with is always a challenge. Every song is a little story itself and a piece of the whole puzzle as well.

AHAB, the finest purveyors of nautical themed funeral doom, have returned with a masterpiece of a new album in The Coral Tombs. The record is inspired by the classic 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and the the songs on it are as vast as the watery depths that the novel depicts. Gavin Brown caught up with Daniel Droste who as well as being AHAB vocalist/guitarist also handles keyboards as well and he talks us through The Coral Tombs and all things AHAB related.

E&D: How did the recording and creation of your new album The Coral Tombs go and was it a smooth process this time around?

Daniel: Although we had a quite big gap with no release this time for eight years, the composing process of the songs didn’t take longer than on our previous records. Forced by the pandemic to change our way of working this time, we weren’t able to meet as a four piece when the first songs were composed. We usually arrange most songs together in the rehearsal room, based on riffs that were composed at home. When we finally decided to use Jules Vernes novel as a template, Stephan and I met at my place to arrange some ideas I’ve recorded as well as to compose new stuff. After two evening sessions we arranged the structures for the first three songs of The Coral Tombs, these sessions were the initial spark that led the way to the rest of the record. We were very satisfied with the sound of our last two albums so there was no doubt that we had to cooperate with Jens Siefert in Rama Studios Mannheim again. We know each other since many years now, having this experience is a very good basis to adapt our visions we had about the sound for The Coral Tombs. Almost all of us have families now, and with regular jobs beside the band the possibility to separate the recordings to several weekends was a great option. The recording process lasted longer than usual of course this time, but with kids at school and the band a good time management absolutely essential.

E&D: Do you feel that the use of melody alongside the heaviness is a lot more prevalent on the new album? 

Daniel: We never planned specific changes in our music or thought about adding new elements in advance, all that happens during the songwriting process. We’re always focused on composing Chris’ lyrics which correspond to specific chapters or characters of a novel. I always try to include opposing elements in the stuff I write for AHAB, such as heavy riffs as well as melodic aspects. Due to the fact that the creation of an album always happens song after song,  the whole “picture” of an album doesn’t unfold before all songs are properly recorded. It’s always a little surprise for me as well to hear the full album in its final sound as a whole.

E&D: Do you also feel that this is the most emotional album that AHAB have ever done in terms of the range of emotions that it covers? 

Daniel: Although our new record is the most diverse record we’ve released so far, I’d say that its dynamic is quite comparable to its predecessor. There are more clean vocals on The Coral Tombs which leave more room for interpretation. So I guess that it may be easier for listeners to identify with the specific moods of the songs and retracing the combination of lyrics and music by that… so I would agree on that, yes.

E&D: The Coral Tombs is such an epic album in its execution especially on songs like ‘Mobilis in Mobili’ and ‘The Maelstrom’, is it exciting for you crafting songs in such an epic way? 

Daniel: Composing these nautical novels we’re working with is always a challenge. Every song is a little story itself and a piece of the whole puzzle as well. We do have quite long songs, the shortest one is still over six minutes I guess. We never had to “force” us to stretch the length of a composition needlessly… and in the end it is not important if a song is 6 min or even twice that long. The story has to be told musically, and ends when it feels like all is said… and if we were able to to take the listener on a little journey beyond just listening to the songs, we’ve done everything right.

E&D: The album is inspired by the classic Jules Verne novel 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Have you always wanted to do an album based on this and has it always been an influence on AHAB? 

Daniel: I wouldn’t say that the story itself had an influence on our previous works with AHAB, but I loved this old Disney Movie of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea since I first watched it in my childhood. I guess that this story of Jules Vernes was my first contact with fantasy/fiction in general, so it definitely had an impact on my interest in that genre. We actually already discussed using “20000 Leagues…” as template for one of our records some years ago. I only knew the movie back then, which was obviously made for a younger audience, so I couldn’t imagine that this would be a fitting template for our sound. Although our music shaped by  the novel we’re composing, there also has to be a basis in that template for heavy riffs and grunts, and the movie on its own just didn’t seem to deliver that. When Chris finally read the novel, he finally recognised its full potential, with the novel delivering a sublevel by a closer look on the mysterious captain Nemo and its aversion to the world above.

E&D: Was it a fun task writing the songs based on the novel and researching the stories from it in which to add to the tracks?  

Daniel: Chris is responsible for the lyrics in AHAB, so I can’t answer if the research was fun for him or not, but it was definitely fun for me to compose his lyrics. Although I never delivered him vocal lines as guidance for the lyrics he writes, we always managed to transform them into music included in the song structures. It’s not common that vocalists don’t write their own lyrics (pop music exempted), but he’s not a singer and I’m not a writer so we learned to get used working that way over the years. Lyrics always leave room for interpretation, so although I am not the creator of the words I sing, I‘m able to relate on things that lurk beneath the lines nevertheless.

E&D: Do you feel that The Coral Tombs could act as a soundtrack to the book and was that always your intention with it? 

Daniel: Well I’d say that all our records could be seen as soundtrack to the stories we’ve composed. Jules Vernes’ 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is the first story we’re composing that has a movie adaption that really fascinated me when I first saw it as a teenager. An element I wanted to include on our new record is a repeating “main theme”. I’m a big Steven Wilson fan and loved how he realised using that stylistic device on HAND.CANNOT.ERASE. Repeating main themes are often used in movie soundtracks, so using this additional and very familiar trademark, The Coral Tombs is the album that is closest to a movie soundtrack we’ve composed so far I’d say.


E&D: Are there other works of literature that you would want to cover in the future? 

Daniel: Although I won’t go in detail at such an early point, I can tell you that there is one famous story on the horizon we discussed composing on an AHAB album. I just didn’t feel right to start that project as our fifth release, but I’m quite sure that we’re going to use this template for a forthcoming project for sure

E&D: As well as Jules Verne and Herman Melville which other authors and works of literature are a big influence on the music of AHAB?

Daniel: Every AHAB album was based on a specific nautical novel. I’d always describe the sound of an AHAB album as the combination of our musical basis, shaped by the story we’re composing and personal influences or lets say our musical faves at that time. There’s no specific novel or movie that could be seen as creative initial spark for that basis. For me its like a combination of many different impressions I got from literature, movies and personal experiences or memories. I neither fought a whale nor I was diving in a submarine of course, but me and my family passed several holidays at the Baltic sea during my childhood. These memories ,beeing at the ocean had a big impact on me and whenever I return to the coast I immediately get triggered by its sound and smell again.

E&D: Chris Noir of Ultha and Greg Chandler of Esoteric both feature on the album. Can you tell us about their contributions on the album and how they came about? 

Daniel: For ‘Professor Arronax’ we were searching for a vocal contrast to my voice. The arrangement of the lyrics was just perfect to split theses first lines for two vocalists, and the fast riff with the blast beats was also perfect for a black metal voice. Chris and I sat in my kitchen and listened to different vocalists and finally I showed him an Ultha song. We both agreed that Chris Noir would be a great option. We didn’t know him personally so we just wrote a mail to ask if he’d be interested in participating on our new record, and luckily he agreed. Greg Chandler is a friend of ours since we’ve been on tour together in 2012. Chris and I were fans of his band Esoteric even before AHAB existed. Greg’s vocal part is closing The Coral Tombs in a part dealing with drowning in a maelstrom. His vocals combined with all this sick effects he’s using on that part, that’s a perfect match. I remember when I first heard the final version of that song in my car on my way to work. I had goosebumps all over and a big smile in my face at the same time. His band was a huge inspiration for us and one of the reasons we decided to found a doom metal band. It’s a real honour to have this guy on our record!

E&D: Who would you love to feature on an AHAB album in the future? 

Daniel: Well there are quite  few that I’d immediately invite for a collaboration if I could choose. As one of doom metal’s most iconic voices Patrick Walker would be a quite obvious choice. When it comes to epic metal vocals Simen Hestnaes would be my first choice… and as a big Porcupine Tree fan my choice for a melancholic clean part would be Steven Wilson.

E&D: Can you tell us about the stunning video you have done for the track ‘Colossus Of The Liquid Graves’? 

Daniel: Our main video clip for ‘Colossus Of The Liquid Graves’ is a stop motion video produced by the wonderful talented people working at Inspira. We all agreed that we’d never have one of those videos where you just see the band performing in a special location, that’s not very interesting. We always dreamed of a stop motion video instead, but those animations are quite expensive, and always were unaffordable, especially for us as a band with very long songs. For our new record we had a budget and were finally able to realise our vision.Writing a storyboard was something we’ve never done before, and it was amazing to see our ideas growing step by step and finally resulting in this special and beautiful 6min clip.We’re all very proud on the result and it was definitely worth every cent we’ve spent!

E&D: It has been 8 years since your last album The Boats Of The Glen Carig. Did you want to take your time with this follow up album? 

Daniel: It was definitely not our plan to have such a long gap this time. Until the release of our fourth album we somehow managed to release an album in a 3 year cycle, which wasn’t planned either. Almost everyone in the band got kids during the last years, beginnig with the birth of my daughter in 2016, so all of us had their hiatus from AHAB to concentrate on the new family situation. We never got any pressure from our label. They asked if we’re going to book a studio from time to time but never pressed us to release anything.The interest in AHAB didn’t decrease during these years, we got more offers to play live than we could accept… and with two good friends  helping us out as session musicians if necessary, it was possible for us to concentrate on playing live even when some of us weren’t available. When all four of us met it was mainly for rehearsing the live set. We also jammed together from time to time, but that initial spark that enlightens the path to a new record just didn’t happen. We recorded several demo versions of ideas we had, but the musical central theme was missing somehow. In retrospective i’d say that we just weren’t ready back then, that creative workflow didn’t happen. After we’ve passed that first step we’re usually quite fast with composing, but that’s something you can’t force so we just had to wait till the right time has come.

E&D: Does The Coral Tombs signal a new beginning for AHAB in terms of the vision for your music?

Daniel: Well that’s hard to say at such an early stage. New ideas may open doors leading to new paths, but I’m not able to foresee how big the impact of The Coral Tombs will be for forthcoming releases. I’d propose we’ll discuss that again after our next release… with a retrospective view. I’m quite sure that I’m going to adapt parts of the composing process, like recording vocal demos for the clean parts in advance. That’s actually something I’ve never done before for previous releases, as I composed most of my vocal lines quite spontaneously in the studio. It always felt for me like I needed that perfect studio sound for a constructive work flow, and after so many years I finally learned that being locked in our rehearsal room for some hours can lead to very promising results as well. 

E&D: The music of AHAB is styled as nautic funeral doom. Do you feel that this has always perfectly describes your music?

Daniel: It was our aim to compose Melville’s Moby Dick with funeral doom elements when we recorded The Call Of The Wretched Sea back then. We never used the term ”funeral doom” again to describe our sound on following releases, but still were labeled as funeral doom band by the media, even terms like whalecore or progressive doom were used to describe our sound. That lead to the idea to open our own subgenre by terming our music as ”nautic funeral doom”. We’re a doom band writing songs about nautical novels, so if I would be asked what music I play I’d probably say “nautic doom” nowadays.

E&D: What have been some of the recent highlights for AHAB? 

Daniel: Recording a new album after so many years was last years highlight for me. I’m always questioning the quality of our song material before we enter a studio. My doubts are blown away as soon as we start with guitar recordings, but being unsure if we’re able to hold the standard of former records is something I always have to struggle with in advance of a recording session. I’m very happy that we were once again able to release an album that satisfied all four of us, and that’s not only the first but the most important aim we had. We also played some nice festival shows last year, especially the weekend when we played Void Fest and Brutal Assault was really cool. These were the first two shows ever we played with two session musicians onboard. Nevertheless both shows were great, and playing these very different festivals in a row, with Brutal Assault being a big metal festival and Void Fest as a very beautiful DIY festival was a very nice contrast. I’ve never been to Void fest before, but it was a great experience to play for an audience that was unbelievably open minded. There were bands of many different genres on the billing like, death- doom- and black metal, such as post punk and indie rock. Every band was welcomed and it seemed that the whole festival was looking forward to every single show, and I’m sure that i’ll return to Void fest as guest at one of the forthcoming editions.

E&D: How did your recent live shows in Berlin and Hamburg go and what were some of the highlights of the show? 

Daniel: Playing the MS Stubnitz in Hamburg was a great experience, and definitely one of the most special locations I ever played. Everything about it was special to be honest, even the load out. We were very lucky having an almost perfect water level for laying a plank from the bank to the ship, otherwise the load out would have been a horrible major effort to be honest. Stage and venue inside its steel stomach heavily reminded me on the set of Mad Max, but also seemed to be a perfect location for an AHAB show. The gig we played in Berlin was a sold out show. Although its location wasn’t nearly as special as the location in Hamburg, there was a lot of energy going on between band and crowd during our set. This was a very intense show, with an almost perfect sound on stage and by that I really enjoyed playing our set this evening.

E&D: How did your album release show in Braunschweig go and did you play the album in full?

Daniel: Playing in a church with AHAB was something I always dreamed of, so I was really looking forward to that show that already lies behind us while we’re doing this interview. We played a very long set, including four new songs of The Coral Tombs, with Ultha’s Chris Noir joining us for his vocal part on ‘Prof. Arronax’ Descent Into The Vast Oceans’. We also invited Ernie Fleetenkieker, a wellknown German YouTuber reading passages from the novels we’ve composed between the songs. Not only the beauty of the church itself  but also the feeling playing in a location with such a vast natural reverb made this sold out show a very special evening for everyone involved and participating in this special and successful event.

E&D: Is it a difficult task picking a setlist that encompasses all eras of AHAB and your music? 

Daniel: We always try to play at least one song of each album during a live set. If I go to a show of a band I like, I’d expect to hear songs of different eras as well. Our songs are quite long, so it’s always a challenge to realise that, especially on a festival slot where it’s common to play a show of 45min, but with a discography of four albums we always managed that so far. With our new album we have five albums now, so I have to admit that we’ll have to make compromises at forthcoming gigs for sure.

E&D: What are AHAB’s live plans for the rest 2023 and will you be making it back over to the UK, it’s been a long time since you were last here! 

Daniel: Besides some club shows in Germany we’ll be on the road for festival shows in Germany, Italy, Austria as well as Damnation Fest in the UK. We still have few available dates left, so it’s quite possible that we’ll publish additional shows in the next weeks.

E&D: Talking of Damnation, how was the experience of playing that last UK show at the festival in Leeds back in 2014?

Daniel: Playing at Damnation was awesome. Great organisation, excellent line up and although we haven’t played that many shows in England before, we had very warm welcome by the people attending our show. Unfortunately I missed Latitudes’ gig back then, and running into a drunken Irish guy that I could barely understand was a very special experience as well… but we’re really looking forward to return to Damnation Fest this year joining an excellent line up once more.

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