Ahab unleash the doom in London

Support: Esoteric, Darkher

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This is only Darkher’s third ever gig – the first two being last year’s Roadburn to a packed room and a warm-up show – but such is their immersive nature that they don’t just already sound fully formed, but that it’s been lingering around the edges of your consciousness since time immemorial. Folk-based but unmoored enough that it taps into a continuity at once deeply nostalgic and strangely familiar, these brooding mantras hook in the early comers like sirens singing from the rocks, the eponymous frontwoman’s commanding presence part wood-nymph, part high priestess, as guitarists take bows to their instruments and unwary metalheads stare agog.

Sonically, Esoteric might exist in a different universe, but it’s still a parallel one, their petrifyingly boundless reinvention of funeral doom both an annihilation of all internal co-ordinates and a journey into uncharted if still psychologically resonant space. Unfurling, for the most part, at a pace that would have Cthulhu glancing at his watch, tonight’s incarnation have brought in a noticeably progressive air.

Lead breaks gradually emerge through the cavernous miasma and songs even reach for crescendos that offer tantalising hints of deliverance, but even without obvious dynamics, there’s an engulfing beauty to Esoteric, still marked out by Greg Chandler’s thoroughly reverbed, echo-chamber vocals – a reverberating howl relayed, as ever through his radio mic, so that it sounds like it’s bounced back off a satellite at the far reaches of the universe, picking up all manner of cosmic radiation along the way. Esoteric reach beyond human despair into something far more terrifying, the bereft cry of a deity unable to undo his own, corrupted creation.

Equally stranded are Germany’s Ahab, a band whose stature in underground circles has packed out the Boston Music Rooms with reverent wayfarers, and whose nautical obsession is perfectly suited to the gods-abandoned worlds of funeral doom. Stately and soulful, but still plumbing unfathomable depths, not least to the vocals of Daniel Droste – a man who looks out across the room like a university professor stricken with prophetic powers he can’t quite comprehend – that segue between plaintive cries, fist-shaking defiance and deep, ocean bed-sifting growls. The resignation at the heart of these lengthy, evocatively attentive songs are just the starting point for set that shudders at the behest of imperviously colossal forces, drifts through moments of elaborate tranquility and offers last wills and testimonies with a sinking yet undefeatable heart.

All photos by Will Ireland

Having freelanced regularly for the Melody Maker and Kerrang!, and edited the extreme metal monthly, Terrorizer, for seven years, Jonathan is now the overseer of all the album and live reviews in Metal Hammer. Bemoans his obsolete superpower of being invisible to Routemaster bus conductors, finds men without sideburns slightly circumspect, and thinks songs that aren’t about Satan, swords or witches are a bit silly.