Interview: Cornelius Althammer of Ahab.
Interviewed by Paul Hutchings
Formed in 2004, German Funeral Doom outfit Ahab have been leaders in their field from the early days with their first release, The Call of the Wretched Sea starting the ball rolling. The band was formed by guitarist, vocalist and keyboardist Daniel Drostre and guitarist Christian Hector with drummer Cornelius Althammer joining soon afterwards. The line-up is completed by bassist Stephan Wandernorth. The band has recently released their first live album, Live Prey, which was recorded at the Death Row Festival in Jena, Germany in 2017. Paul braved the choppy seas of the Skype oceans to speak with Cornelius.
The Razor's Edge: Hi Cornelius and welcome to The Razor’s Edge. How are you and how are things with you in Germany now?
Cornelius: For me, everything is okay, and I’ve managed to make enough money not to starve or get thrown out of the flat haha! I have had more time to practice the drums than ever before in my life and I’m practising four or five times a week for three to four hours so that is like being in heaven! But I don’t know how things are in Germany. We are loosening stuff and we can just hope it isn't hitting us with a second and bigger wave. We didn’t have any infections in Jena where I live for two weeks but we have had two new cases recently.
The Razor's Edge: You are in several bands (including Raptvre, Dead Eye Sleeper and Ekranoplan). Has lockdown been busy for you with social media and keeping streams going?
Cornelius: Yes, the funny thing is that I recently made my very first drum playing video two weeks ago and that is on-line for a band called Raptvre which is on YouTube and that is a first as most of the other bands I am in don’t do that kind of thing. The camera was mounted next to the drums and I just pushed record and away we went.
The Razor's Edge: What about the other bands that you are in? I know you have new music out with Ekranoplan.
Cornelius: Yes, we did a split with very good friends of ours called Blacksmoker from Bavaria. It’s funny because it was a split as I split! I decided to leave so that I didn’t ruin the friendship with two of the band members. And there is another band which is still a project as we haven’t played a single show yet with some friends in Sweden called Svärd which is obviously Sword and there is my long time band Dead Eye Sleeper that play death metal and this is why I am practising drums so much as we are writing new stuff which requires faster double bass! And there is also the band Fister Mister from Jena and we play dirty rock n’ roll, obviously!
The Razor's Edge: You play a range of styles, the slow, funeral doom of AHAB and the explosive death metal with your other bands. How did you get into drumming?
Cornelius: I have always been a drummer. I started late, when I was 16 and my first instrument was the violin and cello, but I always wanted to play drums. I got totally infected when I was nine years old when my cousin showed me Appetite for Destruction and I could not believe what that was. I grew up in a classical household and the heaviest thing my parents played was The Beatles so that was the first time when I fell in love with the style of music. I don’t know why it was the drums, just instinct!
The Razor's Edge: Who are the drummers who have influenced you?
Cornelius: There are many. My biggest love is Nicko McBrain of Iron Maiden. My number 1 band. Then you have down to earth classical rock drummers, Phil Rudd and John Bonham, Bill Ward for sure, these rock drummer that come from fusion jazz. The inventors of swinging rock styles. Then when it comes to really heavy stuff there are the master blasters like Derek Roddy [Hate Eternal, Nile], he is astonishing because he is so brutal and musical. Who doesn’t love Tomas Haake from Meshuggah, he is probably the best drummer around and then for taste and technique Gavin Harrison [Porcupine Tree, The Pineapple Thief]
The Razor's Edge: Were you a session drummer when you played for AHAB in 2006 ‘The Call of The Wretched Sea’?
Cornelius: Ha! Everything is a little shady about that. Ahab was never planned as a band and I was named as the session drummer. I’m not even sure how I ended up drumming on the album as initially they had programmed the drums. And then I recorded the drums overnight and Daniel and I went to a party and told Christian and he was pissed about it … and still is to the present day. He was so annoyed about it, so much so he left the party. Then we got offers for gigs and then we were like, wow! People are interested so Daniel and Christian decided to make me a full-time member in either 2006 or 2007.
The Razor's Edge: The band’s themes are based on the ocean, Herman Melville’s book and your last album, The Boats of Glen Carrig was a concept based on William Hope Hodgson’s novel. Is this affinity with the sea shared through the whole band?
Cornelius: I guess we all are. Everybody in his own way. For me, I am a very bad swimmer. I am glad my wife is a trained swimmer to help me. But there has always been a huge fascination about what lives down there, all these creatures that barely seem to be real, they are more like things from a novel. This is unbelievable and extremely fascinating, and I can say I am obsessed with this theme. I would never step away from that!
The Razor's Edge: Well, there is plenty of material to explore before you run out.
Cornelius: Ah, well, I may well give you a call in a few years in desperate need for some ideas!
The Razor's Edge: Ahab’s songs are long, and complex. Your role is central to the timing of the band. Have you ever lost concentration when playing live?
Cornelius: Yes, once. Doom over London . I hadn’t slept for 48 hours and in the last song I totally lost it and just got slower and slower trying to end the song! It was the only time that I can remember that I lost it.
The Razor's Edge: Live Prey has just been released and it is a very enjoyable listen. You’ve picked five tracks recorded The Razor’s Edge: at the Death Row festival in Germany three years ago. Why this recording?
Cornelius: It was picked incidentally. I was not satisfied with the drums on The Call of the Wretched Sea but you don’t rerecord albums; all the bands that have done this, I can’t give you one example where it’s gone right. So, we played this show in Jena and at the end the sound engineer said, dude, by the way, I recorded the show. So, I asked him for the USB of it and it took ages. Then there was only one stereo file so no kick drum, no tom, no snare. So eventually I got the full sound and I was astonished by it and I was gnawing on my fingers as I was hoping no one would make a mistake as it sounded great. So, I thought maybe we could do something with it, so I started preparing stuff and presented the idea to my band mates and I said what about releasing it. And we have been busy with other things so I said, it would be a nice gesture for the label to release it! So, it was totally coincidental.
The Razor's Edge: And what was the decision about releasing the album? Had it always been planned for now?
Cornelius: Yes, we had planned for it to come out now. I was working on it for a long time. A friend of mine wanted to release it on tape and he did and then we presented it to Napalm and we were thinking of releasing it as a bootleg. Napalm heard it and said, okay, release it as a tape but we must have a LP as well. We were planning to schedule the release here [now] and saying, yes, that fits pretty well, and then the pandemic came. So, it’s pure coincidence.
The Razor's Edge: Your Facebook page seems to show that the fans are loving the album. Are you pleased with the response?
Cornelius: Absolutely. This is something a little creepy when you release stuff. You are always wondering about the reaction, but I have had never had bad responses for anything we have done with Ahab.
The Razor's Edge: You don’t tour much with Ahab. Gigs seem to be quite rare for AHAB. Is that just time and availability?
Cornelius: That’s not my fault. I want to tour. It’s probably why I have so many bands as I want to tour two or three times a year. My band mates, the older they get and the more children they have, seem to step away from the touring.
The Razor's Edge: I was lucky enough to see you at the Damnation festival in Leeds in 2014. I admit I didn’t know that much about you then, but you blew me away.
Cornelius: That was a fucking amazing festival. It was super cool. Every time we play the UK. People react so positively, not what I expect. It was packed. There were people who could not get in. It was amazing for a small German band at a British festival.
The Razor's Edge: Coming back to the pandemic, has the band lost many shows?
Cornelius: No, for Ahab, we have just decided that our October and November gigs will be postponed to next year. The worst thing for me was that Svärd was due to release the EP [‘The Rift’ was released on 3rd July]. I should have been in Sweden now recording and that would have led to a tour, but it hasn’t even started being planned as a result.
The Razor's Edge: What’s next for AHAB? New album? Shows?
Cornelius: We have some song structures for three or four songs finished. We are meeting in two weeks and will discuss. We will use that time in the autumn to finish the album. To be honest it has taken a long time to start writing. We hadn’t written a riff for three years and then two more children arrived, but I think the time is right now.