AHNA / Cetascean – Imperial Decline 12″ Split + 7″ Split w/ Contorture (2014) — REVIEW

IMG_8814 copyHere’s two new-ish splits in Ahna‘s camp that I’ve been slacking on talking about. The last record I reviewed of theirs was the Empire LP which continued the filthy powerviolence infused doom trampling they so uniquely inhabit, but stranger still.

Ahna actually just went on a Stench of Death tour so if they play near you, attend.

They’ve been busy evolving since Empire. On these splits specifically Ahna share space with two different hardcore groups while they themeslves venture towards the darkened trenches of old school death metal. They dig up the dust from the likes of Bolt Thrower or Dismember and Morbid Scream but with bursts of Anju’s vocals and their doom-violence past adding a fiercer bite to the battle.

As for their split mates? No slouches here. Cetascean has reputation in Canada as being on top and killer. After seeing them not long ago that’s definitely confirmed and this new stuff rips. Contorture hail from Sweden and grind through a bleak four minutes of d-beat destruction which compliments Ahna’s empire dismantling march.

IMG_8541 copyLet’s start with the 12″ split between Ahna and Cetascean then. It’s a collaboration between several labels: Profane Existence, Phobia Records, Neanderthal.Stench, Doomed Society, What Is Making Us Sick, and Mercy of Slumber. As I said the major thing I noticed when playing the first side, Ahna’s side, was the shift in tone the band takes which is dirty death metal. This carries over to the 7″ we’ll look at later.

If you don’t know Ahna yet get to know them. They’re an anomalous and pervasive figure in the grind, noise, and death underground of B.C., having done a good stint elsewhere spreading their charged, abrasive doom-violence.

With their live performances recently containing more than just Anju and Graham, this material too features Taylor Geddes on bass while Graham tomb raids on guitar. Definitely impacts the shifting dynamic of an already fluid outlet. The riffs are choppy and dirty, rending in an old tradition sometimes of Morbid Scream and Possessed and other times Dismember.It’s not gonna knock you on your ass but its consistent and solid pulling up the roots of death metal and fusing it with their DIY heaviness.

Anju remains a central presence largely due to the excellent dual vocal/drum onslaught, the former being stronger within the shift in genre. It just tears through shit, while in the other half of the vocal space. Graham offers sunken growls and rasped roars to bring the death more palpably and goes real low in some cases, a decent balance to Anju.

IMG_8847 copyThe focus on Imperial Decline much like Empire is anti-imperialism, illumination of genocide and war crimes, and as both Graham and Anju vocalizes this the serious, committed tone in three tracks: “War Games”, “Massacre”, and “Death Sentence”. All three revel in bestial sounds quite different from the doom violence mangling, breaching territory of Canada’s death metal tradition.

All three have their moments but I’ll put “War Games” and “Death Sentence” as the stronger of the batch. The former is the opener, it’s composed of few parts albeit quite fierce. Following a bit of noise it’s a stampede into death: a pummeling, thick deluge of drumming, a cutting and low riff bolstered by bass, and a chaotic shred solo.

Grahams vocals appear firsts and soon after Anju shreds through a passage, a great moment. The midsection of the song is where a considerably wicked atmosphere erupts through chugging, bassy riffs and another wild solo tailing it. Really heavy, really dark, followed by the return of that original lumbering tremolo attack.

“Massacre” is the longer of the two describing a common element of colonial conquest. Slow and warbled at first, eerie. It’s short lived as a tangled riff writhes into the open feeling more complex than either tracks that buttress it. In fact from here there’s a good deal of that new wave of bestial death feeling to the track mixed into the skeleton of old school.

Flickers of artificial harmonics and whammy wails from distant solos, the bass burying everything. Near the end the dirty sheen covering the track really rumbles to life, brought back into a more punk feel through the drumming, nice switches in pace.

Finally “Death Sentence” slays. Dealing with white phosphorus in warfare the song burns intensely as well with as slightly more grind/punk edge compared to the first two. The thrashy intro is soon followed by a brief incursion into Incantation’s crypt: an ugly, slow, bleeding riff. The rhythm afterwards, which Anju follows fervently as she blasts between, is catchy and violent. It shows up again but not before a tumbling, gnarled section. At this point Ahna’s new manifestation is sharp as hell, confidently carrying a new stench of death.

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Flip this 45 over and you get a completely different style but no less raw and generously vitriolic when confronting colonial legacy. Cetascean deliver crushing hardcore in four parts. Remaining a tight three piece for their contribution, the tri-attack vocals strengthen the unending ravaging of riffs and drumming in a serious way.

Of their four songs “Blockades” is the first and quickest, closest to gind pacing with twangy power chords bouncing off each other when not blaring feeback. This song does not deviate from the three major rhythms, simply and raw, and has a pungent sting enclosed in the lyrics: transforming aspects of an exploitative system, it’s manifest-destiny impositions, and using this as a tool of resistance and reform.

Following this brief battering is a more substantial crusher “Simian”, bringing a ton of feedback from the start with the bass bringing the riff before the guitar. I heard this one at the Head Hits Concrete show, I know cause I remember that scratchy rhythm that permeates and deviates the entire song; it’s pretty killer.

It switches to a faster pace halfway in, thrashing under considerably deeper vocals for a while, eventually shifting to a different stance in the last minute grinding and blasting a bit. Then the last section opens up in heavy stomping riffs. The lyrical concept centers around the traumatic effects on apes and primates in captivity and those used for research, painting a stark picture of the ethnocentric (anthrocentric?) position we stand in as we use common ancestors; the unsurprising and still eerie, cold reality that they react as we would if tortured.

IMG_8546 copy“Mouth of Teeth” is a song steeped in animosity. From the lyrics which deal with the explosion of industrialization (and thus, continuing colonial imposition) specifically in oil and gas in Alberta and its relevance concerning the indigenous population, to the powerfully slammed rhythms and percussion sawing its way through all three minutes; the message is clear and loud.

Much like the shortsighted and amorous ravaging of earth by industry and capital, this song brings a lot of destruction with it from the start. Slow churning at first, and then into a looser groove under a steady beat filled with noisy tremolos and hoarse screams. One channel drops for some feedback before shit switches up through a descending, furious riff; if it weren’t for the beat it would sound a bit black metal. Drumming switches up with some big kicks near the end as a new rhythm erupts and burns out quick, just in time for a more chaotic finish.

I fuckin’ love the tone of the last track “Early Burial”. The initial riff is just nasty. After that there’s a choppy bridge into a similarly groovy section and that gets mashed into some really thrashy, lively riffs. The two minute mark is a wicked grinding halt, enormous slabs in twos rain thud with the gritty bass, leading into a crawl playing with those powerchords all over. Nice and heavy with the last thirty seconds brings us back to the start.

The inspiration here lays with colonial historical revisionism, and more locally regarding the representation of colonial history (and subsequent genocides) in a Winnipeg human rights museum. The larger focus remains on the real value of illuminating and contextualizing this in general (specifically public educational settings), or perhaps the lack of lose for the legacy of colonial settlers, versus the softening of history which only highlights the issue further. History is not framed via neutrality bias.

So what’s nice about this first split is in terms of packaging the inserts are generously written to explain where the perspective is coming from, and the nature of fuel for the lyrics; both Cetacsean and Ahna. Considering the political/historical nature the context is generous and certainly appreciated. There’s significant detail.

A second insert has the lyrics and band credits. The art reflects the harsh material the music works with, stark black and white and pretty grim.The 45 itself is nice and heavy, sounds a little heavier on the low end compare to the bandcamp tracks. Definitely work getting if you see them live, or get your ass to Scream & Writhe.

This split is a nice switch-up on Ahna’s part while Cetascean carries on thrashing, it should be something you wanna check out this year. Get it from either band if you see them or any of the labels that made it come together: Profane Existence, Phobia Records, Neanderthal.Stench, Doomed Society, What Is Making Us Sick, or Mercy of Slumber.

IMG_8802 copyWe have a second split. This time a 7″ branded with Ahna’s new approach and a spat of new tracks from Sweden’s Contorture. Once again this was a collaborative release from several labels: this time Neanderthal.Stench, What Is Making Us Sick, Active Rebellion, and Into the Abyss. Despite my love for Ahna I think Contorture took this split.

Contorture are on side A with four blazing tracks of their self-labeled ‘d-beat mayhem’ in fine form. A two piece team everything is high energy. All the songs are catchy, fuck-off fast raising hell in old school thrash fashion leaving ashes in their stead. A great fiery guitar tone pumping out high-speed riffs with a powerful bass presence exploding from the flames. Sharp lyrics, dual raging vocals, and battering drums.

First galloping straight through with the minute-long “Punk To Pass Time” which hooked me right away, then in the blazing “Level of Freedom” which is a killer from the start. That main rhythm slays hard, slashing through the quick beat into a second riff, and quickly returning for one more go. The end is abrupt but man is it a evil forty seconds.

“No” follows up with equal wickedness coming off that high, however “Equal Boundaries” is my favorite. Right on the open that riff stings, and for the remainder of the track they shred without mercy into the last seconds of this side. It feels like thrash era Absu but far more crusty with bigger low end.

Contorture’s side goes by quickly and I found myself repeatedly returning to their smouldering punk siege on this split. More concise with stronger production even compared their Who’s In Charge record I think.

IMG_8803 copyThen we have the two songs from Ahna on side B, “Living In Fear” and “Terrorized”. Both as mentioned continue the theme of the prior split bringing back the old death spirit.

Nuclear weapons of war, the wealth gap, environmental degradation. That’s the catch here, the title “Living In Fear” lines up perfectly with this creeping sickness of Earth. It’s pretty monstrous old school death even more so than on the Cetascean split. Again a lot of low end attack from the beginning but a bit more punch to it. After a slower intro the full speed approaches once Anju starts screaming. From then onward it’s a panicky scramble towards the end.

“Terrorized” which deals with the experiences of Ohmar Khader in Guantanamo Bay, brings back a chunkier assault with graham leading the vocal charge. The theme is perfect for the anxious, stressed tone the song is steeped in, the riffs janky and pulverizing before falling in line. At the mid point there’s a particularly gnarly section that eventually falls back to the previous charge.

This 7″ comes on a black 45 with a lyric insert on black and white art, feathers flying in an ashy haze. Appropriate.

If you liked Imperial Decline and want some more of Ahna’s new shit and the bonus of a shredding Contorture onslaught then you’ll want to grab this from Neanderthal.Stench, What Is Making Us Sick, Active Rebellion, or Into the Abyss at some point. I recommend both of course. And they have another new split cassette with Ontario’s G.O.D. which will no doubt be of interest if you liked these.

Both splits are heavy, both would be enjoyed by anyone into grinding death of the past.

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