September 18th, 2012
Genre: Experimental/Drone/Sludge/Doom Metal
Here's a case where I missed something that a) should've made a few of my lists last year, and b) I should've been on top of because I've been aware of Ahna's presence since I saw them open for Mitochondrion a few years back. Once again I find I'm kicking myself for being more oblivious than I think I can be when it comes to great local bands hammering out interesting sounds.
And that is definitely what Ahna are doing. They're a two piece — a dude on bass and a chick on drums/vocals — from Vancouver who since at least 2008 have been crafting an intriguing blend of drone and doom lightly coated in black metal and crusty powerviolence; what they've dubbed "drone violence". Very bare bones, very simple in structure and concept, and very heavy, jarring and strange.
Despite this being only 20 minutes Ahna have made every second captivating, intimidating, loud, and harsh. Their sound is quite recognizable. Empire really shows that you can birth doom that crushes without going over six minutes per song (of which there are five here), and still make it a unique experience without being gimmicky or pretentious.
I've only heard some of their previous material (plan on catching up immediately) but the impression I get from the blend of styles and lyrical content there's a very oldschool punk 'lefty' ethos surrounding their records, which makes sense given the general vibe of B.C. So if you're into that it's definitely a bonus. The tone of Empire is serious for sure and that comes across in all aspects here, thankfully they do it well without hammering you over the head.
What strikes me most now, and indeed when I saw them live, is Anju's vocals. While both members contribute in this department, Anju's are immediately what you focus on and could be the deciding factor of your enjoyment level of their rituals. Not only is she handling the percussion (powerful and solid) but she does so while emitting some of the most ear-splitting, visceral, and loud vocals I've heard in a while. They're on the higher pitched side and resemble fulminating cries of a furious demon, enunciating very clearly as she recites raw hymns about history, war, injustice, imperialism, etc. often in a Canadian context.
Her vocals are balanced out by the low death rasps of Graham who handles the bass duties, pounding out some ugly riffs both slow and doomy and occasionally fast, blackened and crusty. The main ingredient of the songs on Empire are enormous wrecking-ball blows of doom but as you progress through it the blackened and punk influences seep in without being offensive. Arguably you can even hear the powerviolence (boardering on screamo) influence in Anju's vocals, in terms of pitch and tone.
The title track and "Mental Corrosion" shows the mixture I mentioned in action. On "Empire" the pace picks up as the bass spews rumbling, crusty lines after the first minute, while on "Mental Corrosion" the black metal attack bleeds into a few moments of punk galloping, and a full blown avalanche by the end. Her rasps have a definite blackened texture without a doubt, just listen to "Shouts In My Ear". In fact in that one the approach is quite angular and the quick blasts of grind between the doom make for a very dynamic song.
I gotta say "Colony", "Empire", and "Declaration" are my favorites here. The vocals are particularly overwhelming and passionate on "Declaration", piercing you physically as the bass feedback drones and throbs, the pace grinding to a hault over noise. A perfect song to cauterize this short but weighty slab. "Colony" is really just one riff that bulldozes onward at different levels of heavy but the cadence and rhythm builds so nicely it feels like there's more going on. "Empire" has some wicked blackened howls from Anju much different from her more clear invocations, providing a nice change.
In conclusion I want to apologize to my Canadian brethren in Ahna for not being more astute last year (or indeed the past few) and giving some props on my 2012 best of Canada list at the very least, because Empire is an absorbing, scornful record that should get more attention and support. Certainly from Canadians.
They're playing a few shows in the coming months so I want to catch one of them, but for now I'm playing catch up on their stuff and the west coast scene in general. I think one of the reasons I wasn't more aware of Ahna even after I saw them was just due to the nature of their sound and my own lack of expectations. Took some time to process while I was focused on seeing Mitochondrion close the show I guess. I remember circling their merch table contemplating buying something but decided not to, and this has come back to haunt me several times; I'm sure you're all familiar with that scenario.
Anyway you can buy copies of this from Choking Hazard Records or on the west coast from Scream // Writhe, and I highly recommend you do. You can download it (name-your-price) from bandcanp too which I've linked below.