Thursday, 13 October 2016

Dark Book Review - Children of God

I review Children of God, a poetry book that showcases some of the poems from survivors of a cult-based mass suicide. It reveals their conflicted emotions and thoughts in a bid to help with their therapy. Click here to go to Geek Syndicate to read my full review.

Children of God book-cover image © Copyright ZING Communications, Inc.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Why I Think that Korn’s “Rotting in Vain” Music Video is Amazing

Why I Think that Korn’s “Rotting in Vain” Music Video is Amazing

Written by Casey Douglass

Every once in awhile, I find a music video keeps pulling me back for repeat viewings. It doesn’t happen that often, but lately, I just can’t stop watching Korn’s music video for “Rotting in Vain”, a song from their upcoming album The Serenity Of Suffering. At various times in the last few weeks, I have been thinking about the video and what exactly it is that I like about it. These musings got funnelled into this semi-introspective piece of writing, which you may or may not find interesting; I just wanted to write it.

First up, I like Korn. I haven’t clicked with every one of their albums but there are a good number of songs that would probably sit high if I ever had to write a personal top 100 metal songs chart. I guess what I’m saying is that I am not predisposed to like something just because it’s Korn, but I do generally like their stuff.

The first thing a viewer of the video for “Rotting in Vain” will see is none other than Mr Tommy Flanagan, an actor that I have come to rate very highly, particularly for his role as Chibs in Sons of Anarchy. He does the “steely-face but twitches of inner turmoil” thing very well, and seeing him in a video such as this really adds to the video’s effect.

Up next we see some strange steampunk contraption with lots of bulbs and a strange gas mask attached via a bendy tube. It isn’t long before Tommy’s character rams this mask onto his face, and, whether inhaling or screaming, triggers the appearance of the band members in various rooms, emerging from leaves and other debris as the track’s heaviness comes out to play.

I could probably search the internet to see what the video really means, but finding your own meaning in things is much more fun. To me, the run-down house is likely the rooms of Tommy’s character’s mind, the dark spaces where his troubles and agonies roam. The strange steampunk machine puts me in mind of the old fashioned opium dens seen in other steampunk settings, facilitating his reflections, but also a kind of an addictive drug too, likely keeping his pain going or even making it worse. The video ends with him slashing the tube with a razor, which seems to be another sign of an addict, but this time one who is deciding that enough is enough. I think most people will be able to relate to having to give up some addiction or vice, for the sake or their mental or physical health. Mine seems to be eating too much, but slicing a cream-cake in two simply makes it easier to eat, rather than look like a grand gesture.

Of course, the other half of the equation is the music, and with this video, the effect of the two seems doubly amplified. The chorus hits all the right notes with me, tapping into my recent moods and feelings, which is no doubt where another large part of my affinity for this video comes from:

“Digging deep inside of me,
getting past this agony,
I can’t seem to get away,
Another day rotting in vain.”

These four lines sum up so much about how I currently feel about life, it’s kind of uncanny. Add in the hoarse screaming of “vain” and the ear-hammering riffs, and this song is enough for me to buy the new album, even if I don’t hear a single one of the other tracks before hand. I don’t often say that about the music I buy.

I think that about sums it all up. I’ve linked to the video below so you can see it and hear it in its full glory. Korn’s new album The Serenity Of Suffering is released October 21st and is from Roadrunner Records.

Rotting in Vain Video Images © Copyright Roadrunner Records

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Who Listens to Dark Ambient Music?

Who Listens to Dark Ambient Music?

Written By Casey Douglass

"Who listens to dark ambient music?" is a question that I’ve come across a good many times while browsing the web. Another variation is “What kind of person listens to dark ambient music?” often by someone who listens to ten seconds of a track than promptly spits out their incredulity dummy as they fail to click with it. I can’t answer for anybody else, but I have spent some time reflecting on my own reasons below. 

If someone asks me what dark ambient music is, I tend to describe it as resembling the score to a horror movie, but that glosses over the more peaceful or sci-fi varieties. Dark ambient is a kind of music that touches uncomfortable feelings and features harsh, often cold soundscapes, that bring you out of your safe mental space and into something more melancholy or challenging. As far as I am concerned anyway. As far as why I listen to it, read on.

The first thing that comes to mind is the variety of dark ambient out there, and that’s if you ignore the larger parent genre of ambient music. One dark ambient artist might use the kinds of drones and bassy rumbles that might accompany the summoning of Satan himself, another might use field recordings of cars passing in the rain and birdsong, mingling in a little melancholy piano for added effect. Yet another might revel in creating massive fuzzy walls of noise that trick the ear into conjuring other sounds deep within the staticy mass. It is always a great pleasure to find a new artist, or to hear a new release from an existing artist, that makes you sit back and go “Wow!”

With the mentioning of Satan in the previous paragraph, I suppose I'd better address the perception of dark ambient listeners. There are certain genres of music that just bring out the hysterical in some people, people who might think that heavy metal fans are Satan worshippers, all rave music lovers are druggies etc. Dark ambient is very dark, and I have no doubt that there will be some Satanists listening to it, along with a whole heap of Atheists, Buddhists, Pagans and whatever-ists. Personally, I don’t mind the fact that people might be shocked by the darkness contained in a dark ambient track. I’m a horror writer after all, it adds to my cachet. I also don’t particularly care how people view the things that I enjoy, be it the music I listen to, the books I read or the TV series I watch.

Speaking of writing, dark ambient is a tremendous tool for a horror writer to find some inspiration. Even the most directed of tracks (e.g. something called “journey into the forgotten temple”) can send me on a totally different tangent, maybe into space, hell or a strange reality of bog creatures. If you are a writer of fiction that has even the smallest amount of darkness to it, it would be well worth your while investigating dark ambient as a genre. I’ll mention a range of artists at the end of this piece.

While we are delving into the mind, dark ambient serves another purpose for me, and that is one of catharsis and relaxation. I have suffered with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for decades, an anxiety condition that floors me at times. I also have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, an illness that leaves me exhausted 24/7. Most days are a teeth clenched struggle for me, even with various therapeutic approaches in play such as CBT, ACT and mindfulness. When everything is turning to shit around me, tension building in my neck and shoulders, heart hammering; listening to a bit of dark ambient while resting on my bed gives me a mental holiday when few other things will. This gives the stress response in my body time to ease off, lets the anxious thoughts drift away, and very often, gives me a little sleep too. When I was younger, I dabbled with the New Agey types or relaxation music, whale song, birds and that kind of thing. It was okay but nothing great. I did notice that I clicked more with ones that had darker undertones. Phil Thornton’s Shaman is one that comes to mind: wolf howls and drum beats the order of the day. When I discovered dark ambient, it was like “This! Holy shit this!”. For the record, the first dark ambient I knowingly heard was one of Atrium Caceri’s early albums.

So there we have it, my reasons at least, for why someone might listen to dark ambient music. There are countless other reasons, I have no doubt, but these are the main ones for me. I’d love to hear the reasons someone else might have too, so if you are reading this and feel compelled, feel free to comment or just find me on social media and say hello. Oh, and before I go, here is a small collection of dark ambient artists you might like to check out. Many of them will have a Bandcamp page where you can freely stream some, or all, of their tracks. Others might be on Soundcloud or even YouTube. Wherever you look, if the website has the feature, like YouTube, pay attention to other suggested videos or sounds if any are recommended beside what you are watching, you never know where it will take you.

Okay, here are a few artists that you might like to check out: Atrium Carceri, CryoChamber (a dark ambient music label), Hoshin, Randal Collier-Ford, Terra Sancta, Lustmord, Cities Last Broadcast, Creation VI, protoU. Dronny Darko and Zalys.

Thank you for reading.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Dark Game Revisit – Should you go back to Aliens: Colonial Marines?

Dark Game Revisit – Should you go back to Aliens: Colonial Marines?

Written By Casey Douglass

Aliens: Colonial Marines Logo

I am more than happy to be alive in a time where I can say that the last Alien/s game, Alien: Isolation, was a corker. The blend of sneaking around trying to avoid a prowling xenomorph and the filmic atmosphere made it one of the most intense gaming experiences I’ve ever had. This was also no doubt due to the love I already had of the films/graphic novels/books etc. If I delve back further however, memory butts up against another game: Aliens: Colonial Marines, one that was greeted on launch with a gnashing of teeth and a whipping of wagging fingers that almost mimicked the movements of the black shiny predators that the game featured. People felt that the game’s graphics compared badly to the pre-launch trailer, there were doubts about the narrative, and the game was just viewed as pretty shonky. I remember seeing one YouTuber show that you could run through one part of the game without actually needing to attack anything, even though you were clearly meant to be fighting for your life! It was with all this rattling around in my head that I decided to give the PC version of the game another go, having previously played a few hours and called bullshit on it many years ago.

Aliens: Colonial Marines Screenshot
No, he's not bursting into song.

The first few hours were again, a period in which I found myself tempted to give up. While the game has likely been patched since I last played it, the A.I is still a pain in the arse at times, and the number of times all of the attacking xenos seemed to have a hard-on only for me, ignoring my teammates, got a little annoying. I also experienced a few frustrations with the save game check-pointing, a few instances occurred where I died and had to replay 5-10 mins of the game to get back to where I had died again, one including an unskippable character dialogue exchange. I’m not sure if this is a relic of when the game was released (2013) and modern games are a little better at that kind of thing, or if it was pretty bad in comparison to other games even back then. All I know is it annoyed me more than a few times.

Aliens: Colonial Marines Screenshot
Give us a kiss beautiful!

Graphically, the game is serviceable. Dark corners and dripping vents all look suitably menacing, and the xenos rushing at you certainly tickle that “Holy shit we are fucked!” feeling. Until they get in your face and you see that the textures and animation is, once again, simply serviceable. Audio wise, things fair a little better, the screeches of the creatures and pips of your motion tracker increasing the tension and foreshadowing more confrontation in a pleasing, horror-like way.

I found the gun-play to feel a little disconnected though. The weapons feel like they have little “heft”, your gun seeming to float about easily in front of you, click to kill, click to kill, click to kill. I can’t fault the variety of weapons though, from pulse rifles and grenades to more legendary weapons like Hicks’ shotgun, the player certainly has options when it comes to death dealing. Weapons can also be improved via a ranking upgrade system, letting you add new types of sight or extra capabilities like an under-slung shotgun or grenade launcher. Ranks are in both single and multiplayer, but I didn’t try the latter as I just wasn't interested. 

Aliens: Colonial Marines Screenshot
A costly trip and looming death. I like this pic.

I came back to Aliens: Colonial Marines because I’m going through a period where I really don’t know what games I feel like playing. After finding that I didn’t enjoy replaying Alien: Isolation once I knew how it ended, I was left with a xeno-void that had me looking back at this game. It was with this in mind that I gave it another go, and I have to say that it did scratch that xenomorph itch. Whether the narrative sits well with the main story of the films and other media or not, it was enjoyable enough in a pulpy way. While the combat was lacking, it was still satisfying mowing down waves of insect-like death with shotguns and pulse rifle blasts, and the environment was truly threatening and interesting to negotiate at times.

Aliens: Colonial Marines Screenshot
A xeno queen misbehaving in a steam filled room. Sounds like a new porn category.

Looking back on Aliens: Colonial Marines, it is still sad to think how it might have been better, but viewed as a guilty pleasure when you just want to visit that hostile universe again, it does the job. It did for me at least. If you have it sitting in your game library and have only played a short distance into it, maybe think about giving it another go at some point.

Here is a link to the Wikipedia page for Aliens: Colonial Marines. At the bottom there are tens of articles referenced that go into all the hoo-ha it caused when it was released.

Aliens: Colonial Marines Images © Copyright SEGA

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Dark Film Review – Blair Witch (2016)

Dark Film Review – Blair Witch (2016)

Review Written by Casey Douglass

The original Blair Witch (The Blair Witch Project) came out in 1999, to the fanfare of, if memory serves, some people finding it so intense that they had to leave screenings. I have somehow managed to miss seeing the original film, and in the intervening years between then and 2016, found footage films have become a more common cinematic device, from the likes of V/H/S to Cloverfield. I do enjoy the format, the shaky-cam adding a more visceral feeling to the events of whichever film might be using it, even sometimes adding juice to the jumps and scares. Blair Witch (2016) however, was a big, fat, yawny experience for me.

The film follows the story of James (James Allen McCune), documentary maker Lisa (Callie Hernandez) and a couple of other friends, as they head into the woods after a video emerges online seeming to show James’ vanished sister (from the first film) Heather. They gear up with all manner of expensive looking tech, from ear cameras with GPS to a neon lit drone, in the hope of capturing some element of what is going on out there, and ultimately, for James to hopefully find Heather. They meet up with the guy who posted the triggering video and his girlfriend, who want to tag along too. Thus the scene is set.

Before I start to pound the film, the aspects that I did enjoy were the narrative and the soundtrack. The narrative, while seemingly basic, did feature enough twists and uncertainty, especially with relation to the video posting couple, that it did cause me to have to sit and be suspicious of what was really happening. This gets a big thumbs up from me.

The soundtrack was also very enjoyable, especially from a dark ambient perspective. Ominous rumbles, animal calls and creaking trees, backed up by lots of crumping heavy footsteps did a wonderful job of setting the scenes firmly in the environment. This proved a very good thing, as you will soon suffer with tree fatigue when you watch Blair Witch.

Yes, I know Blair Witch is set in the forest. I get it. If you like seeing blurry trees with pixelated artifacts rush by as someone screams and pants, you’ll bloody love Blair Witch. This is where the sound became so important: there isn’t that much to look at a lot of the time. The film seems to know this as well, using stupid people-based jump-scares for large portions of time until things begin to progress. Someone looking at a tablet in the dark, “jump-scare!” yep, someone with absolute ninja skills just made them jump by touching their shoulder. Open your tent because you hear something outside, “jump-scare!” someone jumps inside having made no sound on approaching and ignoring your fearful shouts. All I can say is that the film seemed full of ninjas who were incapable of saying “I’m coming!”, preferring to scare the shit out of their victim.

Another positive for the film though, is that I don’t feel it revealed too much of its antagonist, The Blair Witch, which is something it should be applauded for. Most of the time she is just a rumbling mass of impending doom, and when you do get to see her, it’s for the merest of glimmers.

On to the business of a rating then. I didn’t think Blair Witch 2016 was terrible, but it was far from brilliant as well. On a personal level, it didn’t scare me or make me jump once, leaving me plenty of time to ponder why someone with a fever suddenly seems to lose it, or what were they thinking they would see using a drone in a dense forest besides a tree canopy stretching as far as the eye can see?

Blair Witch is worth watching but don’t expect much. I give it 2.5/5, and really wonder how the reviewers quoted in the trailer managed to get so much fear and enjoyment from it.

Blair Witch Images © Copyright Lionsgate

Friday, 16 September 2016

Dark Fiction - Suddenly...Nothing Happened

Suddenly...Nothing Happened

A dark tale by Casey Douglass

Image used freely courtesy of Splitshire

A thick plume of smoke erupted from the delicate container, the glass emitting a worrying cracking noise as the internal pressures tried to become external as quickly as possible.
Lance shied away behind the thick tome propped open in front of him, hoping for some kind of protection from the possibly imminent explosion. Sweat dripped from the tip of his nose, which he briskly wiped on the back of his hand. He looked down at his hand, wondering if it was sweat glistening on the back of it, or snot, his mind weighing the odds before a particularly loud crack brought him back to the room.

‘Focus Lance focus!’ he muttered to the empty room. The mental image of a photographer fiddling with a lens stole into his mind, words like "aperture", "white balance" and "ISO quality" floating around the periphery. In a movement so swift it somehow surprised even him, his hand shot up and deposited a stinging slap on his right cheek. His glasses flew swiftly from his face and clattered to the floor. He uttered a strangled cry, his face red, his teeth gritted, in a mask of pure irritation. The fumes from the beaker started to reach his nose now, the particles tickling and tugging at his nose hairs. He sniffed and spluttered as he sank to the ground, his hands desperately pawing at the floor. His finger knocked something skittering away, which to his ears sounded like an expensive visit to the opticians if ever he’d heard one. He scurried further along, the thick base of the bench always pressed to his right shoulder. He reached the end and felt a gust of air around his now exposed side. 

‘Blast!’ he shouted as he turned about face and headed back the other way. His ears were pricked, listening for the sound of breaking glass and the early signs of a manifestation; the sort that cost you your career and your license to experiment. Not to mention the body count that would likely be involved. 

His head bumped against the leg of his chair. Muttering he heaved himself up and sat on it panting. His eyes were blurry, the room indistinct. He had no idea if anything was in there with him, or if he was even in there with himself any more. He could have changed multiverse, he might be a colour in some painting of the room, or the tattoo on a prostitute's back in the early twentieth century. The reaction going on in the container had slowed somewhat now, the crackles and occasional pops coming at less regular intervals. He coughed in his hand, and with unfocussed eyes, attempted to check that there were no spiders, pixies, rats or Djinn. You only got that blasted Fairytale flu once, and it haunted you forever. He sighed away the tension at the sight of his empty palm.


Lance sat for some time, the flask not reacting, the room silent around him save for the slow ticking of the clock behind him. His heart fluttered as he pondered, an involuntary grin on his face.
‘Oi oi!’
Lance flinched.
‘Oh...hello Barnham.’
‘Make you jump? Ha! Too easy! Don't know why I bother any more.’
‘Some people are just bastards I guess.’
Barnham stood behind him now and smacked him hard on his back. ‘Too true too true. What are your glasses doing over there? Been looking for pennies again? Or have you been looking up that Miss. Curmudgen’s skirt again!’
‘Well I never!’ Lance exclaimed, his fists bunching.
‘Stay there. I’ll get them.’
‘Thank you,’ seeped through Lances clenched jaw.
‘Thank you.’
‘So what were you doing?’
‘It was a sequence of mishaps. It isn't important.’
‘I see you have a red hand on your cheek! It was Mrs. Cur-’
‘NO! I was trying to snap myself out of something, a reverie of sorts.’
‘My word, what will the master say! Spying on that poor Miss...’
Lance’s face relaxed and he grinned.
‘What’s so funny?’
‘Well, the master will be promoting me soon, so I don't care what lies you spread about me and the aforementioned lady.’
‘Promoting you? Why in the hell would he do that?’
‘Oh I don't know,’ Lance said in a singsong voice. ‘Perhaps because I did an experiment and nothing happened!’
Barnham’s mouth slipped open so suddenly it made a popping sound.
‘Not a single thing.’
‘No manifestations?’
‘No mythics?’
‘No matrix like inversions?’
‘No... nothing!’
Barnham grinned, his eyes glistening. He launched himself at Lance, his arms wrapping him in a tight bear hug. ‘At last! At last!’
Lance alternated between tittering and sobbing as he returned the hug.
‘You know what this means?’ Barnham said as he leaned back and looked in Lance’s eyes.
‘If we can apply what you did to everything else, we don't need to live in fear again!’
‘Yes!’ Lance nodded like a cat watching a butterfly.
‘We can make a cup of tea and not be afraid what might fall into the cup! We can run a bath and add some perfume and not need to have two harpoonists on hand in case something surfaces. My dear fellow! What did you do? How?’
Lance pointed at the book behind him. Barnham leaned over and burst out laughing.
‘Of course! Of course! Why didn't anyone else think of it!’
Lance grinned. ‘Good old Tome of Statistical Evaluation, nothing brings outliers under control like probability tables!’
‘What... this isn't the Tome of Statistical evaluation!’
‘It’s not?’
‘No, it’s the combined collection of Harry Potter, the book that got all those kids into reading hundreds of years ago, before they found that magic did indeed exist!’
Lance stood up and swayed a little in a stunned silence, the tuna sandwich he’d subdued and eaten over lunch threatening to make another appearance.
Barnham laughed. ‘Of course! What better way to bring about nothing of interest than applying the techniques in a fictional book. When everything switched after that Large Hadron Collider “unpleasantness,” the sciences became mythical and magic became our reality. Pity we still don't know how to use it, but at least now we might be able to live a normal life without strange creatures manifesting every time we turn a light switch on!’
Barnham slapped him on the back again and rushed from the room shouting, ‘Breakthrough! Breakthrough! Get the Master!’
Lance exhaled for the first time in what felt like at least five minutes, his thoughts chiding and berating him. What a fool, what a fool! He hadn't discovered anything on purpose, it was just dumb luck, that's all it was, dumb luck! How on earth had he managed to mistake the contents of the two books? How? No doubt Barnham would soon be telling everyone that it was he who’d added two and two together, and come out with four, for the first time in decades. 
Lance slammed his fist down towards the bench top, missed, and ended up hitting himself in the thigh. His leg buckled as the feeling left it. Falling forwards, he hit his head on the wooden edge in front of him and blacked out. The last sound he heard was the old bell being struck in the distance, cheers swelling around its chimes. And thus, he slept through the dawning of a new age.


Thank you for reading. This story was written some time ago but is only now being published in the hope that it will spur me on to get back into the swing of writing fiction again. It may be a little rough and ready but on the whole, I think it's sound. If you enjoyed this short story, please tell your friends and share a link to it on social media. Getting eyeballs on writing is an ongoing struggle, so every little helps. Thank you :).

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Dark Film Review – Don’t Breathe

Dark Film Review – Don’t Breathe

Review Written by Casey Douglass

Don't Breathe Poster

Don’t Breathe is another horror film from Fede Alvarez, and it takes an already adrenaline filled subject: burglary, and finds a way to twist it into something more horrific. The film follows Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto), characters who largely fall into “semi-likeable mother doing it for her kid”, “wet behind the ears lovelorn tag-along with access to keys” and “arsehole boyfriend”. The opportunity to burgle the house of a blind guy, who also happens to live in a derelict part of town, dangles the prospect of an easy score above the heads of the money-short trio, a job that sounds like it should be a piece of piss, easier than a more mundane burglary any day of the week. Wrong! This blind old man (Stephen Lang) has more than money in the house, and when he discovers their presence, blood is spilled not long after.

I enjoyed the core dynamic of the film a great deal, as it lent itself to so many situations in which the characters had to stand stock still, breath held (ah ha!), hoping that he wouldn’t realise that they were there. As a horror mechanic, it works very well. Later, in this fast paced film, the odds swing even more against the invaders as the blind man cuts power to all of the lights in the house. This leads to the night-vision fueled scurrying seen in the trailer, where he knows the layout, but the burglars walk into and knock over all kinds of things as they try to make their escape. Good stuff.

Don't Breathe Picture

The narrative itself takes a number of twists and turns, many of which I didn’t see coming (no pun intended). From a minimal setting of the scene, the film launches into the “job” and pretty much doesn’t let up until the end. It wasn’t a scary or jumpy film, for me at least, but it did provide some great tense moments that left me impressed with it as a whole. The characters were largely forgettable horror fodder and I must admit that their fate didn’t really bother me one way or the other. I don’t think I ever found myself rooting for the blind man either, but there was certainly a feeling of sympathy involved, even after the film twists into something more sinister.

Don’t Breathe is well worth watching for the tension involved in the burglars’ trying to outwit a seemingly disadvantaged blind man. Don’t go expecting to be scared though, just maybe hope for some tension, and the chance to see something a bit different to the usual jump-scare fodder. I give it 4/5.

Don’t Breathe Images © Copyright Sony Pictures