Thursday, 21 September 2017

Dark Music Review – Walpurgis

Dark Music Review – Walpurgis

Review by Casey Douglass

Walpurgis, or ‘witches night’, is a brilliant idea to create some dark ambient around. Ruairi O'Baoighill, a dark ambient/drone artist based in Ireland, has done just that, and it’s certainly a riveting listening experience.

There is a starkness to Ruairi’s tracks on Walpurgis, often seemingly just a few elements interacting or alternating with each other to create dark soundscapes that clutch the mind. He makes great use of vocals, whether in the form of guttural gut-clenching chants or rhythmic invocations to who knows what. He also uses drones and lone drumbeats to puncture the dark bubble that his music conjures, in my mind at least. Throughout the whole of Walpurgis, any mental images that came to me revolved around a small fire, a robed figure nearby and an immense and crushing darkness filling every other part of the space. The effect might be a bit like looking at a photo of the Moon in space, but zooming out until it’s the size of your thumb on the screen. I’m strange, I know.

Walpurgis contains five tracks, each titled with a simple Roman numeral. They all gravitate to around five minutes in length, give or take, saving track five which reaches seven and a half minutes. I felt that each told its own stage of a tale, or rather suggested one.

Track I seemed to very much be an invocation, the pacey vocals and guttural sounds seeming to interact in some kind of battle, the speaker entering into occult conversation with a dark entity at the fringe of the small fire.

Track II seems to be full of whispers and gong-like sounds, maybe containing the aether’s response to the ritual, the performer gaining the attention of the keepers at the gate?

If track II is the response, track III seems to be a reversal of some kind, the banishing of the thing that was called forth. Single bashed-drumbeats and what sounds like shattering metal is joined by ghostly cries and screeches. I saw the fire spitting sparks into the blackness above, and heard a guttural chuntering that hinted at the banishment hurting the thing that is lurking unseen.

Track IV seemed to be a period of respite, the starting drone joining with shimmering notes that rise and vanish again and again. Maybe the caster is waiting to see just what the result of the rite will be.

The last track starts with a warped gong and a muted rumbling, a bit like you might hear underwater during an earthquake. A guttural chant reveals the thing is still there. Ghostly sounds meet with guttural tones (how many times have I said guttural in this review!) as if building to an unleashing of the wrath of something that shouldn't have been called. The more rhythmic invocation begins again near the end, the robed figure trying once more to control the uncontrollable. At this point, you could happily loop back to track one and listen to the whole thing again, seeing it as the figure's second attempt, an attempt doomed to follow the same course. Or maybe we are joining the events mid-loop, the figure and adversary already locked in a sinister struggle for millennia. I don’t know, but I like the thought of it.

I enjoyed the time I spent listening to Walpurgis. I found its various elements conspired to create a surprisingly dark soundscape that grew stronger as time progressed, the twists and variations of these elements seeming to reinforce the feelings of dark energies and abyssal meddlings. Great stuff indeed.

Walpurgis was originally self-released by Ruairi in 2012. This version is a re-mastered release being put out by Cursed Monk Records and comes complete with new artwork. It comes ahead of Ruairi’s new album To See Without Eyes. Visit the Walpurgis page on Bandcamp at this link for more info and be sure to give Track II a listen below:

I was given a free copy of this album for review purposes.

Album Title: Walpurgis
Album Artist: Ruairi O'Baoighill
Label: Cursed Monk Records
Released: March 15, 2017

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Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Half Way Pitstop on a Dead End Highway

Well, I am about half way through what, awhile ago, I said might be my last business year as a freelance writer. So far, it's been more of the same: struggling to find anything that pays more than a few dollars per hour, or that is something I feel I can do. I've not been able to turn things around so far, and I get the feeling I won't be able to.

I'm trying to find enjoyment in my writing, just for its own sake, but I don't seem to be able to manage that either. I don't really enjoy much of anything at the moment. The best I can hope for is something takes me away from myself for an hour, but of course, when I come back to myself, things just feel worse afterwards. There seems no point to anything anymore.

I didn't share this post on social media, so if you read this, chances are you are one of the three people that read my site, so thank you for reading. The idea behind posting it at all is that I am usually less harsh on myself if I think someone else might read my words.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Dark Game Review – Maize

Dark Game Review – Maize

Review by Casey Douglass

Maize is a PC game that I’d never heard of until it came as part of a Humble Monthly Bundle a while ago. It looked interesting, but it took a period of “not knowing what I fancied playing” to eventually get to it. I finished it yesterday and I’m very glad that I gave it a chance.

How corny!
Maize is a first-person puzzle game set in and around a farm that just happens to grow corn. I know! The difference between this corn and the more usual variety however, is that it talks and moves around. Sciency shenanigans have been afoot, and you, the silent player character, get to run around solving everyone else’s problems, as is often the case in this kind of game.

You will do a lot of walking, but I have to admit that it only became monotonous during a few moments of backtracking. The environment is quirky and strange enough that even when you find yourself lost in the maze of maize created by the cornfields, you probably won’t mind too much. The game has a strange humour that seems to follow you everywhere you go, making you feel a little like you are in some retro 80’s comedy horror or sci-fi film.

A nice little helicopter!
The humour itself did make me chuckle on a good few occasions, but some of it did fall a little flat. I’m a hard audience to please though, I didn’t find Deadpool particularly funny. I know, I’m a freak apparently. Once you’ve met your bad-tempered teddy-bear companion Vladdy though, things improve a little. He has a single tall grappling claw-arm thing that pokes out of his backpack. One of the sentient corn people calls him “A nice little helicopter!” or words to that affect. I don’t know why but that tickled me, especially as the bear is always calling everything and everyone idiotic and stupid.

Some of the non-usable items are funny too.
The puzzles are relatively straightforward, just a case of hoovering up all the objects you find that happen to be collectable (a fact that Vladdy mocks you about on more than one occasion: “Oh more trash!”). Early on, you need to unlock a large metal door. Part of this involves getting a hand print. You find a severed hand but it’s in a protective glove, so you have to put a plug in a sink and use oil you found elsewhere to fill it. You pop the severed glove-hand into this and the hand comes free. Simple. There are also puzzles where you have to make things from a collection of items. This is done by putting them in set spaces on tables or benches. It’s all very clear and straightforward if you have all the objects needed.

Is Hitch-cornian a word?
The game didn’t seem to have a map, so when something referenced going to a certain place, I
couldn’t always think of where it might be. Thankfully the game blocks off some paths at different times, quite aggressively so later on, but makes light of the fact. The game doesn’t take itself very seriously, as you might have guessed by now.

The visuals are fine. They won’t have your jaw dropping in awe but they do create the sense of a strange world, a world of golden maize, morbid discoveries and underground secrets. The audio is just about the same level, although I must admit that the voice acting is very good and should be highlighted as a strong point.

The Queen of the Corn with Little Helicopter.
Maize is a gem of a game that I remembered I owned at just the right moment. I’d been bouncing off other games and generally struggling with depression more than usual. Maize proved to be perfect for me at that time, but even without these other elements, I’m sure it’s a game I’d have enjoyed whenever I played it. It took around three hours to complete, and I found the non-threatening flow of events perfect. There is nothing that can hurt the player, it is literally a story-puzzle game.

Maize was created by Finish Line Games and is currently available on Steam for £14.99. I’m not sure I can recommend it at full price, but if you see it on a decent sale it’s well worth up to a fiver, in my opinion.

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Saturday, 26 August 2017

Dark Game Review – Stories Untold

Stories Untold is a PC adventure horror game from developer No Code. It’s a game that channels the spirit of the text-adventures of old, but mixes in a dose of the “bigger picture” in its execution. A simpler way of saying it is that, not only does your character interact with the computer in a given scene, but also the equipment and the environment around it.

The game is split into four short episodes, each taking place in a different location and situation. In one, you might be playing a text-based adventure game in a suitably 80's bedroom. In the next, you might be decoding morse code or following an experimental protocol. Stories Untold is a game that very much enjoys giving the player instructions, but also the help needed to carry them out.

I can’t say too much as some of the reveals and twists in Stories Untold are best enjoyed as the narrative unfolds. All I will say is that there is more going on than meets the eye, and it all comes together quite beautifully by the time you’ve finished it. It is a short game, taking me around two hours to complete, but those two hours proved to be structured and paced so well, I am fine with the short playtime. I try not to judge games by how much play time they might offer, but when money is tight, it does become one of my considerations. Stories Untold sells for £6.99 when not on sale, but when it is on offer, you can get it for around half that, which is spot on in my humble opinion.

Graphically, the game does pretty much everything right: the locations and technology all looks suitably analogue, the objects and lighting all realised in an almost tactile way. The only real criticism I have is the cross-shaped pointer that is sometimes easy to lose track of, and that the clickable zones around some of the buttons and dials you need to interact with aren't always easy manipulate without clicking the wrong thing. This didn’t happen often though, so I don’t want to overstate that aspect.

The soundscape of the game is another element that is very well done, and for the most part, provides the most interesting moments of horror. Thumps and other noises hint at the world beyond the walls that your character can see, the voices of other characters and the suitably retro-soundtrack all creating a fuzzy grainy sense of place. Nothing made me jump, but there is a lovely sinister aspect to the things you will see and hear in Stories Untold, like when you crack open an old VHS video box and smell the air of yesteryear tickling your nostril hairs.

Stories Untold is a tremendous game and one that I am very happy to have experienced. When I got to the end, all I could think about was how great another tale, done in the same way, would be. I was also a little unnerved by how enjoyable I found following the various instructions in the game world. On a basic level, you had to do things in a set way to get through the story, but on a mental level, I found the way I interacted with the game world very satisfying indeed. If you enjoy a good 80’s style horror, I think you owe it to yourself to check out Stories Untold.

Review by Casey Douglass

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Friday, 25 August 2017

Dark Game Review - Empyrion: Galactic Survival

I take a look at Eleon Game Studios' PC space-survival sim Empyrion - Galactic Survival over on Geek Syndicate.

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Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Blue Words Under Autumn Skies

Blue Words Under Autumn Skies

Reflective musings by Casey Douglass

Before I say anything else, yes, I wrote “Autumn Skies” even though it’s still August. Autumn feels very much like it is wafting this way, and I’ll defend my right to say so via fisticuffs at the venue of your choosing if you disagree. Hazar!

The blue words element of the title refers to swears, curses and language that would generally get you a telling off from your mum if you said it in her presence. During the last few days, there have been a couple of occasions where I have heard such language, and both times was tickled by some element of the context. If you don’t like bad language, turn back now.

The first incident was while in town. A homeless man was sat near a wall, people dropping spare change into the hat on the ground in front of him. It’s a scene that is sadly all too common, no-one should have to be homeless, not in a country as wealthy as ours. It was then that I heard someone calling him a cunt, which moved my focus somewhat.

A man was pacing backwards and forwards looking agitated and annoyed. He was sputtering and muttering to the people he was with, saying things like “That cunt gets more money than we do!” and “In my day, we didn’t beg, we had the dignity to just die!”. Okay, not that last one, but you get the sentiment I’m sure. What amused me was that this was all seemingly said just out of earshot of the “millionaire” with his little cardboard sign and blanket, because, god forbid the person might hear him saying such bollocks. I’d imagine this was just the kind of guy that goes home and calls people “faggots” when playing online video games. Take away his keyboard and put him face to face with someone and, well, let's just hope his underwear has a good water-tight seal.

The other event happened a day or so later, when I was watering my friend’s garden. I had already found my groove with regards to the order in which to water things: when to use the watering-can, when to use the hose or move it to another tap, stuff like that. I will add that my knowledge of plants is very low. I can spot a pansy at ten yards, but the elements of most plants fall into three categories for me: petals, leaves and stalks/stems. Basically, I was watering a pot of green things that happened to have splashes of colour attached when I heard “For fuck sake!” shouted in the church car-park nearby.

I sniggered. There are few places more inappropriate for swearing than church ground. About the worst I can think of would be an audience member watching a snooker match, and as the ball slowly makes its way up the table towards the pocket, jumps to their feet and shouts “Get in you cunt!”. That would be worse. This was just shy of that benchmark. The expletives continued, something got called a cunt. It was glorious. I think the free-range language belonged to a builder, a van was parked there with names on the side. It wasn’t the A-team at least, their van is noticeably different, and I doubt Hannibal would go for the phrase "I love it when a plan fucking comes together!"

Getting back to the church, on one level, it’s nice that god helps the local economy by getting mortals to fix his churches. I’m sure he could so easily wave a hand and have it self-repair. Another thought occurred to me, related to the swearing once more. What if the vicar was having tea and biscuits with a group of elderly women, a group that had been horrified at the new graffiti on the community center wall. They didn’t even know what a “twat” was until that day. I imagined him calming them, saying it likely wouldn’t happen again, just as the word “cunt!” is shouted through the stained-glass window, much to the ladies’ horror. This is the kind of thought that keeps me warm at night, and the kind that nestles comfortably in my mind, amongst the pornographic fantasies, TV plot-lines and dark spaces that fill out the edges.

Thank you for fucking reading. 

Oh shit, it's contagious!

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Saturday, 12 August 2017

Dark Music Review – Alpine Respire

Dark Music Review – Alpine Respire

Review Written By Casey Douglass

Alpine Respire Cover Art

ProtoU (Ukraine) and Hilyard (Maine, US) group up in this field recording heavy collaboration. Alpine Respire immerses you in field recordings from two continents. Warm drone contrasts raindrops and the call of animals in the wild. This damp album invites you to explore the unreachable corners of the Earth. From the harshest mountains to the darkest forests. Recommended for fans of Field Recording and slowly progressing drone.

I do enjoy it when sounds that might normally be calming and relaxing, such as rain, when put into a certain context, sound off and a little sinister. I’m probably weird that way but I can live with that. Alpine Respire is a dark ambient album that sees ProtoU and Hilyard working their magic on a bountiful selection of field recording heavy tracks, tracks that mainly serve up enough calm threat to keep the bleakest amongst us happy.

Wind and rain make a number of appearances on the album, but the most intriguing for me was on the track Boreal Distillate. It begins with a kind of electro-transformer hum but soon opens out into a lovely expansive soundscape in which rain seems to blanket and surround the listener, a chant-like drone and “plinking” echoes are a few of the other sounds that you can expect to hear too. While it might fly in the face of my first paragraph, this track was pure relaxation for me. I’m a bit of a rain slut.

As mentioned in the album description, there are other field recordings beyond wind and rain. Animal and bird calls often appear, from the wolf-like tones on title track Alpine Respire (I say wolf-like as I wasn't sure if they were recordings or electronic notes that took on the aspect of wolves), to the moments of birdsong in Blood Grass Sojourn, they all seem to pierce the soundscapes in different ways, sometimes providing comfort, sometimes threatening to tear open a darker soundscape beneath.

A track that I particularly enjoyed for its level of menace was Cave Lights on the Bay of Bengal. This track starts with a sustained tone that just goes on and on, the other sounds in the soundscape: birdsong, piano notes and a strange “snuffling” sound, to name just a few, all having to compete with the strong thread of this tone’s sound. There are muffled rumblings too, which add some deeper sounds to the composition. Everything about the sustained tone and the sounds around it seemed to me, to suggest a scene in which something is about to happen, and then begins to. A little like looking at a peaceful lakeside view, everything looking normal save for a sound that permeates and taints everything else. I felt it was a very intriguing track, and I would say probably one of my favourites.

The other track that I would mention as a favourite is Final Refugium. It’s another track that makes great use of rain, but this time marries the sound with a melancholy funereal aesthetic. It suggested to me someone wounded or dying, and after days of travel, finding somewhere to finally hole up and await their death. A bit like a bleaker version of Robert the Bruce’s legend, where, instead of watching a spider in a cave and gaining confidence from its pluckiness, the cave dweller settles into a calm acceptance of the inevitable and gives themselves over to peace.

Alpine Respire is a windy dose of wet nature wrapped up in notes and tones that both invigorates and subdues the listener. If you, like me, enjoy your dark ambient with a higher ratio of field-recording than might be usual, you will find plenty of “the real world” to enjoy here. And as I said above, if you like things to sound a little malevolent, or at the very least for them to sit in an uncertain space of safety or threat, again, you will probably enjoy Alpine Respire.

Visit the Alpine Respire page on Bandcamp here for more information, and be sure to check out Cave Lights on the Bay of Bengal below:

I was given a free copy of this album to review.

Album Title: Alpine Respire
Artists: ProtoU & Hilyard
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: July 25, 2017

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