Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Dark Doodles - Intergalactic Handshake, Mask and Hooked

Nope, I haven't just come up with some quirky name ideas for wrestlers, I've been drawing dark doodles again and thought I'd do a post to contain the most recent of them. Intergalactic Handshake is what I think would happen if aliens publicly visited Earth right now; how they'd end up. Mask is self-explanatory, I hope. Hooked is about addiction, it has nothing to do with incompetent fishing.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Dark Fiction - High Stakes

High Stakes

Written By Casey Douglass

High Stakes Pic

Morris felt his boot slip on the dull red of the metal beam. His hand shot out to grip the upright; his eyes took in the drop.
‘Fuck me!’
‘What’s up?’ Cliff yelled from a few beams over.
‘Me, thankfully! I almost did a twenty story dive!’
Cliff looked across and saw Morris holding onto the upright for grim life. ‘Nah, you’re all strapped up into your safety harness, you’re buckled up tighter than a gimp at a bondage party!’
Morris tugged at the chords that fastened to his harness. ‘Shit, I know, I know. It’s just not natural, being so high. I forget myself.’
‘I think it’s lunchtime!’ Cliff yelled.
‘Yeah!’ Morris looked across and grinned. ‘Low blood sugar, that’s what does it!’
The two men navigated and negotiated their way to the largest beam and, with moans and sighs, lowered themselves to sit next to each other. Their packs hung nearby. Each rummaged for their lunchbox and drinks. Morris had barely unwrapped his sandwich when his radio squawked.
Oi, you two clowns sitting up there eating your elevenses, health and safety will have my arse if I let you do that!
Morris winked at Cliff. ‘I’ve got this.’ Into the radio he said ‘Don’t worry, I’m reliably informed that we are safe, what with these safety lines and everything. We can’t fall off.’
Okay, let me put this another way. You won’t fall but you might lose your sandwiches.
Morris looked at his Wensleydale and carrot chutney sandwich, the one he had specially bought from M&S earlier that morning, his favourite. He spoke into the radio. ‘Gotcha’. He turned to Cliff. ‘Lets scoot back a bit eh?’

The period where food has been eaten but lunch is still fifteen minutes from being over stretched out over the rooftops, much like the two men. Cliff was leaning against an upright reading his paper while Morris watched the midday sun chase the shadows through the ironwork.
‘How would you do it if you wanted to end it all?’ Cliff said, the words pushing through the latest failings of Arsenal on the back page of his paper.
‘That’s a bit heavy isn’t it?’ Morris replied, his eyebrows shifted in a stray sunbeam.
Cliff lowered his paper. ‘ I was just curious, seeing as you had your near miss awhile ago.’
‘Oh piss off!’
Cliff chuckled and then fell silent. ‘Seriously though, how would you do it? I’d put some music on, make a nice chilled out atmosphere and take an overdose of something.’
Morris gazed over the rooftops, not really sure if he wanted to be having this conversation. ‘Erm, I don’t know, maybe throw myself in front of a train?’
Cliff lowered his paper. ‘I hope not. I know people who aren’t in their right mind with depression aren’t really thinking that straight, but I’d hope I’d have the restraint to not ruin other people’s lives by having to suffer seeing me go splat on the train they’re driving!’
‘You’ll be dead though so who gives a shit?’
Cliff slowly folded his paper. ‘I know that, it just doesn’t seem fair to me.’
Morris went on. ‘I mean, if you lived alone and no-one would even know you’d died, why wouldn’t you want someone to know by doing it in public?’
Cliff sighed. ‘I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one then. I take your point. I guess it’s just something I couldn’t do. That and being scared of the pain too. I’d just want to go to sleep and not wake up again.’
Morris looked at Cliff. ‘You don’t look your usual self. I told you to buy the sport; get some spice in your life!’ he chortled.
‘Now there’s a stereotype, a builder reading the sport. If I wanted tits I’d buy a porn mag.’
‘Bet it would cheer you up?’
‘No, I don’t think it would.’
‘Why not?’
‘Showing someone page after page of unattainable women when the history of his love life is one long period of being single and unwanted doesn’t really help the mood.’
‘You’re strange today Cliff.’
‘No, don’t be sorry, happens to us all.’
‘Getting down in the dumps.’
‘Have you ever tried to kill yourself?’
Morris blew air through his pursed lips in a silent whistle. ‘No, can’t say I have mate.’
‘I did, when I was younger.’
‘Did it work?’
Cliff gave a snorted laugh. ‘Good one.’
‘I was due,’ he smiled back.
Cliff looked across the city, the gleaming glass of the skyscraper opposite dazzling him as the sun shifted position.
Morris studied Cliff’s face. ‘You get like that often?’
‘Fairly often.’
Morris nodded. ‘My aunt used to as well, can’t remember what mum used to call her episodes, something like “Aunt Jane is in her sad place” or something. I was only about eight.’
‘What happened to your aunt?’
‘She’s okay, still kicking around somewhere. Last I heard she moved to Spain for the climate.’
‘That’s good to hear.’
Cliff looked down at his fingernails, running his thumb over the smooth nail of his other hand. ‘If I get through the day and get to bed without praying I won’t wake up in the morning, that’s a good day.’
‘It’s that bad?’
Morris nodded and looked down at his own hands. ‘I don’t know what to say that might help mate.’
‘It’s okay. I don’t expect you to be able to help. Just felt like sharing for some reason.’
Morris nodded again. ‘I’d miss you.’
Cliff looked at Morris and nodded. ‘Thanks, that means a lot.’
Okay gentlemen enjoying your high tea at noon. It’s past noon now, back to work in a minute or I’m docking you both an hour!
They both stood, Morris slapping Cliff on the shoulder. ‘Something else to ponder mate, we build fucking skyscrapers! Fuck-ing skyscrapers! That’s pretty cool don’t ya think?’
‘It certainly is.’
‘Woooooooooo!’ shouted Morris, pumping his arms. ‘Wooooooooooooooooo!’
Cliff chuckled and yanked on Morris’ safety line. Morris yelped and clasped the upright, his knuckles turning white.
‘I just saved you.’
Morris looked confused. ‘I wasn’t going to fall.’
‘No, but you were starting to look like a right arse.’
Morris sniggered. ‘What would the right arse be for you then? Do you like junk in the trunk or the more athletic derrière?’
Cliff smiled.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Dark Music Review – Akuma

Dark Music Review – Akuma

Review Written By Casey Douglass

Akuma Album Art

Album description: Lovely Dark Work! ALEX and Tokyo Rose team up to make a killer album. Packed with plenty of dark synth, hard-hitting beats and retro-electro sounds. AKUMA is a fresh sound and experience for the Darkwave lovers. Turn this one up and enjoy.

I’ve been very slow to get my backside in gear and properly check out the whole darkwave / retrowave music genre. Awhile ago, heavy metal magazine Metal Hammer wrote an article about it, talking about artists such as Perturbator and someone else I’ve sadly forgotten. While it piqued my interest and sent me off to listen to a few YouTube vids and tracks on Bandcamp, I didn’t really click with it, and so moved on.

Maybe it wasn’t the right time for me, or maybe I just hadn’t landed on a musician that grabbed me by the hair and licked my neck until I went “Wow!”. (That’s a strange image, no idea where that came from). It was on re-watching a film that I realised that the seeds of attraction had been planted years ago. That film was Drive and the reason was its soundtrack. One of the standout tracks of that film was Nightcall by Kavinsky. Another is A Real Hero by College and Electric Youth. There is a really great article about the origins of synthwave on the NewRetroWave website here if you want to read about these artists, Drive, and other people that have made their mark. 

I recently joined Bandcamp, which is something I wish I’d done a few years ago. Most of my music review copies come to me via Bandcamp codes, so you’d think I would have signed up for a free fan account to make full use of it right? I said I’ve been slow. Since signing up, I’ve been browsing around and discovering a lot more music. I think Bandcamp is now my favourite music discovery avenue at this moment in time. On one of my many browsings, I came across Akuma, and it blew me away.

Many of the tracks feature a vibe that seems half 80s videogame score, half neon-painted future dystopia. They make great use of pulsing beats and echoing electro-notes to create soundscapes that contain movement, lightness and heaviness at the same time. And I haven’t even mentioned the infectious melodies that dance around in the top layer, ones that wriggle their way into the ear and are still knocking around in there when you are trying to get to sleep later that night.

The two standout tracks for me are Akuma and Cursed. Akuma begins with what I’d describe as an insidious beat, one that just has a darkness to it. Everything fuzzes up with another layer before Rachel McAlpine’s syrupy vocals emerge to reset the pattern. It feels like a hot, dark track, the various elements creating some great contrasting sensations, such as space and constriction.

Cursed begins with a slight dab of vocals and an airiness that pretty much sets the tone. When the stronger beat and lyrics begin,the swells of rhythm create a dizzying intoxicating effect, which is further enhanced when a kind of duplication occurs to expand them a little later. The effect is added to by twinkling chime-like notes behind the lyrics, notes that sit nicely above the deeper beat and create a teasingly balanced soundscape.

There are tracks that are slower paced, more meditative affairs, such as Delete Soul. Delete Soul is a track that starts low and chilled, and builds in intensity as its playing time progresses, the soft “Oooh” of a female vocal the thread that holds the listener’s hand through the peaks and valleys of synth. Okay, I now realise that I have three favourite tracks.

Akuma is an album that got its hooks into me and seems to have given me an opening into a music genre that I’d only gently bounced off before. There is a dark warmth and sinister edge to many of the notes and beats, like the pounding soundtrack to an 80’s slasher flick or the nostalgia of playing 8-Bit videogames on crappy fat-backed TV’s with dodgy RCA cables, the kind that make the image crackle if moved. This attraction surprises me, as I’m not typically a nostalgic person and I don’t really hanker for the days, or technology, of my youth either. So kudos Akuma, kudos indeed.

Visit the Akuma page on Bandcamp for more info at this link.

You can watch the video for title track Akuma below, a video that further plucks at the themes I’ve mentioned above:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Akuma
Album Artist: ALEX and Tokyo Rose
Label: NewRetroWave
Album Artwork: Ariel ZB 
Released: June 23, 2017

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Book Review – This Book Will Make You Stronger

Book Review – This Book Will Make You Stronger

Review Written by Casey Douglass

This Book Will Make You Stronger

I’ve long been familiar with the benefits of getting thoughts out of your head and down onto paper, but it isn’t always helpful. Sometimes you can get bogged down with what you are doing, and rather than creating some mental breathing space, you actually end up creating a kind of bureaucracy around your issues. Books or journals that already have a framework inside can be a useful way of avoiding the pitfalls that can come from inking your thoughts, and Ollie Aplin’s This Book Will Make You Stronger is one such book, with an interesting twist: it’s aimed at men.

“Manliness” can be a thorny topic, just like giving a definition to anything that might have different meanings to different people. I’m not going into definitions here, but I think it’s safe to say that some people will view the idea of a man keeping a journal as not very manly. This is quite amusing to me, as all kinds of great figures from history are known to have kept a journal, from Ernest Hemingway to Bruce Lee. In fact, one of the early sections of TBWMYS tells the reader what journaling is, what its benefits are, some famous people that have kept one and, most importantly, how to go about it.

The book is written in a warm and friendly voice; one early section contains Ollie’s story, how the events of his life brought him to a mental breakdown, and how, from the pieces of that breakdown, journaling emerged to become a powerful tool for recovery and beyond. He admits that he battled with journaling initially, feeling it was unnatural to write so many thoughts down. Talking with friends, he realised that his struggle with journaling was by no means a one off, and he set off down the path to creating a journal that actually helps with the act of journaling. He also realised that men could probably benefit most from this, and via a successful Kickstarter campaign (reaching its goal in only 72 hours), the book emerged, and started helping guys straight away.

This Book Will Make You Stronger

This Book Will Make You Stronger is split into different sections. The first 30 or so pages are taken up with the above mentioned backstory, what journaling is, and what you can expect by working through the book. The middle area of the book is the journal itself, split into three stages: Warm Up, Hurdles, and Strength. These stages are designed to ease you into the act of journaling.

This Book Will Make You Stronger

The Warm Up section is intended to be “light stretching” for the brain, a way to get you thinking about the past and how your life is now, by way of drawing diagrams, using Thought Triggers (writing prompts basically), and even writing a rap. Hurdles contains a collection of tougher Thought Triggers, and focusses on the reader and the people around them. It will also help to show the reader’s strengths and weaknesses, on the basis that knowing these can help you to make best use of them. Strength is the toughest section and gets you thinking about your needs and the future.

The last section of the book contains a Support Guide, a place where you can turn if you are struggling or if you get caught up in something that you don’t know how to deal with. Topics covered include things like giving yourself permission, how to deal with stress and a further FAQ on journaling. This is a great idea, as journaling can throw up some previously unknown stuff. Some of it might be an amazing relief, and some could be heavy shit that just depresses the hell out of you. Having somewhere to turn for extra advice is very handy.

This Book Will Make You Stronger

As I worked through and browsed TBWMYS, I found myself appreciating the layout. It’s black and white and well designed, each title and word feeling “punchy” and well placed. The pages that are intended for you to write on are clearly laid out, with areas for you to write the date, take stock of your current mood or feelings, and a whole free page for your thought writing (I’m never comfortable writing in “proper” books, it always feels so naughty, like the time I got told off for scribbling in my Button Moon book when I was five).

This Book Will Make You Stronger

The structure is indeed very useful, as it guides the journaller enough to give them a topic to think about, but not too much to make things constricted. It’s nothing like using an empty notebook, staring at a blank page wondering where to start. The Thought Triggers will likely make you think of some things that you haven’t even thought about in depth before, like what actually brings you joy, and “How does crying make you feel?” Taking the crying one as an example, it’s easy to focus on the unpleasantness of feeling bad enough to cry, any shame associated with “being weak” etc, and miss the positives such as the relief and expression of strong emotions. If crying just equals “feeling shit” to someone, they might just be missing out on the good stuff that comes with it too.
This Book Will Make You Stronger

This Book Will Make You Stronger strikes me as a very skilful way for someone to get into journaling. It gives you the information and advice that you need to approach journaling in a way that is most likely to help you stick with it long enough to start to see what you can get out of it. Once you’ve worked through the book from start to finish, you will also have completed your first journal in the process, so it’s not a case of perpetually reading about how to do something and not getting around to actually doing it, the book and “doing it” are all in one package. I like this.

This Book Will Make You Stronger

Visit the Mindjournal website here for more information about the male journaling movement, stories and other articles. Oh and links to buying the book too.

I was given a review copy of this book.

Book Title: This Book Will Make You Stronger
Author: Ollie Aplin
Publisher: Ebury Press
RRP: £9.99
ISBN: 978-1785036606

Friday, 7 July 2017

Dark Music Review – Trinity

Dark Music Review – Trinity

Review Written By Casey Douglass

Trinity Album Art

Council of Nine returns with his third album on Cryo Chamber. Trinity is a touching, personal and enlightening album from Maximillian Olivier. In a genre where most keep their personal life to themselves, Maximillian opens his heart for all to see. "This is my catharsis. The many stages of grief and the acceptance of loss, deeply personal, unforgiving, cold and painful. This is the story of the greatest loss I have suffered, the death of my mother. This marks the end of a chapter and the closure I was desperately seeking." Blending atmospheric sound layering with a harmonic palette it drifts between dark and light. Walls of sound collide with echoing strums, drones wash over endless shores.

Trinity is a dark ambient album that created quite a flow of mental scenes for me, even before I’d read the album blurb above (I often leave that until after forming my initial impressions). I must admit that the images it helped create do kind of fit with what Maximillian might have been experiencing as he went through the loss of his mother, although I’m sure, in a paler, less raw way than the things he felt in reality. As a consequence, I’ll write the narrative that seemed to impress itself upon me along with the descriptions of each track.

527: Dripping water and chiming bells join with snatches of melody. Other watery sounds rise up, giving the impression of someone waiting under a stone bridge, waiting for an empty passing boat to be near enough to jump inside, to ride away from an abandoned town. Slithering slurping sounds join with a distorted rumbling, much like the noises some massive creature might make as they laboriously dragged something along the bridge over head.

Memory: Piano notes set up the core of this track, both providing the melody and the gravity with deeper multiple tones. Wispy echoes hint at settling dust and rubble, a high pitched whine sits atop everything, much like that heard when entering a state of shell-shock, when something has rocked your world. The boat drifts along the lazy river, the familiar but empty town nestling on each bank, hollow and filling with murk. A bell chimes after the midpoint of the track, the soundscape beginning to become the audio equivalent of a hall of distorted mirrors.

Bargaining: A drone builds with rumbling and swellings of fuzz and gloom, before the track lightens a little. The boat is entering open countryside now, the lone occupant having to turn away from the sight of people crawling on their hands and knees, trying to slither into the water, into the current to be whisked away. Vocal-like sounds waft through the air, and metal chimes sound near the end, the last bending upward, much like someone’s inflection might if asking a question.

January 3rd: A female voice distorts and recedes. Muted notes and a light drone grows. The last signs of civilization have vanished now, only nature on both sides of the river. The figure drifts in the silence. A voice is heard again, distant and impossible to understand. A deeper tone emerges near the midpoint, a throbbing echo that quietens and soothes. A small chime sounds at a slow interval, the river water parts, the boat plunges down into the darkness below.

I No Longer Hear You: Everything sounds like it has been muffled in silk. The boat travels through an underwater cavern system, the screeching metallic creak of a gate opening ahead unleashing air currents that set myriad candle-flames sitting in impossible places a fluttering. A digeridoo-like thrum echoes, a loud bang or report is heard. A deep tone grows and vibrates, a “tut” noise setting up a rhythm that might just be the slow ticking secondhand of the travellers watch. The track ends with the squeal of metal again, the sound of water dripping, and what might be classed as an insectoid-purring noise.

Silent Dawn: Clattering metal opens this track, dripping water and an echo-filled space its canvas. It happens a few more times as the track progresses, piano notes and a flowing soundscape building up to the dawn spoken of in the track title. In this case however, it happens underground, as the boat glides along a raised canal, skirting the edge of a massive internal space, the pulsing glow of hot magma filling the darkness as the boat continues its journey.

Trinity: An echoing rattle launches the track before gentle piano notes emerge to hang in the peaceful air. The boat shoots through crystal caverns now, joined by an airy effect hinting at lungs being able to breath again. The glowing core at the centre of the largest space claims the boat, embraces it and sucks it inside. Distant bird song floats down from an elaborate fissure in the ceiling, wisps of light rising up and out into the vast blue sky above.

I’m betting those images aren’t the ones that Maximillian had in his head when he created Trinity, but I hope you’ll agree with me that the themes and tone seem to line up pretty well: the sense of loss, the holding of the breath and the search for some kind of peace. For that is what Trinity provides, a peaceful and melancholic journey through soundscapes infused with delicate tones and smooth experiences. Yes, there is the odd slightly jarring effect, but these simply heighten the peace that comes after. Trinity takes the listener into the raw part of the human experience, but makes it as beautiful and comforting as it possibly can be, yet it doesn't water the sadness down to make it easier to stomach. Trinity is a dark ambient album that I can see myself revisiting again and again.

Visit the Trinity page on Bandcamp here for more information, and be sure to check out track 527 below:

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

Album Title: Trinity
Artist: Council of Nine
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: July 11, 2017

Rob Hooper's Flaming Pencil

I recently revamped the header at the top of this website, along with my social media and various misc other things. I didn't want to put a photo of myself up alongside my name because I don't really like looking at myself, let alone on some kind of banner. I settled on the idea of having some kind of cartoon/caricature done, something I could push into a tight circle (easy there at the back!), something that would provide a dash of colour in my intended black and white banners.

I approached artist Rob Hooper, feeling that I probably couldn't afford his talents, but was very pleasantly surprised. You can see the result:

I highly recommend Rob if anyone needs any artwork created. He was a pleasure to deal with. You can find him at his website: The Flaming Pencil, where you can have a browse around his portfolio to see his stylistic range. He also has a range of Gentleman's Colouring Books which look rather spiffing too.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Dark Doodles - Money, Struggle, Time and Suicide

No, I haven't just created what seems like an excellent concept for a new prog rock band, I've been doodling. I used to enjoy art but like most things, when I had to do it more rigorously at GCSE I drifted away from it. I also don't like the frustration of the stuff I create not even slightly resembling what I have in my head. So doodles to the rescue.

The other day I sat and just doodled. The results can be seen below. I scanned them into my PC and used Gimp 2 to colour them. I'm quite pleased with them, some more than others, but I was only going for capturing a mood, and I feel I did that. The suicide awareness one came about because I wanted to make the noose-pondering doodle useful in some way, rather than just be a dark expression.