Wednesday, 31 December 2014

First Impressions – The Long Dark

First Impressions – The Long Dark

Written by Casey Douglass


Survival games have been the flavour of the month for...well, years it seems. I like this in a way as it means a departure from the infinite-spawn run-and-gun tripe that gamers seem to lap up like fizzy drink raining from heaven. Give me a game death that has consequences over one that can be erased with a few button presses any day.

The Long Dark Screenshot
The starting screen of the sandbox alpha.
The Long Dark is another so-called survival game. On first impressions, it’s very good indeed and is only in a very early stage of development. Created by Hinterland Studio Inc., The Long Dark places the player into a frozen wilderness after an apparent global geomagnetic disaster. The player must survive by scavenging food and supplies from cabins and huts, rummaging through the belongings of dead bodies, and hunting for food from nature’s larder. All of this while trying to stave off the deadly cold, hunger, thirst and illness. The crafting system will also keep you occupied.

The game has no story as yet but one is planned. The sandbox mode is where the fun is at the moment and it is this mode I have been playing for the last few days. The game offered me the choice among three difficulty modes. I opted for the easiest as it means that wolves etc. will not attack me (the forums abound with complaints of them being too aggressive). I just want to explore and survive.

I spawn near an icy lake and proceed to ransack the cabins around, picking up wood, matches and anything that is offered basically. I don’t run anywhere as there is no need and it is nice to have the illusion of walking in nature, however inhospitable. The first thing that got to me was the wind noise. I would guess that after around ten minutes, it began to seep into my mind and began to make me feel the virtual isolation. I gut a deer that has already been killed by wolves and make myself a meal of venison as the dark closes in.

The Long Dark Screenshot
I enjoy a lovely sunset as my bones freeze.

This is the start of the journey that impresses me the most. A game should give you stories to tell, moments of triumph or stupidity that stay with you and bubble up inside you urging you to tell other people. I walked through the night, using a flare as the darkness seemed to deepen all around me. I followed a rail track until it ended high on a hill. I frequently found myself about to step into an abyss below as I tried to walk down into the valley below, even the flare failing to spit its light further than a few paces. I knew that I could pass a hut or cabin and not even know it. I walked for around five minutes and decided to give up for the night and wait until morning. I found a rut in the landscape, made a fire, put all of my firewood on it in the hope it would stop me freezing to death in my sleep, and placed my sleeping roll nearby. I told the game to sleep for around five hours and crossed my fingers.

When I woke, the red smear of sunrise was painted across the horizon. I was relieved to be still alive but my character was complaining of being “So cold!” I checked my health bars and thirst and cold were at their most dangerous levels. I downed a can of soda to sort a little of my thirst and climbed out of the rut. I laughed. About 20ft away was a road, the other side of which was a collection of log cabins! I had almost died mere yards from safety! I liked this moment a great deal as it cemented in my mind what a harsh environment the game world is.

The Long Dark Screenshot
Searching through my supplies for something to eat.
I am unsure of the game’s replay value once the maps are known, but even if it is just a play-once and-move-on kind of game, it is a very cool experience. The wonderful art-style is like a graphic novel and the sound design deepens the feelings of really being there. As other things are added, like the story mode, it will be interesting to see how the game develops. If you fancy it now however, I think you will get your enjoyment from it whenever you decide to jump in.

The Long Dark is in Steam’s Early Access section and will grow and be patched over time. Only buy it if you are fully aware of this so that you don’t spit your dummy out if the game development changes drastically or even stops completely. Check it out here and visit the game’s official site here.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Dark Review – Hidden

Hidden Review

Written By Casey Douglass

  Hidden album cover

I always enjoy finding dark ambient works that are a little different to what I’m used to listening to. Hidden by Sound Awakener, is one that departs from my ambient taste to quite a large degree, which intrigued and challenged me. Sound Awakener is a solo music project from Nhung Nguyen, a musician from Hanoi in Vietnam. She has been working on Sound Awakener since 2011 but has only now begun to release her work in 2014. In that time, she has developed her own techniques to bring about the sound that she has created, which tends to feature machinery, found sounds and other extreme sounds from musical instruments.

Using intended clicks and distortion to create a hidden space. but not a shelter.

This short album description is certainly verified upon listening to Hidden, a seemingly violent and jarring trio of tracks, but to label it as such and then move on would be to do it a great disservice.

The Tracks:

Around
Around starts with what sounds like a printing press thumping away. It isn’t long before the sound distorts and becomes rawkish with variations in distance and timing. It put me in mind of what a machine might sound like if it growled at me. The latter part of the track slips into a quieter frame, giving the ear respite and the sensation of travel. My own imaginings saw me flying along an optical cable into the bowels of the internet, rings of light dancing past my eyes.

Hidden
Hidden put me in mind of someone hiding in a cupboard in a large abandoned room, the kind with rough exposed floorboards and cracked window panes. The track begins with shuffling sounds and movement, as if things outside the cupboard door are hunting for the hider. They sound insect-like but technological. Peeking through the crack in the door might reveal one shimmering with pixels. After a higher pitched sound, the multiple scuttlings are replaced by larger and more singular sounds, as if the brood mother has squeezed into the space and has taken up the search for you.

Diary
This track starts with an undulating sound wave with hints of guitar and other less easily recognised noises. I think the best way to sum up this track is to start with what it made me think of. I had visions of a kitchen, sunlight shining through the window but some of the room in gloom. Hanging over the open doorway is one of those bead curtains that people use to keep the flies out. This track seems to give sound to the motion of the beads rocking backwards and forwards after something large has pushed through them, with the exception that momentum is never lost and they never settle down. It sounds energetic and swaying, the rhythm very pleasing and strangely relaxing.

Thoughts

Hidden has to be one of the more challenging dark ambient albums that I’ve listened to. Someone unused to dark ambient or less eclectic in music tastes might have said “It’s just noise!” but it really isn’t. Whatever the noises and sounds presented to the listener, they create strange rhythms that draw the mind in and certainly create an effect. These rhythms are key to what makes Hidden something worth listening to.

I really enjoyed listening to Hidden and I’m interested in hearing more of Sound Awakener’s tracks. If I had to choose a favourite track, it would have to be Diary as it almost lulled me to sleep a few times and I kept repeating it as it almost got to the end each time.

I give Hidden 4.5/5. It’s not my usual brand of dark ambient but I am seriously thinking it should be.

Visit Sound Awakener on Bandcamp here for previews and purchasing options.

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

Album Title: Hidden
Artist: Sound Awakener
Released : 28th November 2014

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Dark Review – The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman

The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman

Review written by Casey Douglass


Postmen and women are the unsung heroes of the Xmas period. Not only do they continue their regular duties in our worst weather, they also have to cope with being inundated with parcels and packages containing all manner of presents and festive goodies. It seems fitting that the book I am about to review focuses on the life of a Canadian postman as he struggles with the eternal conundrum of love in Denis Theriault’s The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman.

Secretly steaming open envelopes and reading the letters inside, Bilodo has found an escape from his lonely and routine life as a postman. When one day he comes across a mysterious letter containing only a single haiku, he finds himself avidly caught up in the relationship between a long-distance couple, who write to each other using only beautiful poetry. He feasts on their words, vicariously living a life for which he longs. But it will only be a matter of time before his world comes crashing down around him…

I will admit that the prying nature of Bilodo’s activity grabbed my interest but the mention of haiku and his desire to learn all he can about his mysterious woman Ségolène sealed the deal.

What I found in Theriault’s book was an interesting take on the way we build other people up in our minds and often prefer the excitement of fantasy, even when reality presents us with something “real” at the same time. Bilodo’s tale is one of escalation and obsession that sees him missing work and devoting days and weeks of his life to the intangibility of his mental relationship with Ségolène as the rest of his life begins to suffer.

The book had a quick pace to proceedings and was a very easy read, the manner and style of the author lending the story a simplicity that someone else might have scribbled out in favour of longer and more flowery words. The haikus add an extra dimension to the narrative and they undergo their own changes and evolve as much as Bilodo seems to. I’ll admit that I am far from knowledgeable about haikus, beyond their basic syllable structure and general traditional themes, but I did enjoy reading the ones in the book and seeing how the author and Bilodo dealt with them. Zen ideas infuse the second half of the book and things certainly take a turn for the strange near the end. To say any more would be to ruin the surprise however, so I will keep my mouth shut.

I would give The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman 4/5. The book was pacey, well written and intriguing without overstaying its welcome. It was also a little voyeuristic and sad, and has I feel, plenty to say about the issue of identity and fantasy in the modern world. You only need transpose the letters Bilodo opens to texts and tweets and you could still have the same themes running through it, although I am sure, even faster paced and with more pictures of exposed genitalia.

The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman is currently in Amazon’s Winter Sale so if you are quick you can pick it up for only 99p in the Kindle Store.

The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman is written by Denis Theriault and published in the UK by Hesperus Press Ltd.


Monday, 22 December 2014

Dark Review - Call of the North

Dark Review – Call of the North

Written By Casey Douglass


Call of the North

Well it’s almost Xmas again, and with that realisation comes the battle against the consumerist soul and the frigid cold. Ugasanie’s Call of the North is set somewhere even colder but with thankfully fewer people around. Could this be just the dark ambient album to listen to after being out with the masses staring at fake snow and shiny baubles? Read on to find out.

Ugasanie known for his freezing desolate soundscapes is back with a new album taking us even further north to explore the concept of the unusual and mysterious phenomenon known as Arctic hysteria (also known as menerik and the call of the North Star). It manifests itself only in the polar night, and only when the northern lights shine. Man, as if under hypnosis journeys north. In this state of trance he is almost impossible to stop, he becomes aggressive, sings a song, mumbles, experiences hallucinations and persistently continues towards the polar star. It is not uncommon that these people end up freezing or starving to death.

In track 5 the voice belongs to an old yakutish man. The recording was made during an attack of polar hysteria. This field recording was recorded in a Yakutia group of researchers led by Eduard Alekseev in the 60s.

I think the above has to be one of the most intriguing album blurbs I’ve ever read. Arctic hysteria sounds brutal and rings true with so much of H.P Lovecraft's Arctic based fiction, even if in those, the madness seems to be caused by horror or elder gods rather than the North Star. Let’s take a look at the tracks.

The Tracks:

Without the Sun
A low drone builds into a blustery rumbling soundscape with the tinkling of chimes mingling with an eerie horn calling or signalling some event or warning.

Pulsation
This track seeps into motion, its low drone punctuated by strange distant noises and movements that linger on the edge of your awareness as the main tone emerges and the background deepens. Haunting. Some strange undulating sounds towards the end sound human.

Aurora
Light and dancing, this track meanders and undulates bringing to mind the shifting hues of the Aurora Borealis very nicely. Stray piano notes give the rumbling that then ensues a great contrast. This sounds sci-fi and majestic.

Call of the North
This is another seeming “sci-fi” track, it conjured images to me of a large spacecraft coming in to land or hover directly over my head, the lone siren/alarm noise hinting at danger and energy manipulations rending the air and blasting snow hundreds of feet up and away in a maelstrom of noise and vibration. The rest of the track made me feel like I was watching the landed craft and waiting for something to emerge.

Arctic Hysteria
This track is the one mentioned in the album description above, featuring the intonation of a Yakutish man. It is certainly a strange sound, even more so when the sound of dogs barking mingles with it. Is the man summoning something that the dogs do not like or fear? Or do they just sense his lapse into polar hysteria? The rest of the track feels like a response to his calls, movements and shiftings in the aether.

In the Waves of Light
Melancholy and sad, the stray notes fall into rushing movements that tinge everything with their own chiming seeking. Calls and vocals seem to sound from the midpoint of this track, answered by who knows what at the edge of consciousness.

Freezing
A gentle clattering starts this track, like an old generator on its last legs heard through the muffling wall of a log cabin, the last flickering sputters plunging everything into darkness save for the dancing flames of the fireplace that seem to die inches from the hearth. An otherworldly horn sounds as the atmosphere thickens with ice particles and stasis. Even though not the last track, it feels like an ending has happened.

Cold Wasteland
With the last impressions in mind, this track feels like a landscape without a viewer, or a conversation without people. Nature, forces and chaos in balance with eerie and light melodies that paint a picture of indifference to the listener.

Thoughts

Call of the North is another “smooth” dark ambient album, in so far as it’s not jarring as others can often be. This makes it ideal to chill-out to or to switch on when the snow is falling outside.

I enjoyed listening to it and felt that every track conjured up the feeling of cold and madness that was so ably described by its description. I particularly enjoyed the tracks that featured distant horns, and Arctic Hysteria which featured the man suffering from polar hysteria.

This album has come at an opportune time and meets the time of year with an icy handshake and a threat in its eye. If Xmas leaves you feeling bleak and exhausted, lower the lights and put Call of the North on as the wind molests the leaves outside.

I give Call of the North 4/5. Much like my Tomb of Empires review, I very much enjoyed it but my perfect dark ambient albums are less smooth and more sinister. Great none the less though.

Check out Cryo Chamber here to view more information and purchasing options.

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

Album Title: Call of the North
Artist: Ugasanie
Written, produced and performed: Pavel Malyshkin
Artwork and Mastering : Simon Heath
Label : Cryo Chamber
Released : 9th December 2014

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Dark Feature - Why Alien: Isolation Gets It Right

Even though I use the Dark Review icon above, the link on this page actually goes to a feature. I'm a cad I know! Alien: Isolation has been my game of the year, game of recent years even and I just wanted to write something that expresses my pleasure at finally having a good alien game to play. It also helped that I predicted what would make a great alien game at the beginning of last year before Aliens: Colonial Marines came out. The less said about that game the better. Anyway, click the link here to read my Alien: Isolation feature on Geek Syndicate.

Alien: Isolation Screenshot

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Living In Others’ Heads

Living In Others’ Heads

By Casey Douglass


Writing requires the ability to get inside the head of a character, to see their thought processes and motivations unfolding, their synapses firing and their senses collating. What can be useful in character creation is far less useful in the real world, as it just boils down to guesswork. I’m not saying empathy can’t be useful of course, but itself is just using your own mind to try to understand another’s feelings/situation, hopefully based on some decent facts.

It’s an easy trap to fall into, thinking that we know what someone else is really thinking or why they have done a particular thing. Sure, we can guess, but the danger comes when we forget that we are guessing. How many times have we not asked the cutie out because we fill our mind with thoughts of “He/she isn’t interested” or “I bet they are in a relationship” or others that flow from ear to ear in a self-defeating loop of misery. At other times, we might think we know what unknown individuals will think about our latest creative endeavour: “Nobody will like it!” or “People just aren’t interested in what I create!” being two of my own personal favourites.

Viewing the world this way seems to avoid a dose of pain or uncertainty. If you never ask the person out or actually release your creation to the world, you avoid a whole host of possible unpleasantness: rejection, embarrassment, criticism and other uncomfortable states. It makes the world seem safer and more predictable, and also seems to give you the illusion of control, even though in actual fact you are losing some.

How so? By letting your fear of others’ opinions dictate what you do, you are handing over any control you might have to an external factor. If these thoughts stop you doing something that, when first thought of, delighted you, you have quenched your candle of inspiration with the gloopy mud of despair. Can you hear it sizzle? Before long, it might not kindle itself at all, I mean, why bother!

I think all we can do in this situation is to try to bring a measure of mindfulness to how we perceive others. If you at least know that you are stacking things against yourself in this manner, you are better placed to account for those feelings and thoughts without being blindly swept along by them. You might not be able to adjust your course straight away but repeated awareness will eventually help you see how predictable your own mind can be. Once it loses the power to effortlessly drag you down, you gain some of that power yourself.

I have struggled with this mindset for many many years and I can only imagine how things might be now if I was less in awe of my doubts and more “Let’s have a go!” in my actions. I try to push the envelope when I can, doing things that I feel are risky creatively or are outside my comfort zone socially, and just try to see the world for what it is: full of people with a variety of views and opinions, that I have no right to project my own thoughts onto as if they were theirs. Unless you are a character in one of my stories...if that is the case, you are all mine have enough to worry about already!

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Lack Friday


No, the title isn’t a typo, it’s deliberate. We are now at Sunday and the news is still full of people who just couldn’t rise above and see what a crock Black Friday is. This isn’t aimed at normal, regular people with their heads screwed on properly, this is aimed at the greedy fuckers who practically assault people just to get their hands on a piece of crap that will lose all meaning to them in a few months’ time.

This used to be a purely American thing, but now it is increasingly hyped up in the UK too. But of course, we must all bow at the altar of consumerism or where would society be? Keep the sheeple happy with shiny baubles and glossy gadgets and they won’t notice how shit everything else is.

All of the build-up, all of the hype is designed to create such a feeling of lack (ahah!) that some can’t seem to bare it and just slide back a few notches on the old evolutionary scale. Did they have Black Friday back in caveman times? 80% off a new animal cloak? Free spit-shampoo with every purchase? Maybe people were just too busy with the little old issue of survival.

Now Cyber Monday looms, the day where websites cream themselves trying to recreate the thrill of Black Friday but in a virtual form. You just end up trading physical blows and cold weather for artificial count-down timers and hitting the refresh button of your browser. That’s if the websites even stay up long enough under the load. Lab-rats pushing little buttons to make a treat slide into their cage come to mind.

If you are simply looking for something that you have wanted for awhile at a bargain price, I do wish you luck. If you are just being carried along by the capitalist myth of buying happiness, you deserve everything you get.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Dark Review – Outer Tehom

Review of Outer Tehom

Written by Casey Douglass

From the Ukraine's Oleg Puzan comes this thick drone album of darkest black, every track a perfect 13 minute summoning of elder gods forgotten in time.

I liked the concept of Outer Tehom as soon as I read the above blurb. All 4 tracks are 13 minutes exactly and anything that claims to evoke images of elder gods being summoned gets an instant thumbs up from me. Anyway, to the tracks...

The Tracks:

Black Arts
This first track opens with a deep vibrating drone, much like you might find some Buddhist monks chanting, if they happen to worship a dark god that is. It gives way to what sounds like an audio capture of some firebrand preacher warning and talking about demons. Then it all fades to a quiet deep pulsing and quiet rumbling that unnerves as much as it soothes. Towards the end of the track, tuneless chimes pierce the darkness, like a lone music box left playing its song as it winds down in a tomb.

Mortal Skin
Mortal Skin starts with a sensation of deep waves, building in volume as the soundscape fills out.
After a short while, a voice can be heard uttering uncaught words and raging. This whole track conjured a possession scene from various films to my mind, Evil Dead, The Exorcist, you name it, if it has a scene with strange intonation and bodily possession, this track will make you think of it.

Snake Hole
Snake Hole is a rumbling droning soundscape with plenty of distant echoes and sounds of vast distance. Strangely, it is one that flows past me with little of it lodging in my memory, like a dream fading quickly upon waking. No less enjoyable for it however.

Arcane Shrine
This track features howling wind and distant voices in conversation, bringing to mind a large temple with some strange rite occurring. As the listener, you feel far enough away to be safe but close enough to feel unsteadied by the rumbling vibrations coming from the ground. After a crescendo comes a lull with soft whispered sounds and pregnant silences before it builds once more. This pattern repeats a few times, the ante upped each time until a strange horn is heard above the growing silence as the track ends.

Thoughts
I felt the first two tracks were by far the strongest and most memorable. The drones of Black Arts and the demonic voice in Mortal Skin really provide something solid to focus on and enjoy. Snake Hole and Arcane Shrine are a little more sedate and spacial, and while pleasing, had less in them that appealed to my ear.

I give Outer Tehom 3.5/5, the two tracks that appealed to me the most doing the bulk of the lifting. Other tastes will beg to differ I am sure, but it was almost a case of liking those so much, that the latter ones really had a job to shine in their own gloomy light.

Check out Cryo Chamber here to view more information and purchasing options.

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

Album Title: Outer Tehom
Artist: Oleg Puzan
Mastering : Simon Heath
Artwork : Nihil
Label : Cryo Chamber
Released : 18th November 2014


Saturday, 22 November 2014

What Are You Holding On To?

What Are You Holding On To?

By Casey Douglass


A short while ago, I listened to one of Alan Watts’ lectures. If you haven’t heard of him, he was a British philosopher who did talks and lectures in America during the 1950s, and brought many Eastern philosophical ideas to the West in a way that the Western mind of the time could understand.

In the lecture I listened to, he spoke about how, from the moment we are born, we are on a downward slope of flux, change and decay, culminating in our death. But some of us cannot deal with this and we cling to things that we think make us feel safer or more secure. He mentions the analogy of someone falling from a great height but still holding on to a rock as they fall. It conjures a comical image as to the futility of the act and we might think the person doing it to be a little bit mad. (The lecture name and where he was when he gave it escapes me sadly).

It is now that we can ask ourselves, what if the person is unaware that they are clutching something needlessly? There are many things in life that we are unaware of at any given time. If you are anything like me, you will almost certainly have eaten something at some point and been shocked when there was nothing left, yet having little memory of eating the whole thing. If we can do this over something as simple as food, it stands to reason that we might be doing the same thing when it comes to our thoughts and emotions.

As an OCD sufferer, I have always been aware that I am holding on to a great many things that others wouldn’t think twice about discarding. If I took Alan’s analogy further, I’m not just clutching one rock as I fall; I have used string and ingenuity to pull others nearer to me, fixing them together and have started building some kind of ramshackle house on the plummeting platform!

The “rocks” themselves are nearly all fear based, most featuring some worry of loss, hardship or some fear about the future or regret about the past. Awareness of this is sometimes enough to give you a little sense of release or space, even if you still cling tightly to them in every other way. As an example, I am almost certain that even if I collapsed on the street and was rushed to hospital, once there, I would still find my mind obsessing about whether I left a light turned on or my laptop on charge. It sounds strange to hear that even knowing something is worth letting go, that knowledge is sometimes not enough to allow the “letting go”. I fall into this trap regularly. If I find my life becoming more and more stressful, tiring and just generally less enjoyable, I know that it is usually because I am grasping too much.

One rock that I know I did inadvertently let go is the one which symbolised my dreams and fantasies. I just don’t seem to have them any more and when I think about that, I don’t mind too much. They drew me away from the present moment and gave me something fake and dazzling to compare my life to, which usually ended in me feeling terrible when the inevitable differences reared their heads. I don’t mind living in the moment, and after all, if dreams and fantasies stop making you happy or giving any sense of relief, they should be dropped just like anything else.

I doubt I will ever be able to let go of all the “rocks” that I have latched on to. I would like to think that the occasional awareness of the futility of the struggle might give me a measure of bravery, the desire to loosen some of the binding ropes and the will to let some just drift away, watching them mingle with the other falling debris around me.

Now it’s your turn. Have a think. What rocks are you holding on to?

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Dark Review - The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath

I look at I. N. J. Culbard's adaptation of one of my favourite Lovecraft tales, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, here on Geek Syndicate. It's awesome!


Friday, 14 November 2014

Dark Fiction - Glue

Glue

By Casey Douglass

as part of #fridayflash

The last log in the makeshift fireplace cracked like a gunshot.
‘Mum!’ Maxwell cried, his eyes searching her out in the dim space.
‘It’s okay it’s okay!’ Wendy soothed as she scuttled over on her hands and knees. ‘It was just the log!’
‘It frightened me!’
‘It’s because it’s empty in here Max, the sound echoes off the walls.’
She cradled the sniffing boy, the first sign of a snot bubble beginning to form under his sooty nose.
‘How long are we staying here?’ His eyes locked onto hers, dams of tears ready to flow whatever her answer.
‘We are going in a few minutes, now that we are awake. Might as well make use of the day.’
‘Muuummm!’
‘I know Max,’ she whispered as she held his face to her chest. She glanced around the abandoned garage, the early light of dawn fingering its way under the heavy metal shutter.
She lifted the boy’s head and ran a finger over his cracked lips. ‘Time to seal. No point waiting til after breakfast as we’ve got nothing left.’
His tears began to flow as she reached behind her for the small yellow tube. The one with red writing and gas mask pictograms scrawled across its metallic surface. The stuff that seemed to last a perfect twelve hours. Max sat surprisingly still as she squeezed some along his lower lip, then gently close his mouth. She pinched his lips for a sixty count and let go. ‘How’s that?’
He sniffed and nodded. She felt his eyes on her as she did the same thing to herself, the clear gloopy liquid flowing into the damaged skin of her lips. A tear dripped down the side of her face.
Once the glue was firm, she corralled Max into helping her tidy their sleeping things. She gave a tight smile when she realised that a lack of provisions also meant a lack of washing and rinsing. She left the lone oat bar wrapper from their bedtime snack to dance across the concrete floor, frolicking in the dust and grime.
Both stood near the shutter, the first howls ululating outside at the first sign of the sun. She glanced at Max and was warmed by his hobbled smile. With a nonchalance her stinging lips protested, she lifted the shutter and guided them both out into the glare. After all, she thought, they had nothing to fear, the creatures couldn’t get in, not as along as they had glue.

THE END

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Dark Review - Interdimensional

Interdimensional Review

Written by Casey Douglass


Interdimensional is the first dark ambient album to be released by musician Ager Sonus, a composer who enjoys mixing real world ambient sounds with electronic and synth to create deep soundscapes that entertain the ear.

In this review, I take a listen to Interdimensional and try to give an impression of how it affected me.

The first thing I noticed was the crispness of the real-world sounds used in many of the tracks. Rain, footsteps and nature all managed to blend into the soundscape and yet still seemed defined and separate. I found this with most of the other sounds in Interdimensional too, they all seem to occupy their own space and claim it, rather than, as with some other ambient tracks, undulate and oscillate in a more symbiotic way. It’s not a bad thing, not at all; it's just something I noticed.

Now for each track in turn:

Nocturnal Stroll
This is the longest track with a running time of around ten minutes. It begins with footsteps and the sound of the falling rain, leisurely and at ease. As the track continues a catchy background melody chimes in, which to me hinted at crossing into a fantastical dark city.

Distant Water
Starting with more footsteps and the sound of water, a background droning carries us through this track, changing as it progresses to what I could only liken to sounding like sci-fi energy rushes building around a great machine.

Voce Arcanum
An echoing voice recites verses in an unknown language (to me at least) with a pulsing simple sound for accompaniment. As the composition continues it becomes louder and slightly discordant as it nears the end.

Orbital Exploration
Light and bouncy sounds seem to reverberate back into your ears. I found that it conjured images of trajectories and star charts in my mind.

Hive
Aptly named as begins with the sound of distant droning, like bees far away. It also features chimes and sounds that you aren't sure are music or screams.

Magnam Noctis
Begins with the sound of an owl and the broader sounds of night time. A crackling fire and insects a joined by an ominous drone, with a main melody that sounds like an insect swarm mingling with the howling of wolves. It has a certain majesty about it that hints at lofty events unfolding in a strange valley.

Pillars of Creation (Featuring Ivan Black)
This track feels spacious and peaceful, conjuring the image of a row boat on a still lake under a starry sky. Then things flip upside down half way, you fall into the sky and everything becomes cold and abyssal dark.

Dystopian Visions
Simple and light tones with an airiness until the drums and bass guitar comes in. A pleasing melody.

Horologium
The simplest way to describe this track is it makes me think of a chittering darkness, alive with the movement of strange insects.

What’s in those sewers?
Footsteps on a journey to find out the truth. Strange cries and haunting piano hint at the answer being something familiar yet all the more fearsome for it.

My Thoughts
I enjoyed listening to Interdimensional, as attested to by the fact I am on my third or fourth listen as I write this review. I appreciated the sound quality and the variety of soundscapes conveyed. The tracks themselves take you between nature and ruins, to space and the void, and right back down to the ground again. I thought they all had a great feeling of space (as in a large area rather than the black starry kind) and used some interesting melodies to give the mind something to focus on amongst the drones.

I give Interdimensional 4/5. It was a very enjoyable listen but as I stated in another dark ambient review, wasn’t twisted enough to my own personal taste, but that's just me.

Visit Ager Sonus on Bandcamp here to view buying options.

I was given a free copy to review.

Album Title : Interdimensional
Artist : Ager Sonus
Released : 22nd October 2014.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Dark Review - Cthulhu

Review of Cthulhu

Written By Casey Douglass

Ah Cthulhu, one of my favourite dark gods. It’s a bit of a shame his image has been commercialized to such a degree that you can buy cute plush toys and cartoon mugs bearing his likeness. I favour the more old-school designs that paint him as a true sunderer of worlds. Cthulhu, the dark ambient album from Cryo Chamber, falls into the latter camp in every way, from the evocative artwork on the cover to the leviathan sounds on the track.

Yes, Cthulhu is one mammoth track that is almost 80 minutes long. I like this as it dissuades you from skipping around. You can just set it going and leave it alone.

It begins with the sound of sea and storm, wet dripping and some strange creature hissing in the darkness. To me at least, it conjured the image of an isolated stone house on top of a cliff gazing down at the undulating mass of an angry ocean. Then you go deeper.

The sounds take on the distortion of being underwater, creating an almost claustrophobic feeling, yet you also have the feeling of being suspended in a great void with unknown things swimming beneath and around you. You can hear them. Think whale song but more sinister and you are half way there. It’s very relaxing, if you are of a certain frame of mind.

It is after this that the first melodies begin to play. They are haunting and distant, like ancient horns blown far far away. They conjure Cyclopean underwater cities and strange flora and fauna to mind, things that have existed on the planet millennia before humans were around.

As things progress, you feel that you are inside massive structures, echoing thumps and shrill cries reverberating from walls that no human has seen or touched.

About half way into the track, things turn a little sci-fi. Static and crackles hint at energy manipulation, reality tearing and the great power of Cthulhu brought to bear on the veil that separates the worlds.

For me at least, the rest of the album is the sound of Cthulhu unleashed, culminating in his appearance amidst the screams of onlookers. His calls and bellows are epic; the sea around his body broiling and surging away from him. It could have been his emergence near some sea-faring vessel but I liked to imagine he was approaching the shore near a large modern city.

There we have it, a fantastic dark ambient album that should appeal to any Cthulhu fan. A knowledge of Cthulhu isn’t a must but you will certainly get the most from this soundscape if you at least have some awareness of H.P Lovecraft’s work.

I give Cthulhu 5/5, it’s everything I want from a dark ambient track, married to a concept that I already like a great deal. Visit the Cryo Chamber page here for purchasing options.

I was given a free copy to review.

Album Title: Cthulhu
Artists: Alt3r3d Stat3, Alphaxone, Aseptic Void, Atrium Carceri, Cryobiosis, Halgrath, Neizvestija, Ugasanie, Mystified, Asbaar, Dark Matter, Sjellos, Sabled Sun.
Mastering : Simon Heath
Artwork : Simon Heath & Nicolas Crombez
Label : Cryo Chamber
Released : 30th September 2014

Monday, 3 November 2014

Breathe

Breathe

By Casey Douglass


Inhale,
draw in feelings of peace, happiness and relaxation.

Exhale,
let all the stress, negativity and illness within flow outwards.

Inhale, Again take in the feeli-

You know what? Fuck it.

Inhale,
drink in the pollution, the sadness and death. Suck it all in until your chest strains and stomach trembles.

Exhale,
push out any feelings of hope, comfort and joy. Eject it all until your cheeks are hollow and your lips tingle.

Repeat.

Let’s get this fucker over with.
 
 

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Dark Review - Littlest Lovecraft Presents The Dunwich Horror

After attempting and nailing an adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu for younger readers, Littlest Lovecraft has moved on to another of H.P Lovecraft’s well-known tales, The Dunwich Horror. Click here to read it on Geek Syndicate.


Friday, 31 October 2014

Dark Fiction - Forget

Forget

By Casey Douglass

as part of #fridayflash


A dog barks somewhere in the distance; it’s noise muffled by the dark trees that pressed in on the old house. Ted Smith stood on his porch step, taking the air and watching the evening deepen. A slight breeze molested a stray leaf as it bounced across his narrow garden path, the only other noise in the stagnant grounds.
Ted rubbed cracked fingers over his white stubble and nodded to himself. He pushed a hand into his shirt pocket, retrieved the headphones, slid them over his head and pressed play on the small MP3 player. A nasal male voice began to talk down to him.
You are in a safe place. You feel calm and relaxed.
Ted thumps down the steps and strides along the gravel path.
You are listening to this because you want to forget. You have suffered and you would like to erase that pain.
Reaching the waist-height wooden gate, he gropes behind him and pulls a pair of thick gloves from his trouser waistband.
Together, we will improve your life, removing the pain and adding so much more joy and fulfilment.
Gloves on, he squints into the failing light and frisks a nearby rose bush.
In a moment, I am going to count backwards from ten to one.
His gloves close on a spool of barbed wire. With a grunt, he lifts it, snagging one end on the shiny gate bolt. He twists and weaves and drags until the whole gate is a jumble of twisted metal spikes.
Try not to resist the process, we are all friends here.
A firework bangs in the east, its fizzing trajectory sputtering out somewhere over the high street.
Ten.
He back-steps a few paces and picks up a plastic bucket. It clinks and chinks as he gives it a small shake.
Nine.
He tips it slightly and continues his backward pacing, shards of glass cascading onto the uneven surface at his feet.
Eight.
The street light dazzles as it caches in the tumbling daggers, Ted’s eyes twitching as they try to follow the movement.
Seven.
His heels bump against the porch step. He takes off the gloves and chucks them and the bucket to one side, turns to face the house and climbs the steps.
Six.
Another firework goes off as he edges the screen door open, his hand resting lightly on a lever. Once his feet are clear of the welcome mat, he pushes the lever down hard. Heavy spikes puncture the mat from beneath, lifting it a few inches from the floor. He lifts the lever and twists it, a metal ping sounds below. The spikes barely show over the “Welcome” now, but the mat seems to quiver slightly.
Five.
He closes the door and looks up at the slab of concrete perched on a folding metal shelf. He takes hold of the gossamer wire that is linked to the triggering mechanism and delicately loops it around the door handle.
Four.
With a burst of pace he trudges through the house, picks up a handful of cloth and a carrier bag.
Three.
He rushes out the side door and jogs along his driveway, passes the hunched metal bulk of his car.
Two.
He reaches the other side of his garden gate and rummages inside the bag. He pulls out a long black cape and a rubber Frankenstein mask. He puts them on and then lifts a small plastic bucket from the bag. It’s orange and shaped like a pumpkin with small stickers plastered all over it. A lone candy rattles in the bottom. He throws the bag away and kicks off his shoes.
One.
His hand clamps down hard on the waist-height, wooden and now very sharp gate.
Your pain can be overcome...

THE END

Happy Halloween. If you read this before 1st November, you might be interested to know that my Dark Distractions anthology is on sale:


Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Dark Review - Tomb of Empires

Tomb of Empires Review

Written By Casey Douglass

 

Tomb of Empires

I always feel that reviewing dark ambient albums often reveals more about the psyche of the reviewer than the actual content of the music. I also find it a great creative exercise in stretching the vocabulary and conveying the imagery that often comes unbidden and makes a lasting impression. This is also the reason why dark ambient music is often in the background whilst I create my own worlds.

As a consequence, this review of Tomb of Empires, a 4 split release featuring different 4 different artists in the dark ambient scene and released by Cryochamber, is almost a journal of my impressions and feelings as I encountered each track for the first time. You will almost certainly have different images appear in your mind and other sensations and feelings in your body.

“We welcome some new faces to the label with this 4 split release between some of the more mysterious and sacred sounds of the dark ambient scene. With the chaotic sounds of former CMI artist Foundation Hope, the mysterious enlightenment of Alphaxone, the distortion drone heavy Coph`antae Tryr to the fresh and inviting bass rumbles of Council of Nine, this is one dark journey of soundscapes delving deep into humanities history.”

I will look at each track in turn:

Chimes of the Unfortunate - Council of Nine :
This track starts with a deep and foreboding sound that made me prepare for it to get deeper and deeper. A short while in, it gains some lovely higher pitched sounds that turn the whole thing around and makes it feel light and airy with, for me at least, a sense of sadness in the background.

Mysterious – Alphaxone :
Starting with a deep resonance that mingles with other lighter melodies and noises, Mysterious gives the impression of a derelict space, yet not a hostile one. There are rumblings and muted noises and at one point a rapid tinkling noise that conjures images of greenery or fauna struggling to survive in some ruins.

Comprehended - Coph`antae Tryr :
A rising fanfare looms nearer with this track, a catchy hook that entwines with other instruments to peel away the structure of your eardrum and pierce your mind. It hints at majesty that has faded and vanished into the past where only a few might still remember it even existed. Think ancient artwork painted onto walls smothered with ivy and doused in darkness.

Near to Nothing - Alphaxone :
Echoing architecture punctuated with the impression of movement and strange life.

Nothing to Near - Coph`antae Tryr :
Nothing to Near features some gentle audio hiccuping that serves to jar you into the awareness that you might not have been paying full attention. Its deep beginnings growing and intermingling with other sounds as the medley builds and peters out.

The Kind - Foundation Hope :
This is quite a boomy and jarring track, when compared to the others at least. It seems full of discord and as it progresses takes on a sound like a swarm of demonic bees intoning names you can’t fully imagine or comprehend.

The Beacon - Foundation Hope :
This track seems to be one of the more simple on the album. By simple, I mean it seems to have fewer layers of sound than the others, or it is just how it appears to me. It also features a wonderful whistling segment which conjured the image of a lone survivor whistling whilst walking through a decimated city in an attempt to connect with others, or just to let him or herself know that they are still there, still human.

Blood Lit Skies - Council of Nine :
The album ends with the longest track of the bunch at just over 12 minutes. It has a light and airy thrumming quality and in one place seems to depict the sound of wind and rain, to my ears at least. It is a fantastic and gentle end to the journey through the other soundscapes that this album conjures, a way to come back to the real world with a soft landing rather than a full combat roll.

Thoughts :
Tomb of Empires as a whole is a very smooth ambient album, from my own viewpoint at least. It doesn't feature the harsher aspects that some other dark ambient creations contain but is still great at conjuring hefty mental impressions. It arouses a background feeling of sadness and gloom but with areas of light and air, much like sunlight shining into the darkness of a tomb through some aperture in the ceiling.

This leads me on to the cover image which I have to say is one of the most well-picked I have seen in some time, even to the extent that it coloured what images were likely to arise in my mind as I listened to the album.

I give Tomb of Empires 4/5. As I said above, it takes you on a relatively peaceful journey and evokes periods of oppressiveness and airiness with equal ease, for which it is to be commended. The reason it didn't get a 5 is just down to my own personal taste when it comes to my dark ambient listening. I enjoy more oppressive soundscapes where you feel that you only come up for air after long intervals. This, compared to the ones that inculcate that feeling, was a bit tamer in those regards. Still an excellent listen though, and probably a great starting point for someone who might be less familiar with the sounds of the dark ambient genre.

Visit here and here for more information and purchasing options.

I was given a free copy for review.

Album Title : Tomb of Empires
Artists: Foundation Hope / Council of Nine / Alphaxone / Coph`antae Tryr
Mastering and Artwork: Simon Heath
Label: Cryochamber
Released: 28th October 2014.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Horror For Less This Halloween!







It is also available on Amazon sites in other regions at a similar discount by searching for my name or the title.

Dark Review - Littlest Lovecraft Presents The Call of Cthulhu

If you’re a fan of H.P. Lovecraft and you happen to have (or know) children who might like his writing, you have probably pondered when the right time to introduce them to the master horror-writer’s works might be. I take a look at Littlest Lovecraft's solution, an adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu aimed at a younger audience. Click here to read my review on Geek Syndicate.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Party Slashers

Dungeons and Dragons used to be a harmless game, well, unless you took one of those pointy dice to the eye when a sore loser has a bit of a rage on. In Party Slashers, the risks are a bit more severe as some highschoolers accidentally summon undead mass murderers.

Written and directed by Carl Bachmann (who previously produced and directed critically acclaimed Miracle on Metal Street), Party Slashers follows the group of teenagers as they try to do the usual things teenagers do but end up showing their true selves when they have to deal with the undead "Revenants".

Party Slashers is currently on Kickstarter and is looking for backers. As usual, there are a number of rewards for varying degrees of financial support, with the highlight being contributors in the $35 bracket who will get their own grindhouse style poster incorporating their own sent photo.

Check out the teaser trailer below and head to Kickstarter if you want to give a fun and stylish undead film the chance to live.


Sunday, 12 October 2014

Dark Fiction - A Wheelie Bad Idea in Indie Writers Monthly Horror Issue

My horror flash fiction 'A Wheelie Bad Idea' is available now in free magazine Indie Writers Monthly - The Horror Issue, which is available from the Amazon Kindle Store. Check out the info page on the Indie Writers Monthly website for more info. P.S It's not free for long so get it now if you want it.