Friday, 26 February 2016

Dark Music Review – Neuroplasticity

Dark Music Review – Neuroplasticity

Review Written By Casey Douglass

Neuroplasticity CD Art

Dronny Darko's second solo full length album on Cryo Chamber is an introverted journey through the psyche of the listener. From primal and space ambient sounding drones, to something constructed in a laboratory, this album is a mix of drones both deep and detailed with tiny sounds for those that pay attention.

Neuroplasticity is a great title for an album that revels in the internal, the brain-themed labels extending into some of the track titles too. It’s a term I am well familiar with in relation to trying to treat and live with my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as it comes up in various ways to give the sufferer hope and evidence that an over-busy or misfiring brain can heal itself and actually change structure as behaviour changes. So once again, a very cool title in my opinion.

As far as the sounds contained within Neuroplasticity, I would describe it as an album that features a good deal of staticy crackly electro fuzz that certainly might be what synapses firing and making connections could sound like. The first track, Mirror Neurons, begins with a lovely, seemingly random collection of wooden notes, like wooden balls bouncing around, which again, buys into the whole brain-connections theme nicely.

I have listened to the album a number of times, and while I appreciate what it is doing, I think it missed the mark with me a little. I tried to analyse why this might be the case but all I came up with is maybe personal taste, and possibly state of mind while listening. There were a couple of tracks that I liked more than the others however.

The first was Electrical Membrane, a track that begins with distorted notes twisting and stuttering in and out, before being joined by an undulating drone that masks electronic sounds with hints of voices, like robots malfunctioning or de-tuned receiving equipment. The whole thing put me in mind of what a robotic graveyard might sound like, if not all of its denizens were fully deactivated.

The other track I wanted to mention was Ion Voltage, which begins with a static rush that seems to spray and bounce around before bursting into an almost ohm-like sound. A short time later, more electronic distorted sounds appear, jarring, looping and juddering, some with voice-like properties. This track, much like Electrical Membrane, put me in mind of tormented machinery. It also put me in mind of a dark ambient album that I listened to a good few years ago by Hecq called Night Falls, in which a similar kind of disturbing electrical theme seemed to emerge.

Neuroplasticity lives up to its description, there are certainly lots of detail sounds in each track and a good enough range of sound to keep the attention and to stay interesting. I think it gives a good, dark listening experience, I just didn’t get on with it on a personal level. With this in mind, I give it 3/5, but I urge anyone that is intrigued by some of the descriptions above to check out Ion Voltage below and see if it resonates with them.

Check out Neuroplasticity on bandcamp at this link.

You can listen to “Ion Voltage” below:

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

Album Title: Neuroplasticity
Artists: Dronny Darko
Label : Cryo Chamber
Released: January 26, 2016

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Dark Music Review – Dredge Portals

Dark Music Review – Dredge Portals

Review Written By Casey Douglass

Dredge Portals Album Art

God Body Disconnect debuts on Cryo Chamber with Dredge Portals, an emotional roller coaster of an album that reaches through several genres of music to serve us a strong narrative of storytelling. Using everything from electronics, guitars to field recordings and vocals this is an incredibly diverse album not to be missed.

Firstly, I have to commend the album title of Dredge Portals. Portal as a word often seems to have esoteric appeal, but to place dredge in-front of the word just seems to point to menace, at least to me, so the title gets a definite thumbs up from me. The album as a whole gets a thumbs up too, if you wanted to read a music review and not just my thoughts on the composition of the album title.

What God Body Disconnect has created in Dredge Portals is a dark ambient album that does more than most in giving the listener narrative hints to guide their mental meanderings through the soundscapes contained therein. Quite literally in places. Shortly after the drone and voices of track one: “Rise of the Dormant Host” have faded to silence and other beeps and noises have appeared to take their place, an actual voice addresses the listener, talking about how “nobody expects to end up here...” and painting the scene of a gunshot victim who has laid in a body-dead mind-awake coma for seven long years and believing that even ending up in hell would be a better fate than continuing in this form. As album starts go, it’s quite a doozy.

If mention of a voice-over has the people who like to create their own impressions shaking their heads, don’t worry, it isn’t over-used, appearing only at the beginning, end and in one of the middle tracks. That being said, I personally wouldn’t have minded its appearance a few more times. The other sounds of Dredge Portals feature a variety of field recorded sounds, from the elements such as wind and rain to harsher sounds like doors scraping closed, machinery clanking and other less definable sounds as extra flavouring. One thing they all have in common however, is the ability to create dark and dank soundscapes, while also interspersing them with slightly more gentle and uplifting sensations.

As is usually the way, a number of tracks stood out for me in the course of my listening. The first is “Descend with Demons” and it begins with a wind-floated discordant sharp drone accompanied by echoing footsteps and movements. Reedy noises and machine-based hums are joined by a faint sacral chant. Following this at around the midpoint of the track, is fast breathing and the ding of what I assume to be an elevator. The scraping doors open and the soundscape darkens even more.

The next track, “Heart of the Mirror's Abyss” starts with dripping water and panicked breathing, the person muttering about being so cold. The echoes give the effect of being in a tunnel, the muttered words bouncing back to the speaker seeming to mock and reply to some of the things he cries. A short time later, a hive-like drone emerges with a heart-beat like beat with swells of other notes and the backdrop of frantic footfalls. This might just be my favourite track on the whole album, the depiction of someone battling with themselves, the environment and other unseen things was so elegantly portrayed.

The last track that I wanted to mention by name is “Perpetually Devoured”, a track that starts in with the sound of wind and storm, muffled rollings of thunder shaking the soundscape in the most gentle of ways. Quite a subdued start, but after a short time, the listener begins to hear the slithering dripping noises something makes as it moves through the scene. It is soon joined by a deep drone that builds with other lighter sounds and notes around it. The track ends with an unknown voice talking at a moderate distance, in a language I couldn’t understand.

Dredge Portals feels like an incredibly strong album, one that is held together by great underlying themes such as fate, life and being in limbo. The few tracks that incorporate the apparent sounds of hospital equipment beeping and flat-lining and whatever, did a great job of uniting the apparent real world with the more astral-based wanderings of the lost soul. I really appreciated this melding of sound and concept, and I also liked the way it set the scene and told some pieces of a character’s story. I give Dredge Portals 5/5, a rating that I rarely give.

Check out Dredge Portals on bandcamp at this link.

You can listen to “ Heart of the Mirror's Abyss” below:

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

Album Title: Dredge Portals
Artist: God Body Disconnect
Label : Cryo Chamber
Released: January 12, 2016

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Dark Music Review – Reflections Under The Sky

Dark Music Review – Reflections Under The Sky

Review Written By Casey Douglass

Reflections Under The Sky CD Cover

A collaboration between Moscow based Textere Oris and Ukrainian project SiJ comes this field recording focused release. A merger of warm tape noise fused recordings and analogue acoustics, it paints a larger than life picture of nature with a warm but at times brooding backdrop with and overlay of sacral vocals.

Reflections Under The Sky is a gentle listen, the focus on field recordings of rain and water lulling the mind while the echoes and beats wash over the listener. I always tend to lean toward dark ambient albums that use nature recordings and other “real world” sounds as accompaniment to their darker tones, so from the start, I felt quite warmly towards this album.

A striking example of this can be found in the track “Lost”, a track that begins with a blaring horn-type sound and then features the sounds of birdsong and the empty interference patterns of a de-tuned radio. Sacral vocals begin to ebb and flow around a deeper beat, painting the picture of someone lost in nature, far from technology or other people. There are other sounds too, snatches of voices, drums, footsteps and thunder but all conspire to paint a lonely, possibly hallucinatory picture.

Another track that I really enjoyed was “In The Rain”, a composition that starts with gentle rain, what sounds like distant voices, and a low key electronic humming. Then a light drone and a melody joins, along with the odd metallic dripping and clattering. The track’s tone harshens a little in the second half, the track ending with the sound of passing cars splashing through heavy puddles. An atmospheric and enjoyable track that lets the listener appreciate that they aren’t actually walking home beside a busy flooded road.

The final track that I wanted to mention was the static infused “First Snow”, a track that uses a cascade of rain and chimes or bells tolling, with distant flutes of some kind joining later. The track is relaxing, just as most of them are, but it certainly has a dark undertone for all the peaceful sounds it contains, which is quite remarkable.

Reflections Under The Sky is a fantastic listen, especially when the weather outside your own window might match what is going on inside the soundscapes you are listening to. It’s harsh in places, but not in a jarring way, and its use of field recordings as a firm basis for the compositions to be constructed on or around is genuinely enjoyable. If you enjoy more meditative and relaxing dark ambient music, Reflections Under The Sky is probably a great choice for you. Even if you don’t tend towards that kind of sound, it is still well worth your time. I give it 4.5/5.

Check out Reflections Under The Sky on bandcamp at this link.

You can listen to “Lost” below:

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

Album Title: Reflections Under The Sky
Artists: SiJ & Textere Oris
Label : Cryo Chamber
Released: February 9, 2016

Friday, 19 February 2016

Dark Game Review - American Truck Simulator

I've spent some time with SCS Software's PC game American Truck Simulator, and my feelings and thoughts about it can be found on Geek Syndicate at this link.

American Truck Simulator screenshot © Copyright SCS Software

Dark Film Review – Perfect Sense (2011)

Dark Film Review – Perfect Sense (2011)

Review Written By Casey Douglass

I find myself in a little bit of a quandary. I really want to talk about Perfect Sense in-depth but on the other hand, I don’t want to provide lots of spoilers for a film that really truly rewards a first viewing in ignorance. I’ve decided to reign myself in and only treat this like a normal review, rather than a deep analysis. Maybe I will write that later, seems like a shame to waste the 5 sides of A4 I covered with notes.

Perfect Sense follows the story of Susan (Eva Green) and Michael (Ewan McGregor), two unhappy people that find each other just as the world starts going to shit. Michael is a chef, Susan is an epidemiologist. He works in a restaurant near Susan’s home, she works in a lab trying to get to the bottom of a strange condition that is beginning to manifest in people. Both have baggage, both have their jobs affected as globally, things go from bad to worse. They find though, that they have each other, and dare I say it, this makes them happy, some of the time.

To say much more than that would be too spoilerific sadly. While the film is a love story, it is one with a difference, one that doesn’t gloss over everything with a Disneyesque sheen of dreams being fulfilled and two lovers eating apple pie as the rain hits their window. Perfect Sense is a film about two self-labelled arseholes finding each other and growing into each other as society slowly goes down the drain. Even the very opening moments of the film give a great illustration of the tone: a voice-over saying “There is darkness, there is light...” and then we see Susan spit over the edge of a bridge. The film doesn’t stand on ceremony that’s for sure. The viewer gets to spend time with both characters separately, but this slowly changes as they first interact via shouting through open windows and generally gravitating into each other’s lives.

The score of the film is a melodic affair, piano and violin creating a variety of moods, although most are tinged with melancholy and sadness. The other auditory aspects of the film are just as strong, sounds expanding to muffle conversation at times, or vanishing into a hissing drone at others. Again, I can’t really go too in-depth about why this makes such an impact but on seeing the film, you will hopefully appreciate it as much as I do.

Visually, the scenes are shot with a variety of camera techniques, many of the scenes given a frenetic quality by fast moving hand-cams or cameras fixed to bikes. This sense of energy certainly adds to the frenzy of the people seen on screen, whether happy, sad or rioting. The film is also not short of some very striking images, that taken as a still, would look amazing on the wall. My particular favourite is Susan locked in her car watching a rider-less police horse amble past.

What I like most about Perfect Sense though, is the relationship between Susan and Michael. It’s not neat, it’s not fairytale, but it comes across as real, and that’s the most any film can hope for. The broader situation certainly puts a strain on their interactions, both helping each other or at times, being cruel, but there is also humour in the film, which is much needed as otherwise it would have felt a little relentless. Most of the humour comes from the couple, smirking or playing games but the other light relief comes in the form of James (Ewen Bremner), another chef in Michael’s kitchen who always has plenty to say, be it conspiracy theories or inviting people to sniff his finger.

The first time I watched Perfect Sense, it felt like a sledgehammer had hit me in the chest. Few films have gripped me as tightly as the happenings in this film. In part, this is due to the nature of the disease that is affecting the world, tapping into a variety of my own phobias and fears, but also, it is because it is a love story for the disaffected, the darker-natured, more twisted viewer that thinks love is something that always happens to other people or that if it does happen, it’s more trouble than it’s worth. While the love story in Perfect Sense is far from idyllic, it made me genuinely feel that even a few weeks of what Susan and Michael had is something that would be well worth experiencing.

If you haven’t seen Perfect Sense and like darker films, do yourself a favour and watch it when the opportunity arises. In some ways, it’s scarier than most horror films. A big claim I know but one that was personally true for me at least.

As far as a rating, I give Perfect Sense an easy 5/5, no doubt about it.

You can watch the Perfect Sense trailer below:

Perfect Sense Images © Copyright Arrow Films

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Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Dark Music Review – Aokigahara

Dark Music Review – Aokigahara

Review Written By Casey Douglass

Aokigahara Album Art

Aokigahara (青木ヶ原), known as the Suicide Forest is a 35-square-kilometre forest that lies at the northwest base of Mount Fuji in Japan. Aokigahara forest is dense, shutting out all but the natural sounds of the forest itself. The forest has an historic association with demons in Japanese mythology, and it is a notoriously common suicide site.

Duncan Ritchie explores the long journey to Aokigahara through soundscapes ripe with lonely pianos on textural backdrops. Duncan spent countless hours field recording on the voyage between Tokyo to Aokigahara which creates the perfect atmospheric companion to the intricate instrumental approach. This is a beautiful dark ambient soundtrack culminating in the final choice between life and death.

Besides the above album description giving me great holiday ideas, Aokigahara the album sees a fantastic concept or theme brought to life by Duncan Ritchie’s clever composition of the subtle and not so subtle. Piano, strings and drum all give the tracks their own atmosphere and feeling: some like a depressive sitting in the dark, others full of furtive movement or pounding beats. That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for a variety of drones and field recordings, with a fair few tracks featuring all manner of sounds, from oozing dripping, to clanks and knockings that all seem to echo back eerily from unseen surfaces.

A number of tracks impressed me for varying reasons, and these I wanted to single out by name. The first is Field of Ink, a track that begins with gentle piano, delicately plucked strings and a distant knocking. What I particularly liked was the discordant relationship between the knocking and the more melodic instrumental notes, there is just something about the way they play off each other and keep the thing interesting to the ear.

The next track that I wanted to mention by name is Night Heroin, the longest track on the album. It begins with an uncomfortable bubbling mass of what sounds like boiling water. This is joined by a high pitched resonance and a chant-like noise that gave me the impression of someone walking through darkness and being plagued by pixie lights among the trees, our world bumping up against the next maybe. The sound of the track changes as the playtime continues, new sounds and instruments coming to the fore, before it returns to the bubbling water as it nears the end. Very enjoyable indeed.

The final track that I wanted to mention is also the final track on the album: The Games Foxes Play. A light resonance and gentle swell of sound gives this track a lighter feel, and I must admit that I took the title of the track quite literally. I mentally pictured two foxes playing and cavorting in snow as the golden light of the sun makes every dripping branch a mirror of rainbows. The track does change tone near the midpoint however, a dark rumbling and echoing space taking the place of the relaxing scene, as if the scene of foxes was only really being watched on a half-broken TV in a dark cave-like prison cell. Again, something that I found enjoyable in no small part due to the contrasts involved.

Aokigahara is dark ambient done a little differently to the usual, its delicate (or not so delicate) instrumental attributes sitting nicely with the echoing booming darkness that holds its melodies to its chest. If you like dark ambient and have any affection for Japanese flavours, Aokigahara might just be your perfect album. Even if you have no strong feelings one way or the other, the variation and theme of Aokigahara provides a welcome change of pace from other styles of dark ambient music. I give Aokigahara 4/5.

Visit the Aokigahara page on bandcamp here for more information and prices.

You can listen to Night Heroin by playing the YouTube video below too:

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

Album Title: Aokigahara
Written, Produced, Mastered - Duncan Ritchie
Artwork - Simon Heath
Label: Cryo Chamber
Release Date: November 3, 2015

Monday, 15 February 2016

Dark Music Review – From Depths Profound And Inconceivable

Dark Music Review – From Depths Profound And Inconceivable

Review Written By Casey Douglass

From Depths Profound And Inconceivable Album Cover

Wilt "From Depths Profound And Inconceivable" CD One of the most prolific and talented artists of the genre returns with a 2 part series dedicated to and inspired by the work of H.P Lovecraft. These two new offerings both serve as a portal into a poisoned mind, filled with images of unnameable horror. Dark ambient noise collides with black static transmissions from unknown planes. Cavernous droning atmospheres painting images of hopeless dread. Subtle Death Industrial loops collide like the tectonic plates of a Black Earth. Dense hypnotic darkness with a unique organic edge.

Anything that mentions the creations of master horror writer H.P Lovecraft almost always gets my attention, so when I came to review Wilt’s From Depths Profound And Inconceivable, I was instantly interested. Lovecraft and dark ambient music go so well together, it’s almost amazing that his books don’t come with a nice black CD stuck inside the cover with a big “listen to this while reading” message printed in a gothic font. Maybe one day...

From Depths Profound And Inconceivable is a dark ambient album that uses a variety of sound types and techniques to create oppressive beats and swells of noise that certainly do a great job in evoking stygian atmospheres and looming threat. Many feature great walls and stabs of distortion, be it via strange drones or the twisted notes of guitar plucks or longer medleys. The eerie monk chanting and strange echoes of “Buried Temples of Belial” eases into the more electronica-feeling rhythm of the following track, which in turn gives way to the hisses and static of the next, and so on, each track pretty different from the one preceding it but all sharing a love of static and grainy distortion.

A number of tracks stood out for me as particular favourites. First up is “An Ancient Circle of Monoliths”, a composition that begins with a machine-like clattering that soon turns into an insectoid drone that really creates an oppressive feeling. Another favourite is “Graveyard of the Universe” which happens to be the next track on the album. This track features heavily distorted guitar notes with some lovely reverb. This builds and builds as the soundscape becomes more violent or urgent. Other notes and sounds do join to make one of those walls of noise I mentioned at the start of this review. Multi-layered and harsh, but quite enticing to the ear. The final track that I wanted to mention by name is “The Pale Watching Moon”, a rumbling, boiling track that sounds like it features either the distorted trembling of an earthquake or a roiling watery mass of force as it flows past the listener. It’s a simple track but one that I found to be particularly relaxing to listen to.

What the listener has in From Depths Profound And Inconceivable is an at times very harsh dark ambient album that also features a nice variety of pressures and relaxations, some tracks ramping up the tension while others are more subdued, floaty noted affairs. One thing they all share however, is a love of distortion, guitar, and dark spaces. If you like ambient music that creates a feeling of dark pressure, this album is the one for you. I give it a rating of 4/5.

Visit From Depths Profound And Inconceivable on the Fall of Nature store here.

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

Album Title: From Depths Profound And Inconceivable
Artist: Wilt
Label: Fall Of Nature

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Dark Article - Electronic Relaxation Aids And ME/CFS

I've written a piece about the variety of, and possible benefits/drawbacks of, ME/CFS sufferers using electronic relaxation aids to try to increase their quality of life. It can be found at this link on Foggy Friends.
Image used freely courtesy of Gratisography