Sunday, 23 January 2022

Dark Ambient Review: Dagon

Dark Ambient Review: Dagon

Review By Casey Douglass

Dagon Cover Art

Something that always cuts through the bullshit of Xmas and New Years is the yearly Cryo Chamber Lovecraftian collaboration. This year’s offering is themed around Dagon, and as you might imagine, this means that the soundscapes emitted by its two, hour-long tracks, have a decidedly nautical, briny feeling.

From the very first second of track one, the sounds of waves, drones and horns fill the ear. There is a low heartbeat-like beat, a jittering chittering, whispers, and the impression of vast forces being mobilised. Your journey into submersion and the subterranean has begun, each area opening up and deepening into the feeling of vast underground places. Gaping water-filled caverns reflect back strange echoes from their walls. Trundling rasping sounds fill the mind with notions of strange machinery. Sinister vocals roam, from low distorted words to more melodic, siren-song snippets of mournful summoning.

One of my favourite moments of the album is around the six minute mark on track one. The cavernous soundscape sparkles and rasps with whispers, accompanied by muffled impacts rumbling in the distance. A drone fills the ear and laughter-like scuffling sounds pull the attention to the fringes. Strange whirring high tones seem to hint at strange creatures flocking in the dark recesses of the unseen rocky roof. It’s a pregnant atmosphere, pent up and ready to birth something horrible.

Another great section is around the fourteen and a half minute mark. The soundscape quietens and a strange female mewling vocal beckons. Water drips and trickles, and a buffeting sound ruffles the ears, much like wind blowing against noise-cancelling headphones. Twisting, smoothed notes pluck and echo away into blares of drone, the soundscape creating a feeling of being on the edge of something momentous.

Track two also has its fair share of succulent dark ambient to feast on. Eleven minutes in, a sustained drone is joined by a wet ‘thrashing around’, echoes, rumbles and airy tones, which create a fine impression of some strange creature wending its way across a shore in the dark abyss. As time passes, things feel more hollow, like a greater space has opened up, with the distant high calls of some kind of strange creature. The listener then breaks into a breath-infused space of threat and at times, what seems to be laughter.

Another moment in track two that I particularly enjoyed occurs at around minute twenty two. A roving undulating deep tone fills the ear, with high tones squeezing through the oppressive atmosphere. Again, there is an impression of breathing or the breath, and a little later, a ghostly hum. This section of the track feels dark but meditative, the lows and highs dancing around each other and setting off a shimmering, haunted, echoing space.

Dagon is another fine slice of eldritch dark ambient from Cryo Chamber. Going in, I wondered how it might compare to 2014 release Cthulhu, both being “of the sea”. If Cthulhu depicts what it might be like to be in a dark water abyss deep under the earth, Dagon, for me, is more a tale of what sitting on that dark shore might feel like, rather than being crushed by the water itself. If that makes sense. Both are fantastic albums in my opinion; I just wanted to describe how they both differed in how I felt when listening to them. If you love your dark ambient Lovecraftian, as always, you can’t go wrong with a Cryo Chamber collaboration.

Visit the Dagon page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also listen to the album below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Dagon

Album Artist: Cryo Chamber Collaboration

Label: Cryo Chamber

Released: 28 Dec 2021

Friday, 14 January 2022

Why Slay The Spire Is A Great Stoic Workout

Why Slay The Spire Is A Great Stoic Workout

Written by Casey Douglass

Slay The Spire

At a time when gaming has lost a big chunk of its appeal to me, the one game that has managed to cut through my indifference is Mega Crit Games’ Slay The Spire. It’s a great looking, well-designed and fun game, but on giving it some thought, I also think that it’s a great game for a practising Stoic. Stoicism is the philosophy that I am trying to embrace in my daily life, and many elements of Slay The Spire seem to lend themselves to its practice. In the following post, I ponder what some of those elements are, how they relate to Stoicism as I understand it, and why I think that Slay The Spire is a great Stoic game.

What is Stoicism? + Would Stoics Even Play Video-games?

Stoicism is a philosophy that was born in ancient Greece. It values reason and building character above anything else, and bares little resemblance to the modern day use of the word ‘stoic’. Stoicism, the philosophy, aims to help someone develop and make use of wisdom in everyday life, knowing which things to put their energy into, which things are actually in their control, and how to greet life’s challenges when they appear.

Would a Stoic “waste” their time playing video-games though? If you are looking at a philosophy, a religion, or any other outlook on life, you’re never far from questions such as “Would someone who adopts X as a philosophy do Y?” You’ll find people with zealot-like zeal who will revel in telling you that doing Y would never be entertained by people who truly want to adopt the particular view in question. You'll also find people who let almost anything go, it’s all good! I think it’s often a matter of personal choice and interpretation, with elements of situation, duration and motivation thrown in for good measure.

When it comes to video-games, I think that there is a world of difference between someone who obsessively plays video-games their every waking hour, and someone who dips into them in a measured way for awhile at the end of a long day. Even when two people play a video-game, their approach or goals can vary wildly, from the teeth-clenched rage-quitter who swears at everyone on their team for being a noob when they lose, to the quiet, patient person who loves solving strategic puzzles to increase their ability to think under pressure. If done in moderation and in the right mindset, pass-times and enjoyments are there to be savoured. Gaming is one of those things, and it might even be a fine playground for practising Stoic character traits or virtues, such as wisdom, courage and temperance.

Slay The Spire

Slay The Spire
A boss battle in which I can just about survive until the next turn...

Slay The Spire is a deck-building rogue-like game where the player guides a chosen character up a Spire that is filled with various rooms, treasures and monsters. It is a game in which the player has some control over events in the choices that they make, but in other ways, are at the mercy of the randomly generated elements of the game. You might be on a very promising run up the Spire and, due to a few terrible card hands, end up dying to a basic mob. You might be on a run in which everything seems to be going wrong and yet you end up white-knuckling it through to the final boss. You often don’t know what will happen next, and that is where the fun is!

Knowing which things you have control over and which you don’t is one of the key aims of Stoicism, something Epictetus expressed when he said: “Some things are up to us and some are not.” If our state of well-being hinges on things that are not up to us, we end up struggling against reality and become prone to more negative emotions such as depression and hopelessness. In his book A Guide to the Good Life, William Irvine explains that following Epictetus’ teachings turns the usual way that we think about fulfilling our desires upside down. Rather than striving for things that we might not attain, the path to a good life is for us to martial the things that we do have control over, and that we are certain to achieve. A lot of this comes down to making our goals internal rather than external.

When it comes to Slay The Spire, this notion can be illustrated in the following way. If your goal is to get to the top of the Spire, that is not something that is wholly in your control. You have no idea which random cards, relics or bosses you will encounter, even if a thorough knowledge of the game might stop these from being a shock when they come. What you do have full control over however, is the goal that you want for yourself. If you set your goal as “I want to get as far up the Spire as I can, and not to give up even when things seem hopeless”, that is a very achievable aim. Even if you die to the first act boss, if you didn’t give up, you achieved your goal and can feel good about that.

Slay The Spire
You will see this screen a lot...

This is what I like about gaming in general, it gives us a chance to put into practise the character traits that we’d love to cultivate for other areas of our lives. You might like to add being patient and not letting frustration get the better of you too. You might not succeed at these 100% of the time, but if they are linked to a wiser overall goal of “seeing how far you can get”, even these slip-ups won’t feel so bad.

Something that I currently struggle with in Slay The Spire is being too hasty in my turn-taking, often realising that there was another card or potion that would have made a difference the split-second after I click the end turn button. Sometimes, I even end my turn and then notice that I still had enough energy to play one more card! So at the moment, while seeing how far I can get in each run, my intrinsic goal is to slow down and to give adequate time to finding solutions. Another thing that I’m prone to is fixating on a certain card build, whether or not I actually have the other cards to make it work. This often happens when a rare card comes into play and I take it, hoping that others that might support it will turn up later. Again, another goal is to not be dazzled by what's in front of me, to the extent that it makes me closed off to other possibilities. Slay The Spire is full of these little tests, and that’s why I love it.

The Stoic Test Frame

In another of William Irvine’s books: The Stoic Challenge, Irvine explains the value in meeting life’s obstacles and set-backs as a test from the Stoic gods. While you don’t need to believe in said gods, viewing things in this manner, as a challenge, can take some of the sting out of setbacks, and even add some fun into something that previously, you might have been despairing about. Irvine explains that a true setback has the element of surprise about it, but the ancient Stoics also engaged in toughness training, a process in which they deliberately put themselves into uncomfortable situations, in the hope of better dealing with setbacks when they popped up in other areas of life. Slay The Spire seems to have elements that are fitting for each approach, especially if you purposefully take the harder path or choice when the game presents you with one.

Slay The Spire
Which path to take?

A Slay The Spire setback that you have little control over might be that you are low in health and you decide to click on a mystery encounter, trying to avoid the certain monster fight that is your only other option. Once inside the room, you not only find that there are monsters inside, but that you are in a boss battle that you have no way of escaping. You die two turns later. You could rage and hiss your annoyance at the “stupid game”, and not learn anything from the experience. Or, you could notice the irritation that you feel, realise how unwarranted it is, and maybe even give a silent nod to the developers for crafting something so tricky and challenging. Your irritation is in response to something that you couldn’t control, and in realising this, you might give yourself a mental pat on the back as you chalk it up to experience. You might even feel pleased that you didn’t fuel your irritation until it blew up and ruined the rest of your gaming session. Same event, two different outlooks.

Video games seem to be the perfect arena to practise the Stoic Test Frame. After all, you already know that you’re playing a game, except in this instance, you are pitting yourself against the developer, possibly other human players, and, as in other areas of life, yourself. You only have to watch gaming content on YouTube or Twitch to see how games affect some players. There is a reason that the words “Rage” and “Tilt” and “Toxic” in video titles draw lots of clicks. If you want to see how to fail at building character, watch those videos. If you find that rare individual who seems to take setbacks in their stride with a smile and a more tranquil demeanour, enjoy their content and see how they frame things. You will more than likely find someone who loves rising to a challenge and who is also skilled at taking the sting out of what is happening by framing things in a beneficial way.

If you want to engage in some Stoic toughness training, you might even try playing Slay The Spire in a way that rubs against what you’d usually like to do. If you always grab certain cards or relics when they appear, you might like to have a run where you take cards or relics that you despise, or that go against your usual play style. If you prefer to keep your card-deck small, you might like to try accepting a card every time one is offered, letting you see what it is like to play with a massive assortment of cards. If you always avoid certain encounters or choices, forcing yourself to take them can be a wonderful way to learn something, and at the least, to get practise with some of the character traits that you want to nurture inside yourself. A video-game is the ideal, low-stakes place to try these kinds of experiments.

Slay The Spire
The shop in which many a build died due to temptation.

In Conclusion

I hope that I’ve done justice to the title of this post and have adequately explained why I find Slay The Spire to be so captivating. I’m sure that you can apply Stoic ideas to any game that you might play, but there is something about the turn-based, semi-random nature of Slay The Spire that seems conducive to having the space to breathe and to grow a little each time that you play it.

If you’d like to look into Stoicism a little more, you might like to read my review of William Irvine’s The Stoic Challenge, which is a book I very much recommend. I also recommend Donald Robertson’s How To Think Like A Roman Emperor, which illustrates many Stoic notions by depicting the life of Marcus Aurelius.

Tuesday, 4 January 2022

My New Book Horrifier is Available on Kindle Now!

My New Book Horrifier is Available on Kindle Now!

When I was a kid and on a long car journey, I would often imagine what it would be like if the distant traffic was vaporised by aliens, war, or even a marauding giant. As an adult, I still find myself doing this in a variety of circumstances; the more boring the situation, the bigger the challenge in spicing it up a little.

Early last year, I decided to create a collection of ten dark tales, each set in its own so-called boring situation. I imagined some suitable scenarios, and fed them through the ‘horrifying’ machine that is my brain. If, as John Milton says, our minds can make a heaven of hell and a hell of heaven, at the least, mine should be able to inject some interesting, darkly twisted elements into mundane activities.

So that’s what I did. How would I make a queue at the post office interesting? Or someone gazing out of the window? Or someone eating in a quiet restaurant? You’ll have to buy Horrifier in the Amazon Kindle Store to find out!

Horrifier Cover - - Amazon UK

If you have a Kindle Unlimited Subscription, Horrifier can be also be read as part of that.

Friday, 24 December 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Heterodox

Dark Ambient Review: Heterodox

Review By Casey Douglass

Heterodox Album Art

A horror unfolding is often a double-whammy. You first have the shock of whatever it is, and then, quite often the insight comes that things are actually far worse than you initially thought. A world fifty years after an alien invasion is just as fascinating as another that is only just being conquered. What horrors will the first generation born during an alien occupation have to accept as normal? This is the kind of realization that Josh Sager’s dark ambient album Heterodox explores, the long-tail effects of the worst kinds of darkness, inspired by the soundtracks of some of the best movies of our era.

Opening track The Plague Doctors is one of my favourites on the album. There is a distant thunder-like sound, one accompanied by an almost jaunty pulsing rhythm. Static looms, with an impression of rain and a metallic squeal or shimmer. I half felt that I was listening to the softened sounds of traffic passing in the street. A ghostly vocal begins, and deeper vibrating tones around the midpoint, before things build to a climax and then slither away. For me, this track could have been a score to a film, one in which the opening scene shows a crowded, rainy pavement, with everyone moving in one direction besides a strange hooded figure that is eerily floating against the flow. A very pleasing and ominous track.

The second track is also one of my favourites: A Dread of Something Abnormal. It begins with a rotating resonance and a thrum surrounded by fuzz. It feels a bit sci-fi, the flares of higher tone leading me to think that this might be what an angel strapped into the large hadron collider might sound like. There are various swells and knockings later, and a buzzing that changed the angel mental image for one that evoked the happenings of The Fly film. This is a floating, roiling and pressurized track, one that reeks of science and technological power plucking at the workings of things that it should probably leave alone.

The final track that I wanted to mention by name is Monsters Make Monsters. This is a different kind of track, opening with echoing piano notes, notes that begin to twist and warp against a growing windy background. As the track continues, there is a low buzz, a swarm-like feel, hinting at massive industry that bodes ill for anyone nearby. The low, vibrating swells of tone and relaxed echoing beat that join confirm this feeling. This is the track where someone is out for a midnight walk and finds a meadow overrun with thousands of strange insects mating in the moonlight. Sinister.

Heterodox is another fine dark ambient album from Josh, one that, as the album description mentions, is a fitting sequel to his earlier release Interlopers. While the previous album felt more “abandoned industrial estate after a catastrophe”, Heterodox for me, lays out a more varied smorgasbord of threat. Some of the tracks suggest desolation, others some kind of lurking danger, and others still, more abstract feelings of delving into the gaps between realities. If you like your dark ambient ominous, technology-infused and desolate, you should check out Heterodox.

Visit the Heterodox page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Heterodox

Album Artist: Josh Sager

Released: 28 Sept 2021

Thursday, 16 December 2021

Book Review: The Stoic Challenge

Book Review: The Stoic Challenge

Review By Casey Douglass

The Stoic Challenge

Sometimes, it can feel like life is full of setbacks. Whatever you try to do, things just seem stacked against you. It’s overwhelming. If like me, you have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), you can probably multiply that feeling by a thousand or so. Then add one to the result for good measure. One of the elements of Stoic philosophy that most appeals to me is the notion of the Stoic Test, and William B. Irvine’s book The Stoic Challenge: A Philosopher's Guide to Becoming Tougher, Calmer, and More Resilient is firmly focussed on that particular approach.

Stoicism, as a philosophy, doesn’t entail suppressing emotions and keeping a stiff upper lip. That’s small “s” stoicism. Stoicism, the philosophy, takes a number of approaches in helping the practiser enjoy life just as it is. It does this by encouraging us to reflect on the things that are in, and beyond, our control, and living a life driven by values that aid us rather than harm us. Stoics still feel emotion, but they don’t needlessly fuel it by rumination. The practices they engage in also reduce the chance of negative emotion occurring.

William illustrates this nicely in the book with a burst water pipe analogy. The burst pipe, the setback, needs to be solved. The water that floods your house is your emotional reaction. Some water will leak, even if you are a super plumber who always has your tools at hand. Regardless, the sooner you can fix the pipe or stop the flow, the less damage the water will do to your home. If someone triggers anger in you (the burst pipe), you can either notice it and rise to the challenge, or you can lose your temper with them, stew all day, and flood your emotional basement. Using the Stoic Test approach is one way of dealing with this.

William explains that the Stoics purposefully adjusted how they framed events, to help bring their actions more into alignment with the virtues that they wanted to live by. An example of a re-framing that I always think of is that the sensations of anxiety and excitement are very similar, and how we view a particular arising depends on which frame we view said sensations through. That doesn’t mean in the midst of an OCD spiral, that I can suddenly decide to view it as exciting, but I get the concept if nothing else. Making use of the Stoic Test approach, for me, is more a reminder to at least recognise that things can be viewed differently.

To practise the Stoic Test frame, when you are confronted by a setback, you decide to frame it by saying that the Stoic Gods are sending you this challenge, for your own good, as a way to develop and grow. Now, you don’t need to believe that these Gods exist. You can even just imagine a sage-like elder standing nearby and prodding you towards the challenge. William emphasises that you need to bring this to mind as quickly as possible, preferably within five seconds of the first flush of frustration, anger or whatever is occurring, as it can stop the emotions running away with you. That’s about it. There are nuances and other helpful elements that William covers in the book, but that's the broad gist of things.

When I first started applying the Stoic Test frame to the setbacks I experienced, I was often slow in remembering to do so. I’d get a minute or two into some response and then remember it. Over time though, the notion came to mind more quickly. When it did, it genuinely seemed to help with how I viewed things. When I was able to apply it, it made setbacks seem almost amusing, or at the least, it felt fun to approach them as a challenge. I couldn’t do this all of the time, but it is slowly creeping into my world view the more that I do it. Things that trigger strong emotions are harder for me than more trifling setbacks, but as with anything, as the test frame becomes habitual, I don’t see why I couldn’t make headway with those too.

I had a nice example of a minor setback just before I started to redraft this review. I received an email coupon from a gaming website offering a discount. Often the coupons can’t be used if you’ve been a member before, but this one was titled in such a way that it suggested I could use it. What’s more, a game I have been interested in for awhile is included, so I was pleased at the idea of treating myself to a very cheap game. Well, the coupon couldn’t be used. It was the same as similar ones I’d been sent before after all, just titled in a misleading way. Within a few moments I reframed it as a Stoic Test and smiled. I did have a brief moment of wanting to tweet at the company to let them know that their coupon was misleading, but that urge soon fell away. Who cares. What’s more, the next day the company emailed and said that things didn’t quite go to plan, but now the coupon works as it should. It’s a low grade, low stakes example of how framing something differently takes some of the sting out of things. I wasn’t super upset, just mildly irked and disappointed. The fact that things resolved the next day in a favourable way was a pleasant surprise too, but if that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have minded.

With my OCD, I’m always careful not to buy into approaches that entail trying to control my emotions. This is counterproductive and just makes things worse. I like the Stoic Test frame approach as changing the frame just seems to encourage a softer, more accepting approach to things, without the emotional escalation that we often add to events ourselves. As the fear of setbacks in life, both large and small, is a major element of OCD, anything that can help me to view the world in a more tranquil and accepting way is just fine by me. If you have OCD, you might find the concept helpful to look into, but here, I can only speak as to how it has affected me.

The Stoic Challenge is a fine book that teaches the reader in a warm, friendly way. William illustrates his teachings with a variety of personal examples, and his easy going manner and acknowledgement that he still slips up, all make it a fantastic book. If you have any interest in Stoicism, or in how the way we view life can affect our mental health, I recommend this book. Also, if you have OCD and have yet to get any formal treatment, I’d do that first. I came to Stoicism after having CBT and other therapy, and I wouldn’t change that sequence of events for anything.

Book Title: The Stoic Challenge: A Philosopher's Guide to Becoming Tougher, Calmer, and More Resilient

Book Author: William B. Irvine

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

Current Price: £15.68 Hardback / £10.75 Paperback / £8.96 Kindle

ISBN: 978-0393652499

Published: 1 Oct 2019

Thursday, 9 December 2021

Dark Horror Short Review: Last Orders

Dark Horror Short Review: Last Orders

Review by Casey Douglass

Last Orders

I’ve never been in a pub or a bar when last orders have been called. It’s funny to me that I only realise this as I am drafting this review of a horror short called Last Orders. It’s barely seven in the morning and I already know myself a tiny bit better! Last Orders is set in a pub, and, well, I’m sure you can guess the timing of events too.

Chapter One: “The End” appears on screen. The camera lurks at an empty doorway. There is the flash and the bang of a gun going off. We don’t get to see what happened, just an empty kitchen. In the next chapter, a pub landlord is stacking upended chairs onto tables, eyeing the darkly-dressed stranger who is sitting quietly at the bar. We see a figure sitting outside in a car. The figure pulls out a gun. The landlord tells the man at the bar that it’s time to call it a night, and is then surprised when the stranger informs him that they’ve met before. As he does so, the music playing in the background scratches to a halt, and the landlord looks suddenly chilled to the bone. It turns out that he has a dark past, one that just might be catching up with him. At this point, the viewer has some information to begin their speculations about who is going to be shot, and who is going to do the shooting.

Last Orders

Last Orders reveals what actually happened by way of six chapters, each filling in a little more of the detail as to what is going on and who might be involved. It’s a fun way for the story to unfold, and it makes use of dream-like images and other flashbacks to fill in the more historical doings. For the most part though, it features some lovely prolonged and creepy scenes, where strange noises see the landlord wandering through the darkened pub, flash-light in hand, trying to find out if he is actually alone.

What the film does so well is to make great use of the location. Director Jon James Smith says that Last Orders was made during UK Covid lockdown, with hardly any money, but access to an old pub that couldn’t open due to the lockdown. Even though we only see it lit for a short time, while the two men chat at closing time, the bowels of the pub stand in stark contrast to the cosier upper floor. Downstairs is all bare walls, circuit boxes, pipes, beer kegs and harsh echoes. Then, when the landlord returns to the bar area once the lights are out, upstairs seems to have caught some of the menace of what lies below.

Last Orders

Of course, a stage is nothing without the actors who portray the story, and in this regard, Last Orders also delivers. The conversation between the landlord and the strange man at the bar felt like a meeting between two darknesses. One seems brawny and capable of violence, the other quiet and equally menacing. It felt like an important scene to get right, as so much of the short is set up by the questions it raises and the truths it hints at. The inflections in the quiet stranger’s voice as he says “But actually, we have met... Daniel,” followed by the look on Daniel’s face are probably my favourite moments in the film.

Another thing that stood out for me was the camera work. I enjoyed how it teased and toyed, and didn’t show all. There is one particular moment where it pulls away to one side and I was waiting to hear what happened. The silence stretches, and I realised that I had been tricked into predicting something that wasn’t actually going to happen. Last Orders is comfortable with silence and tension, two things it builds so adeptly. When there are sounds, they are suitably creepy: ominous drones, chants, squeaking floorboards and scraping metal. The sinister voice-over that narrates at certain moments is also well executed, as it not only sounds suitably threatening, but also provides hints as to the identity of the speaker over time.

Last Orders

Last Orders is 21 minutes of quiet, ominous British horror. It’s the sort of thing that seems to nestle lovingly into the darkest hours of the evening, when the mundane world is blanketed by night and the people that are still awake are left alone with their thoughts and fears. Last Orders is currently touring the film festivals so isn’t released as of yet. It picked up an Official Selection at the London Lift-Off Film Festival 2021 and I’d be surprised if that’s the last nod it gets. If you get the chance to watch it at a festival, or later when it is released, I’d say it’s well worth checking out.

I was given review access to the film.

Film Title: Last Orders

Starring: Alastair Parker (The Witcher 3, Mass Effect 3), Steven Elder (The King, Rillington Place), with Charles Edmond.

Written & Directed By: Jon James Smith

Score: Stewart Dugdale

Producer, DoP, Editor & VFX: Jon James Smith

Sound Design: Stewart Dugdale & Jon James Smith

Associate Producer: S. K. Bishop

SFX Supervisor: Eddy Popplewell

SFX Crew: Sophie Bramley

Sound Recordist: Matt Wilkinson

Friday, 3 December 2021

My Dark Ambient 2021

My Dark Ambient 2021

By Casey Douglass

My Dark Ambient 2021

It’s almost the end of another year, so here is a post in which I look back at some of the dark ambient music that has caressed my lugholes over the last twelve months. The vast majority of albums mentioned actually released during 2021, but I included some older releases that were none the less, new to me in 2021.

When it comes to what I decided to include, I chose the albums that I kept drifting back to long after I had finished the review. Or, maybe I remember listening to them tens of times during a certain period during the last year. As I only tend to review releases that I feel reasonably confident that I will enjoy, even the ones that I don’t mention here but are sitting on this website, are still well worth checking out.

Before I get to the list, I just wanted to pay my respects to Mount Shrine once more. Cesar created some of the most dreamy and relaxing music, and I’m still so sad that Covid took him in April. His albums have been in my permanent rotation ever since I first listened to Ghosts On Broken Pavement. Shortwave Ruins is also an excellent album for winter-based relaxing, in my humble opinion. Rest in Peace Cesar.

Ghosts On Broken Pavement. Shortwave Ruins

On to the list.

Dark Litanies of Terra
Xmas is often a time when certain people listen to Gregorian-styled chants. This year, I intend to make full use of Monasterium Imperi’s Warhammer 40K inspired, chant-laced Dark Litanies of Terra (2020) and Mundus Sanctorium (2021). While everyone else can fill their minds with notions of beards in the sky, I’ll happily be absorbed into a bleak mental world in which humanity plunges into the depths of space, with a might and a zealousness that surpasses anything we’ve seen in real life.

A similarly space-based album is Sleep Research Facility’s dark ambient album Nostromo (2007). As I stated in my review, I have no idea why an Alien and a dark ambient fan such as myself, has taken so long to finally get around to checking out Nostromo. It’s like loving peanut butter and jelly and never thinking to try to put them both together. Unthinkable! Nostromo is a simmering, ominous journey through the decks of the titular spaceship, one that skilfully evokes the feelings of the film. I listen to it on an almost weekly basis.

Megafauna Rituals
After two sci-fi albums, next up is one that sends the listener back in time. Paleowolf’s Megafauna Rituals (2017) fills the ears with shuddering drumbeats and crumping footfalls as it conjures the spirit of the great mega beasts that roamed the planet during the last ice age. Shortly after I picked up this album, we had a few days of blizzard-like snow. As I walked across frozen farm-land, looking down as the snow whipped past my feet, I listened to Megafauna Rituals and it certainly added a wholly different feeling to the raw elements. If you buy this album and you are blessed with some harsh snowy weather, pop in your earphones and give it a listen as you stride out into it.

#44 - The Recluse
The Owl’s dark ambient album #44 - The Recluse (2021) is another that, at times, felt wintery, particularly the second track Glacial Beauty. #44 - The Recluse is an album that mixes warm smoothness with harsher noise, and was initially one that I wondered if I’d gel with. Well, I keep returning to it, and it’s still one of the best albums I’ve ever encountered for quieting my mental chattering and ruminations.

666 Minutes in Hell
I kind of want to move onto a heat-based album now, all of this talk of snow and glaciers is decidedly chilly. BlackWeald’s 666 Minutes in Hell (2021) is just the ticket, as it’s an eleven hour journey through the realms of Hell. Some of the tracks are as long as some entire dark ambient albums! The soundscapes give the listener a great variety of brimstone-laced vistas and sounds to enjoy, from the impression of being buried alive, to a giant infernal furnace and abyssal depths with distant cries and strange ululations. Who needs eggnog when you can mentally stroll along the edge of a lake of magma?

The Umbra Report
Finally, Cities Last Broadcast’s The Umbra Report (2021) is an album that really masters the “invisible threat in a quiet room” kind of vibe. This album drip-feeds an ominous feeling of unseen forces shifting and stirring in what could be an otherwise mundane vista. There are strange warbling voices and notes that seem to ping from vast distances, straining to reach your ear. A tense, very atmospheric album, and like the others mentioned above, one I listen to regularly.


That about does it for this year. Thank you for reading, and thank you if you are one of the regulars who often visits my website. I hope you have a good Xmas and New Year.