Wednesday, 11 January 2023

YouTube Review: Control (PS4)

Hoping for a bit of paranormal-ability-fuelled adventure, I recently picked up Control for the PS4. I then made a video review about how I got on with the game:


Sunday, 25 December 2022

My Dark Ambient Album The Miasmic Bridge is Out Now!

My Dark Ambient Album The Miasmic Bridge is Out Now!


The Miasmic Bridge Art

I just released my second dark ambient album, The Miasmic Bridge, over on Bandcamp. This one is themed around the occult and is also free. The album description from the Bandcamp page says more:

A perpetually lonely person embraces the occult as a means to open up a whole new realm of connection. 

The endeavour takes years and culminates in three spirit communication sittings, held on three consecutive evenings. 

After the last of these, the person never attempts to reach out to the other side again, as like most connections, not everything that passes in each direction is to be wholly desired, or even trusted. 

Loneliness has its charms. It’s certainly safer most of the time... 

These tracks feature subtle, smooth, soul-scraping drones that sit uneasily at the threshold between the mind and the spirit.

If you decide to check it out, there are free Bandcamp codes on the store page if you'd like to add it to your Bandcamp library. You can also find my previous album, Deep Space Impingement, which is also free and has recently received a very generous review from The Dungeon in Deep Space.

Merry Xmas :)

Friday, 16 December 2022

Dark Ambient Review: Dissolving into Solitary Landscapes

Dark Ambient Review: Dissolving into Solitary Landscapes


Review By Casey Douglass


Dissolving into Solitary Landscapes Art

Humans being forced to live underground due to some catastrophic event is always an intriguing theme; the experience of being held in a kind of artificial cosiness by the miles of rock around them and the technology that supports them. A notion that often goes hand in hand with it though, is the idea of someone wanting to return to the surface, even if it means suffering, misery and certain death. Dronny Darko and G. M. Slater’s dark ambient album Dissolving into Solitary Landscapes is rooted in just such a desire.

As is becoming a habit with me and Cryo Chamber releases, I can’t help but gawp at the album artwork before even mentioning the music itself. A blocky, angular black megastructure stretches into the murky depths, the only splash of colour the smeared white glass of what seem to be viewing pods or some kind of airlock. According to the album description, the weak light cast from somewhere above appears to be purely artificial, so any thoughts of glimpsing natural light through a cracked fissure on high seem to be quite mute. A moody and monochrome scene, but I have to admit, I’d happily go on a tour around such a location, as long as I could leave at some point. For me, this sets up a pleasing kinship with the hinted at protagonist of the album.

Below, I’ve looked at three of the tracks that stood out to me the most:

The opening track, The Infinity Bell Part 1, sets the scene nicely. It opens with a slow, sonorous chiming, one that’s framed by the sound of muted distant impacts, or the clunking of some kind of mechanism. There is a sigh-like flow of air and a warm, chant-like element. A raspy shimmer emerges, with a metallic scything sweep high in the air. Around the track’s midpoint, quiet radio-tones squeak and rustle in a nest of bubbling echoes. It ends with a lighter, windy feeling, suggesting a bit more space, or even the reaching of the surface. For me, this track conveyed the oppressive feeling of being deep underground. It felt both mechanical and vast, yet also hinted at a distant busyness or industry. Maybe the protagonist finds out what it’s like above ground by the end?

The next track is The Slow March of Extinction, and it carries the windy ending from the first, forward into new territory. This is a bleak, wind-blasted track, with a growing drone and bell-chiming tone soon joined by echoing footsteps on a stone floor. This feels like a ghostly track, the string-like swells, and the strange vocal calls, pushing their way through the ruined walls and windows of an abandoned civilization. If the protagonist does find any kind of breathable, liveable world on the surface, I think that this track provides a kind of reverse history lesson, helping the wanderer see what their future above ground might hold.

The final track, Dissolving Into Solitary Landscapes, rounds things off with a rainy, dripping echoing space. A low drone pulses and throbs, and there is a distant, rasping quality to the air, a little like a prolonged snarl. There is the feeling of static building, with boinging metallic plucks and chimes. As the track continues, a soft synth tone begins, with distant impacts pushing gently into awareness once more. After the midpoint, there are moments of a “flapping plastic build-up” and dispersal, joined by a stronger, wavering synth. This is another beautiful track of ruin and desolation.

The soundscapes contained on Dissolving into Solitary Landscapes include a mixture of drones, field recordings and gentle synth tones, all served up in a way that simultaneously seems to soothe and chill at the same time. There are muted or muffled crumps and impacts, sonorous chimes that throb in the air, and atmospheres at times, that seem sentient and watchful. There is a feeling of ruin and of menace, of sadness and of relief, and it’s a fantastic album to delve into on a cold winter night.

Visit the Dissolving into Solitary Landscapes page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also check out The Infinity Bell Part 1 below:



I was given a review copy of this album.


Album Title: Dissolving into Solitary Landscapes

Album Artist: Dronny Darko & G M Slater

Label: Cryo Chamber

Released: 5 July 2022

Friday, 9 December 2022

Dark Ambient Review: Traveller's Tales

Dark Ambient Review: Traveller's Tales


Review By Casey Douglass



Traveller's Tales Art


The interactions between our memories and what our senses actually experienced is something that seems core to so much of our human existence. Ucholak’s dark ambient album Traveller's Tales toys with this concept by mingling technology, biology and the human yearning for exploration.

Traveller's Tales’ description frames the album as being set in the distant future, a time when humanity has been exploring what the universe holds, far beyond our own home galaxy. One of the key ways that information was gathered during this period was the use of neurotechnology to record what the early explorers witnessed and experienced. Some of these recordings became corrupted by the retrieval process, or by other means, with the resulting glitches mingling what the astronauts’ senses revealed with the darker workings of their own minds. The incomplete reports were dubbed Traveller's Tales, hence the very cool concept behind this album.

Part I opens with a sustained drone and a slightly fuzzy melody that roams from ear to ear. Ominous slow swells rise beneath, impact-like sounds heard through the mixture. After this opening soundscape, things become quieter, descending into a kind of “sad jazzy” feeling space, with whistling tones and scratchy microphone texture pops. A little later, the sound of a distorted radio voice emerges, with beeps and echoes making the space feel lonely. There are strange metallic chiming notes, an ear pulsing beat amidst a muffled clattering cacophony, and nymph-like calls in the air. Near its end, I thought the elements of the track conspired to hint at a kind of mocking laughter. Maybe the hapless astronaut featured in this recording crash-landed onto a featureless moon and lost him or herself to their own inner-critic as the voices on the radio faded to silence.

As desolate as Part I felt, Part II felt like a trip to a lovely paradise planet. There is a warm drone, the sound of waves, and strange bird-like tones that chirrup amidst metallic chiming notes. An element of discord enters by way of a distant drone that buzzes past, a speaker blaring unintelligible but somehow soothing words as it floats over. The words pulse and echo away. The soundscape changes into a deepening, fuzzy, bass-filled place, maybe signifying the coming of night. What sounds like a spaceship drive spinning up and taking off looms into awareness, and after this, things turn a little more twisted. My own impressions were decidedly insectoid, with electronic warbles and sweeps meeting mandible-like clicks and scrapings. Egg shell crackles and strange voices on the wind hint at an unpleasant experience for the astronaut. For me, this track depicted what someone accidentally being left behind on a hostile planet might experience.

If Part II was paradisical, Part III felt like some kind of trippy descent into Hell. It opens with a scale-sliding wah-wah type tone, with knocks and impacts echoing away into a vast space. There are beeps and the hint of a radio voice, and then things deepen into a quieter, brooding, droning environment. This new location feels bestial and chiming, with a kind of bouncing, scuffling quality. At this point, what came to mind was a spaceship entering an evil kind of hyperspace, much like the warp in Warhammer 40K. It isn’t all heavy and dark however, there are gossamer tones and what at one point seemed to be the space equivalent of sirens luring sailors to their doom. Maybe the astronaut in this traveller's tale was asleep in a cryogenic chamber while their ship travelled through something that triggered nightmares. Or maybe they really were in a nightmare and the sounds in this track are their mind trying to piece their reality together again.

The final track, Part IV, is a more beepy, beaty affair, with the space between memories and reality seeming its thinnest in the whole album. After the beat-laden, ear roaming radio voice opening, a xylophone-like melody begins with the sound of a ticking clock behind it. When I heard this, I wondered if an astronaut was remembering something from childhood, maybe lulled by the mechanical rumbles of the spacecraft, or whatever was being experienced. The melody suggested childhood to me anyway, but it could equally have been from a sad fun faire. The soundscape turns more crumpy and guttural after this, with whistling cries and agitated impacts and electronic flares. It seems like a scratchy, flapping space, and I can only guess what the astronaut is experiencing to bring about the sounds of this recording.

Traveller's Tales is a dark ambient album built around a concept that I really love. I find the whole idea of corrupted neural implant recordings from far future astronauts, decoded by scientists in the even further future, a fun thing to ponder. The tracks of the album all suggest different events befalling the hapless space travellers, and each track serves up a diverse mixture of textures and impressions. If I had to choose my favourite track, it would be Part II, as the way a paradise seems to turn into a fearful place holds the biggest emotional sway for me. If you enjoy your dark ambient with a futuristic sci-fi flavour, I think you’d enjoy Traveller's Tales.


Visit the Traveller's Tales page on Bandcamp for more information.


I was given a review copy of this album.


Album Title: Traveller's Tales

Album Artist: Ucholak

Released: 16 May 2022

Friday, 2 December 2022

YouTube Review: The Order 1886 (PS4)

 YouTube Review: The Order 1886 (PS4)

I mull over the merits of The Order 1886 seven years after its release on the Playstation 4, a game that I enjoyed far more than I hoped to.


Sunday, 27 November 2022

App Review: Syntropy

App Review: Syntropy


Review by Casey Douglass



Syntropy

Syntropy is a word for the way that order forms from chaos, which is an apt name for a well-being app that was created by a company that itself, was formed during Covid lockdown. In the broadest of strokes, Syntropy is an app that uses art, music and breathing science to help the user to relax or to lift their mood.

If you’re anything like me, the “breathing science” part of that intro might have tickled your fancy. There are many studies that show the link between the breath and our state of relaxation or alertness and the Syntropy app utilises a mixture of audiovisual breath pacers, music, and art therapy to help bring about positive changes in the user’s state. Some of the benefits that the user might experience include improved cognitive performance, stress reduction and increased coherence between bodily systems. If you’ve read my reviews of the HeartMath Inner Balance, or of the Syntropy breath pacers when they were available separately, I get more into the science there. I'll link to those reviews at the end of this post.


Syntropy

When you enter the Syntropy app, it’s a good idea to click on the information icon at the top left of the screen. This opens up a selection of tutorials about how to best use each element of the app, the kinds of meditation that it aids, and it also offers more information about the artists involved. Once you’re back on the opening screen, below the video of the week, you’re presented with three categories of experience: Breathe, Relax and Elevate. Making a selection leads you to a screen on which you can choose from a number of galleries, each gallery tending to offer seven videos that you can view. The Breathe galleries are geared towards helping you to pace your breathing along with the animation of the video. The Relax section is tailored for the user to simply watch and go with the flow, and the Elevate offerings present art and music that hope to uplift the viewer’s mood.


Syntropy

I enjoyed the quite eclectic selection of artwork on display, and I was able to find a fair few that appealed to me. A number of the videos make excellent use of light, videos that seem to hint at the sparkling quality of sunlight as it gently reflects from rippling water, or the soft glow of sunrise and/or sunset. Two of these are in the Chromatic gallery and are called “Tabula Rasa” and “Breathe in the Light”. As far as I can tell, the Syntropy breath pacers that I reviewed previously can be found under Breathe>Geometry and Relax>Energy Centers respectively. Once again, I'll post the links below.

I found that using Syntropy proved to be a nice little break in whatever I was doing. As someone with chronic illness and perpetual anxiety, I often make time to be in the moment or to focus on a couple of breaths. I’m not always that sure that it helps to any great degree, but I do feel a little worse if I don’t. I guess like many things in life, it’s the tiny acts building up over time that make the biggest differences, for the most part. The Syntropy app is an additional way to take some time for yourself, and if you’re like me and have a very ruminative mind, having the visuals to focus on and the music to listen to often proves engrossing enough to free whichever cog is stuck in my mental cogitating machinery.


Syntropy

The Syntropy app’s interface is clean and easy to navigate. There is no clutter, and I found the app to be responsive and reasonably intuitive. I did encounter an issue with switching between dark and light mode however, insofar as it wouldn’t switch. I have an older android phone, so this could possibly just be a phone issue, but upon choosing light mode, the app hangs on a loading circle for minutes on end and doesn’t do anything. Even if it had worked, I’d have much rather preferred being able to switch between light and dark mode on the main screen or in the settings, rather than only seeming to be able to once I started to watch a video. Luckily, it was a minor issue for me as I do prefer the dark videos anyway.

Another area that I’d like to see tweaked is the option to download the video to your phone. This can only be done once the video is streaming, and on a slow connection, this can make it take a looong time. If you want to playback the downloaded video, you cannot play it in the same manner; you have to go into Settings>Downloads and choose it from quite a boring list of filenames. Ideally, I would like to be able to download a video from the gallery screen, and then to see some kind of visual indication that that particular file is downloaded, and then to browse the gallery when offline and be able to see which video is which. As it stands, with no net/data connection, the gallery interface doesn’t work. These two issues were the only real qualms that I had with the Syntropy app, and the download issue is just me being really fussy. I know it.


Syntropy

When it comes to the cost, there are a number of options. Firstly, new users get a one month free trial, which is a good way to see how you get on with things. After your trial is up, you can subscribe for £2.99 per month or pay £29.99 for a year’s access. This seems very reasonable to me, especially as Syntropy are continually expanding the number of videos available, and supporting international artists in the process. On a personal level, I also appreciate how they are bucking the trend of releasing a subscription-based well-being app that doesn’t have truly eye-watering yearly subscription prices.

The Syntropy app is a good way to give yourself some extra tools for your mental toolbox. If you’d like to check it out, you can visit the Syntropy website for more information, or you can find the app itself on the Google Play and Apple Store.

As promised, you can read some more in-depth information about certain of the breath pacers here and here. You might also like to check out my Inner Balance review, which is a gadget that helps you with the kind of breath-work promoted by the Syntropy app.


I was given free access to Syntropy for review purposes.


App Name: Syntropy

Available on: Google Play & Apple Store

Price: One Month Free Trial / £2.99 per month / £29.99 per year.

Saturday, 19 November 2022

Dark Ambient Review: Solaris

Dark Ambient Review: Solaris


Review By Casey Douglass


Solaris Album Art

I often find it funny how the darkest or most sorrowful music often feels the warmest, to me at least. Sasha Darko’s drone ambient horror album Solaris is full of tracks that embody this kind dichotomy, the bleakness seemingly swaddled by the warmth in some way, maybe in much the same way as the golden light of the Sun gently heats up the cold bodies of the dead in some kind of horror flick.

The tracks contained by Solaris are themed around the idea of a Telegram channel of the same name. Each track represents a strange and unsolved cold case, with the album description mentioning people dabbling with time-travel and disappearing, or answering the phone to their future selves and being warned about how they are set to die. I went into my listening sessions very much primed with a horror and sci-fi “thought anchor” nestling into the murky bottom of my mental swamp, and this is something that shows in the imagery I've used to describe the tracks that grabbed my attention the most.

Opening track Flight to the Sun had a Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe to me, no doubt due to how the first film ended with a break for freedom at sunrise. Flight to the Sun opens with a low, gently distorting ominous rhythm. Warm, easy synth notes rock back and forth over the top. Darting jaggy tones flit bird-like in the higher reaches of the soundscape, softening a harsher whine that sits behind them. After a short while, these tones plummet like falling stars. As the midpoint approaches, things turn into a more juddery, distorted space, like reality being twisted and shredded by strange alien fingers. This is a pulsing, windy space, one that ratchets up over time. As the track reaches its end, the easier synth tones return with plucked notes along for the ride, maybe signalling a return to “almost” normalcy, but having changed something that cannot be undone.

The Mutation is another track that stood out for me, in no small part because it makes deft use of uncomfortably high tones throughout, which is something I’m not sure I’ve come across before. It opens gently enough, a sustained high drone with gentle fluctuations and beeps nestling into it. It feels like a meditative robot playing a quiet church organ. A higher pitch begins to emerge, turning into a sustained, slightly twisty, resonant whining echo as time progresses. It feels part hearing test, part dog-whistle, but not as harsh. The high tones are met by a throbbing pulsing tone after the midpoint, and this also sets up a kind of off-balance, off-kilter feeling in the brain. By the end of the track, my ears felt quite strange, like they had been echo-pulsed into a different phase of being. If nothing else, check out this track on Bandcamp, just for the experience.

Wake Up is another track that tapped into my horror fan-ship. For me, this one had Freddy Kruger written all over it. Being called Wake Up probably played a role too! It begins with a pulsing high-pressure shimmer that instantly brought Mr Kruger’s boiler room to mind. A short time into the track, a bell-like tone holds a sustained chime; the effect tapping into the 80’s horror film synth part of my brain. Things slowly grow more ominous until the end of the track is reached. A track with a simple charm for a horror fanatic.

I'll end my review by talking a little about Suspiria (feat. Corpoparassita), one of the darkest tracks on the album. It starts with low creaking echoes and a roaming, pulsing low drone. There are judders and strange echoes, and a sense of pregnant expectation. Some of the judders almost seem like creatures exhaling in a dark underground space, waiting and biding their time before they flood into the daylight world and shred everything they find there. This is a creepy, dark ambient horror soundscape, and it was a great place to visit.

Solaris is a dark collection of ambient and synth-based tracks, one that, for this listener at least, takes you on a tour of horror nostalgia alongside fresh terrors. I really liked the idea of a mysterious Telegram channel and how the tracks related to sinister cold cases, and it really helped to wrangle the variety of feelings evoked by the sometimes quite different moods each track embodies. As I said in my opening paragraph, I felt a sense of warmth that ran through many of the soundscapes, a fuzzy “look at this” feeling that was no doubt heightened by the cold harshness that creeps into the tracks at other times. I like horror films, books etc. that depict terrible and scary things that happen in the daytime, partly because it shows that evil doesn’t just come out at night, which makes it all the more dangerous. Solaris, for me, is horror by daylight, and that’s great!


Visit the Solaris page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also visit Sasha Darko's own website here.


I was given a review copy of this album.


Album Title: Solaris

Album Artist: Sasha Darko

Released: 30 August 2021