Tuesday 26 April 2016

Dark Music Review – Black Sheep

Dark Music Review – Black Sheep

Review Written By Casey Douglass

Black Sheep Album Cover
Sanguine were a band that I’d not even heard of a month ago. Some light YouTube music video watching before a gig at the start of the month presented them as probably worth watching live but I'll admit that I didn't instantly click with them. After seeing them live however, I came to appreciate them a whole lot more.

Sanguine is a 4-piece metal/rock band that hails from Devon and is made up by Tarin Kerrey, Nick Magee, Matt Feld, and Ross Andrew, and they put out some seriously ear-worming tunes. Since Black Sheep arrived around five days ago, I’ve listened to hardly anything else. That doesn’t often happen to me so I know it has well and truly penetrated my audio gland. I think the standout feature of the music for me is lead singer Tarin’s vocals. She has a syrupy sweet voice in which she sings many of the lyrics of each song, but in other instances, she drops into an amazing rip roaring yell. In some tracks, this yell almost seems to take on an “overtone singing” style aspect, managing to be both light and dark at the same time. The best way I can describe it is that, mid bellow, Tarin’s voice could probably flay the skin from your bones, but also kiss it better at the same time. The interplay with Nick’s growly shouted vocals that frequently occurs throughout Black Sheep is also a most welcome dance of sound, bouncing off each other to create interest and impact.

As far as the broad feel of the album, there is a decent split between the more rawkish heavy songs and the more chilled and quietly introspective ones. The opening track “Breaking Out” gets things off to a flying start, the warbling swells of guitar, punchy drumming and Tarin’s amazing yells punching the listener in the gut and saying “Listen up!” The next few tracks are also in the heavy punchy vein, from the ear-worming “du op du op” (for want of a better word) section of “Pretty Girl”, to the bombastic drums and catchy riffage of “Save Me”, they are songs that are best played at a volume loud enough for you to feel the vibrations through the floor.

Track five “Carousel” sees a slight departure from the heaviness, a quieter and more playful track in which the vocals and tempo do a great job of creating the audio impression of the titular carousel. It’s a rousing track, and the crescendo around the midpoint is another seriously ear-wormy bit of music, the guitar solo, pluckiness and drums carrying the lyrics into your “Rattle around my head for the rest of the day” mental space. The other quieter tracks are also as skilfully made, the ethereal “Do you see me” lyric of “Breathe Out”, the airy vocals and gentle guitar of “The Blue” and the slowly building euphoria of “Whole World” are all fantastic tracks.

If I had to choose a favourite track (and I haven’t mentioned every track above), it’s a tough choice between “Breaking Out” and the titular album track “Black Sheep”. I think “Black Sheep” edges it. A rumbling heavy start is joined by Tarin’s sweet vocals with the odd touch of rawk. She is soon joined by Nick at the chorus, which is where she goes full supersonic. I particularly liked the lyrics of “Black Sheep”, the distorted whispers of Nick saying: “I feel like I don’t belong here” and “The people who surround me wouldn’t notice if I died.” These words all tap into various dark feelings I am sure many of us feel or have felt. The context of Tarin’s screams takes on the extra aspect of pent up rage and frustration if you really focus on the words. Nick, by coincidence, found a dead sheep on Dartmoor and had recently been given a crash course in bone carving. The end result is the carved sheep skull on the cover of the album that was a perfect fit for the already decided album title of Black Sheep. I love these kinds of dark coincidences. Well, I seem to have talked myself into liking “Black Sheep” even more than when I started writing this section. It’s funny how analysing why you like something can increase your sense of connection with it.

If you couldn’t tell from the tone of the last however many words (around 700, don’t be lazy Casey, use the word count tool!), I really rate Black Sheep and would give it a fantastic 5/5. If you enjoy bands with a good range, catchy songs and darkness seeping through even the most light-hearted of words, Sanguine are well worth checking out. Their music videos are also well worth a watch. You can see the video of “Save Me” below with interesting footage from director Tyson Wade Johnston's award winning sci-fi short film 'Lunar' :

You can also watch the lyric video for “Black Sheep” below:

Be sure to check out Sanguine live if the opportunity arises. They are an energetic band that know how to put on a show, as you can hopefully see from this gif I created from footage I was able to record at their Norwich gig:

Visit Sanguine at their website here for places you can buy Black Sheep and other merch like cool t-shirts and caps.

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

Album Title: Black Sheep
Artist: Sanguine
Genre: Metal
Release Date: 29th January 2016
Label: Omn Label Service 

Saturday 23 April 2016

Dark Video Prose - Beyond

I done gone an' made another one a them newfangled vidyas. This one is a relaxing woodland scene with me narrating some prose that ties into what you can see. The video is below but I recommend watching it on YouTube itself so you that you can see it properly and catch some of the small details more easily. The prose is written below the video, both here and on its YouTube page.


Written By Casey Douglass

The air is languid but warm, the leaves on the woodland floor flicker and twitch, but lack the energy to really get into things. The shadows of the trees lean away at a pleasing angle, the contrast with the golden sunlight sends stripes of meaning through his neurons. He sits and looks.

He looks at the small spider’s web undulating to his left. He looks at the occasional dust mote floating in the sunlight. He looks at the leaves of the saplings nearby, their movement seeming to wave and beckon as the wind tussles them. Then he looks through the trees, through to the glaring white light sitting behind everything before him. He thinks that there could be anything over the top of the small hill.

It could be a view that stretches to the distant horizon, green fields and rook-filled copses peppering the landscape with all of the ingredients of a typical English country scene.

It could be the edge of a vast arid desert, the baked sand and twisting dust held at bay by the small crest of trees and soil before him.

It could look down on a vast futuristic city, a dome of glistening light protecting it from intruders and the elements, its vast skyscrapers sparkling through the energy field.

It could be the sun entering its death phase, growing fatter and fatter as it swallows the inner solar planets, hungry for the Earth and its inhabitants.

It could be the veil between this life and the next, the light of bliss or the seduction of hell urging people forward into what lies beyond.

It could be all of these things, it could be none of them. That’s why he likes it, this spot in the trees with the birds calling and the leaves rustling.

It feels like uncertainty, it feels like home.

Friday 22 April 2016

Dark Fiction - The Price of Fame

Dark Fiction - The Price of Fame

Written by Casey Douglass

Arnold walked down the shopping aisle, the distant screams merging with the approaching wu-wahs of the police. He reflected that it was a shame that shopping couldn’t be this enjoyable every time: less people, plenty of space, it was heaven.
Something crashed to the ground on the other side of the store. It sounded like glass but whether it was SWAT breaching or some clumsy soul knocking over a display, he couldn’t tell.
He rested a hand on the edge of a freezer cabinet, enjoying the frosty tingle in his fingers. Blood smeared the glass as he rubbed some of the frost away. The idiots had it turned up way too high.
Booted feet ran somewhere off to the left, sounded like three rows away. Another flurry of footfalls clattered on metal grates somewhere back in the stock area.
He smiled. Soon it would all be over.
He gripped the flesh around him and tugged it closer. She had been a beautiful blonde, six feet tall, with legs up to the sky. He’d never appreciated being small for his age, but when you’re pushing fifty and only five foot tall, you can squeeze into all kinds of places. Images of the others flickered through his mind, so many people, so many new suits.
He was tired, that was why it had to end. The thought scared him at first but he'd soon come around to the idea of giving himself up. It was the only way people would ever find out the scale of what he’d done. The police had only found two so far. Pathetic! Now he had it made, celebrity status, maybe a book...
‘Put your hands up and turn around slowly!’ a voice barked behind him.
He raised his hands, the innards of the human-suit slipping against the backs of his arms.
He rotated on the spot, careful not to let the amateurish stitches down the front split open. He smiled, the images of camera flashes and kinky fan letters juiced across his mind. He looked at the row of heavily armed police, their guns all pointing at his chest. One on the end removed his helmet, his face ashen, his gun quivering. ‘Caitlyn!’ he shrieked.
‘Shit,’ Arnold mumbled.
The gun went off. The future exploded.


Thursday 21 April 2016

Dark Game Review – Batman: Arkham Knight

Dark Game Review – Batman: Arkham Knight

Review Written By Casey Douglass

When I bought my new GPU last year, it came with a code for Batman: Arkham Knight. At the time, the PC port was being problematic, to say the least, so I shelved it and looked mournfully at the game on offer the following month when it turned out to be Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. A few weeks ago, I found myself at a bit of a loss when it came to my gaming time, so I decided to embark on a trip to the wet streets of Gotham once more, hoping that it wouldn’t be as bad as I feared.

In the time that has elapsed since its release last Summer, there have inevitably been patches that aimed to sort out some of the performance issues. I must admit that I didn’t bother to push the game too hard, I’ve never been one that fancies tinkering with graphic settings for ages trying to find the right balance of visuals and performance. I left all the usual settings at Normal for 1080p, but turned on the NVIDIA GameWorks Effects instead; stuff that makes the smoke and fog better, more litter on the streets and enhanced rain effects. I think it pushed the GPU memory estimate near the 4GB limit of my card, so I left things at that and played. I am happy to say that not once did I experience a noticeable frame-rate drop or graphical glitch. The only issue I had was when I went into the skill upgrade menu near the midpoint of the game and my PC hard-locked, requiring a physical powering off. I know shit happens but I hoped we’d be past software being able to hard-lock a PC. Crash to desktop gracefully if you like but don’t freeze the entire system. It didn’t happen again and I finished the game without further incident. Your own mileage may vary however.

I remember when all of this was fields...

Once you are in the game proper and in control of Batman, the graphical fidelity is very impressive indeed. When I'd seen screenshots of the game or even footage, it didn’t compare to how the game actually felt to experience. Rain trickles down surfaces, fog and smoke hangs in the air and the city is such a fantastic place to view and swoop through, it was quite simply, great! A particular thing I enjoyed was when Batman answered the video-calls that extend from his forearm, yet most of the time, you can still walk him around while it is happening. I don’t know why I was so impressed by that, I just was.

Smart watches can't touch Batman's technology!

The joy of most of the recent Batman games has been the combat however, and Batman: Arkham Knight doesn't disappoint on this front. The usual Predator type situations are there, taking out a cluster of goons using hanging take-downs, explosive gel and gadget-based sabotage. When things do go wrong however, you can fall back on the intuitive parry-based combat that makes you feel so uber. My own particular favourite move was using the bat-claw to launch an enemy towards me, Scorpian style and brutally clothes-lining him. The first time I did this, it was the last blow of the fight, which meant slo-mo was triggered. I can’t remember what I shouted, something naughty and fist-pumping.

I was impressed with the story. I am not the biggest Batman buff in the world, but I did enjoy the twisted and quite brutal narrative. I think Batman: Arkham Knight had the best story for me, of any of the recent games. It featured madness, trickery and sacrifice, what more could you want?

Talking of madness... look who's back!

Oh, I haven’t even mentioned the Batmobile, the ride of choice for Batman as he tears through the criminals on the streets. Batman can call it as he glides down to a road, it skidding to pick him up and drive on. Batman can also control it remotely, giving the opportunity for turning the tables at least a couple of times in the main story line, the car getting behind thugs that think they have the batty one trapped. Their cries of surprise as it takes them out are music to the ears. If the Batmobile is nearby, you can also make use of it in some of Batman’s fighting take-downs: throwing the thug into the air for the Batmobile’s gun to land the final thunderous hit.

Car-shaped carnage lurks in the background.

As I said, I enjoyed the main story, and the side missions were also really interesting, things like apprehending other named criminals such as Two-face and Penguin. The only side-boss that I didn’t beat was The Riddler, because he did a disappearing act and then broadcast that he'd only fight when I'd solved all of his riddles etc. I can understand the draw of exploring the city and looking for the stuff he has done but it isn’t for me this time, I just can’t be bothered. I finished everything else though and triggered the ending, which was serviceable, but nothing that really made me go "Wow!". I think I read that if you get a 100% completion (I had 96%) you get the full ending with extra cut-scene stuff but again, The Riddler’s bullshit would need to be solved for that. I could search YouTube and find the extra ending but I find myself not really caring, I got my ending and that’s all that matters, much like how I felt with Mass Effect 3 and why I can’t bring myself to replay the ME Trilogy again.

Batman: Arkham Knight exceeded my very low expectations and I am happy to say that it is probably one of the better games I have played in the last year or so. I don’t know how I would have fared if I had played at launch, but a year on, the experience was very enjoyable. If you are like me and you have Batman: Arkham Knight for PC and haven’t touched it yet, now might be the time to check it out.

I’d give the game 4.5/5.

Game Title: Batman: Arkham Knight
Platform: PC
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Screenshots from Batman: Arkham Knight © Copyright Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Tuesday 12 April 2016

Dark Music Review – Archives I-II

Dark Music Review – Archives I-II

Review Written By Casey Douglass

Archives I-II Artwork

The Archives collection is a look into Atrium Carceri's archived audio files from the last 10 years.

This album was created using audio recorded during 2005-2015 and consists of B-sides, forgotten tapes, tracks that for one reason or the other did not make it onto one of the Atrium Carceri albums, or tracks that were in circulation but needed a remaster.

All material has since been re-edited, reworked, remastered and merged into two seamless tracks. The Scandinavian recordings of cold meets the post apocalyptic undertones of America as it was worked on in Oregon, USA out of the Cryo Chamber Studio, with material from both countries.

Archives I-II is a great introduction to Atrium Carceri for those that might not have heard any of the previous albums. It is also a great re-introduction for long-time listeners that have grown to appreciate Simon Heath’s multi-layered, high quality soundscapes. Archives I-II features many of the things that make Atrium Carceri, well, sound like Atrium Carceri. Field recordings, menacing drones, eerie clanks and rattles, as well as the odd ear-worming melody and inventive beat. Archives I-II serves up a veritable banquet in its two tracks, both in and around forty minutes in length.

It’s usually about this point in a review when I zero in on a few tracks I particularly liked, or talk about the images created in my mind by the dark sounds, but I don’t think long descriptions of extended tracks like these would make for very exciting reading. What I can say is that both tracks have a good variety of soundscapes and tones. As an example, track one gets started with a wind-like noise and some chimes, backed by hollow sounding notes and some staticy grain. There are some distorted tinkling sounds, clanks and rattles, the buzz and hum of radio interference, voices in conversation at a distance, drones, piano, reversed speech and gravelly footsteps, all within the first fifteen minutes! That isn’t even covering everything heard either.

Whether you’ll like the album or not will probably come down to how you feel about experiencing different soundscapes for shortish periods before things move on to the next. The soundscapes all flow very well into each other, the impressions created varying in light and dark, and always seemed to stay interesting. If you like a typical dark ambient track to create a space and evolve or populate it over the next x amount of time before moving on, you may find the variety and pace of Archives I-II a little too fast for your liking. Personally, I enjoyed this kind of “whistle stop” tour of some of the sounds and creations of Atrium Carceri, so it is with this in mind that I give Archives I-II 4.5/5, a worthy addition to any dark ambient library.

You can visit the Archives I-II page on Bandcamp at this link.

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

Album Title: Archives I-II
Artist: Atrium Carceri
Label : Cryo Chamber
Released: March 22, 2016

Dark Game First Look - Factorio

If bleak sci-fi production lines is a topic that makes you sit up and think "Phwoar!", you might like to head over to Geek Syndicate and read my first look at PC game Factorio. Clicky here.

Factorio Image © Copyright Wube Software LTD.

Sunday 3 April 2016

Dark Gig - Mushroomhead, Sanguine and Nervewrecker

Another night, another fine heavy metal gig at the Norwich Waterfront. While I am still a bit disappointed that American Headcharge had to pull out, I'm happy to say that this gig was one of the best that I've been to. Each band had something different to offer and I came away genuinely liking each band, which is rare as in my experience, there is usually at least one band at a gig that I end up feeling 'meh' about. Not last night.

First up was Nervewrecker, a band I knew nothing about before last night. Once their heavily distorted sound began to pulse through me, I decided there and then that I would check out their album, which is something I will get around to today.

After Nervewrecker came Sanguine, a female-fronted rock/metal band that I wasn't too sure about before the gig. I'd checked out their music videos on YouTube and felt that I'd like them but I wasn't predicting how good they would be live. They were great! They also did a cover of an American Headcharge song and did it really really well, which I am sure earned them a large amount of goodwill from people still smarting about AHC's absence.

Last up was Mushroomhead, an American metal band with a theatrical look that bring some monster songs to the party. They were also joined on stage by singer Jackie LaPonza for two or three songs, her own costumes doing well to compete with the strangeness of the band's. They were epic and I hope they come back to Norwich in the future.