Friday 30 June 2017

Dark Game Review - Conarium

I do like me some Lovecraftian horror, so when I saw Zoetrope Interactive’s Conarium, I suspected it might be something I would enjoy spending time with. I certainly did. Inspired by H.P Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, it's a first person puzzle horror game steeped in a sense of the strange and the eldritch. Click here to read my full review over on Geek Syndicate.

Friday 23 June 2017

Dark Music Review – Crumbling Cities Echoing Their Terror

Dark Music Review – Crumbling Cities Echoing Their Terror

Review Written By Casey Douglass

Crumbling Cities Echoing Their Terror

Crumbling Cities Echoing Their Terror is a compilation of cinematic dark ambient artist Noctilucant’s previously unreleased songs, spanning the time period Oct 2015 to Dec 2016. I previously reviewed Noctilucant’s Oblivion To You All, and was impressed with the bleak “world gone wrong” vibe it created. As you can see from the title, Crumbing Cities Echoing Their Terror looks like it will continue to probe the spires of broken brick and steel, even if solely in an attempt to bear witness to the horror of what could come if we don’t wise up.

The first track, You Can Hear The Cry Of The Planet, achieves a somber tone by incorporating a number of enjoyable devices. The first is a sonorous funeral bell-like chime that shakes the soundscape in a “pay attention” kind of way. The second is that some elements of the track seem to take on the aspect of a cry, the titular cry maybe. Each sounded different to me, one a bit like a bird shriek, the next more like a steam train whistle. Whatever each “cry” really is, it is no less effective in the not knowing.

Next up is Down by the Docks (Alternative Version). This is a brief track, but one filled with the sounds of dripping water, wind and voices. Swells of a radio-like interference impinge at times, and it tails off with an unnerving dose of feminine humming. I really liked this track and was a little sad that it was so quickly over.

A Solemn Night is another great track, partly because I was quite pleased with the mental impressions it gave me. It sounded a bit like a scene that film and TV watchers have seen used many times: a person sleeping in an easy chair, the lounge dark, save for the flickering light of a TV in the corner. My most recent reference is the scene in The Babadook, where the Babadook appears in whichever film the main character is dopily watching. This was the impression I got from this track, some horror slowly seeping into the scene on the television while the occupant of the room dozes on oblivious. The latter part of the track changes to a lighter tone, and this gave me the idea of something beginning to materialize in the room itself. What, I don’t know.

Letting Go Of All Hope is up next, another track that produced some striking images for me. I imagined aliens visiting the ruined Earth, hovering in their spacecraft (hinted at by the drone and oscillating high tones) before deciding that it isn’t really worth their trouble to land, and scarpering. The latter part of the track seemed a little emptier, more quiet, and this kind of felt like the pain of absence, or even the letting go of hope. A great track.

The final track that I’m going to mention by name is Beholding The Murk, a deep bassy track that rumbles into life with what sounds like a vibrating engine. This is soon joined by higher tones and more interference-like effects that swell and then vanish. If ever a track was an accompaniment to walking through a cloud of dust or a thick clinging fog, this is it. It even features the sound of someone breathing through a gas mask just after the halfway point.

Crumbling Cities Echoing Their Terror is a satisfying listen if you want to spend some time in the murky world of post-apocalyptic urban life. All of the tracks create a melancholy and stifling sense of waste, and some counterpoint this with the higher tones and airy sounds of life still continuing, in whatever form that may be.

Visit the Crumbling Cities Echoing Their Terror page on Bandcamp here for more information. 

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

Album Title: Crumbling Cities Echoing Their Terror
Artist: Noctilucant
Released: May 25, 2017

Tuesday 20 June 2017

Dark Game Review - Die Young

An idyllic island is somewhere that many of us would love to spend some time. Being kidnapped, hounded and chased as the insects buzz and the sun bakes you isn't usually part of the plan. IndieGala's PC game Die Young puts the player in just such a position, and you can read my full early access review on Geek Syndicate at this link.

Monday 19 June 2017

Dark Fiction - The House Nanfula

The House Nanfula

Written By Casey Douglass

Evil Eyes

Time ago, evil did dwell
in the house Nanfula,
locals know well.

Smoking harbingers of death fly easily over the unwatched land, sentinels cost awareness and flow where you don't want them to go. Black clouds blot the sky like unwanted fly spawn peppering a spider’s web; conveyor belts of death and corruption. The wind blows like the wheeze of an elderly man, currents licking around the door-frame, setting the crinkled stain and paint flapping.

The house sits on the hill like a squat giant, the doors and gables adding expression to its stormy facade. Deep in the valley, tiny specks work the fields, warily glancing up at the looming building, a mixture of fear and respect etched into their countrified features. Inbreeding cannot water down this original and most primal of fears.

Myths and legends abound concerning House Nanfula. Some say it was the scene of one of Caligula’s orgies, although how he got here and orchestrated such a thing remains a mystery. Other tales tell of murders, schemes and plots blacker than the darkest night, of unseen things slithering in the cellars, ready to seep out on certain full moons to suck the life from any that might venture too near. It is a house of ill omen and one that the gentry folk would very much like splintered, burnt and detonated. Birds don't venture near it any more, the strange sickly sweet smell seems to repel anything in which warm blood pulses.

Squat on the hill
dark windows squinting
the land around its hunting ground.

House Nanfula, a place to which corrupted souls are bound.


I wrote the above awhile ago and came across it again when browsing my raw material folder. While not fully formed, and the poetry not that skillful (in my opinion), I enjoyed the effect that it created, so I thought I'd post it up after some edits. If you are interested, the picture that goes with it is an edited picture of a taxidermied tiger that I took years ago. I used Gimp 2 to edit it as I am too poor to possess Photoshop sadly. Thanks for reading.

Saturday 10 June 2017

Dark Music Review – Deus Sive Natura

Dark Music Review – Deus Sive Natura

Review Written By Casey Douglass

Deus Sive Natura Art

Drone veteran Creation VI (Russia) presents us with his debut album on Cryo Chamber.

The cold wind howls outside the warm yurt, the shaman inside prepares the pipe. The inhale is deep. With the exhale he starts throat singing. The smoke dances between drums and bells raised by the rest of the tribe. Sweaty face sway and glazed eyes blink in rhythm with the beat.

This album is a journey of us humans moving through the ages in our universe. Trying to figure out our place within it as we forge myths and philosophies. Build megaliths and temples. Send our prayers into space and bide our time waiting for the miracle.

Recorded on old tapes for a fuzzy warmth. This album uses a lot of acoustic instruments like blockflute, chinese flute (hulusi), shruti-box, harmonica, ocarina, kazoo, bells, chimes, seeds & seedpods. Tribal drums make you feel like you are in the middle of a hypnotic ritual. Recommended for you who enjoy Ugasanie and Paleowolf and field recordings.

I first encountered Creation VI’s work when I reviewed his Myth about Flat World album last year. It was one of the most peaceful dark ambient albums that I had listened to, and it regularly lulled me to sleep (in a good way, that wasn’t a way of saying it was dull, far from it). When I saw Deus Sive Natura (god or nature) appear on Cryo Chamber, I was extremely interested in hearing what he’d created this time. What I found was an album that made use of the kind of shamanic beat and chants that helped me remember how I first began looking for darker, grittier music.

I used to buy CDs from New World Music, and yes, it really is as new agey as it sounds. This was long before I even had Internet access, so dark ambient was totally unknown to me at this point. I purchased Phil Thornton’s Shaman album though, and was blown away to hear something that wasn’t all pan-pipes (I am now violently allergic to pan pipes) and angel music. This was animal and dark and hypnotic, in the way any good shamanic album, in my opinion, should be. Well, after listening to Deus Sive Natura, I now remember why I love this kind of album. That isn’t to say that Deus Sive Natura is new agey, I was just roaming down memory lane, kicking a few stones as I wandered. Oh, and I’ve tried to find out what some of the track names mean via trusty old Google; I’ve used brackets after the titles to indicate what I found.

Ancestral Voice is the opening track of Deus Sive Natura, and features a soundscape that I really fell in love with. The sound of seed pods, a rhythmic chant and an infectious drum beat really creates a space that is trance inducing. I’ve been known to trance journey, and I could feel myself being lulled and pulled by this track. The rhythm feels just perfect and I found it hard to keep my head still as I listened, the pressure building to rock gently forward and back. Ancestral Voice also features some field-recordings: bird chirps, twigs and leaves crackling beneath the feet, and a few floating voices, the titular ancestors maybe. I particularly liked the moment when I realised that the bird chirping had become its own rhythmic beat, and that I couldn’t really recall when it had happened. As I listened, I was a little concerned that I might have found my favourite track straight away. That did turn out to be the case, but there were others that I very much enjoyed too.

Deus Otiosus (“idle god”) follows Ancestral Voice, a track that I felt began with the audio equivalent of a white fog. If the journeying shaman of the first track is now between worlds, Deus Otiosus very much put me in mind of some of kind of shadowy spirit realm. There is a lovely detail sound of what sounded like ankle-bells, setting up the impression of someone steadily walking through the low visibility landscape, the bells themselves maybe employed to scare away evil spirits. I felt that the fog turned pretty black as the track continued, maybe the mind of the shaman shedding its attachment to form as he/she goes deeper.

Deeper in, Cycles of Life is the next soundscape that develops around the listener's ears. A sustained “Ahh” chant-like sound gets us going, a rumbling drum beat its accompaniment. The chants turn more animal-like as the track progresses, the drums becoming a little subdued, field-recordings of snapping undergrowth emerging again. The mental images conjured by this track were of being stalked, maybe even death stalking life. The drum later takes on the aspect of a slow heart beat, chants and a buzzing noise arising as time progresses. The final image this track left me with was of a cracked light bulb with all kinds of flying insects flying towards it, the falling bodies of their incinerated companions adding yet more light to the scene, even as the death toll rises.

Divine Intervention follows Cycles of Life, a track that features what I’d call a shimmering drone-chant interplay that builds into a subtle prolonged “fanfare” , the kind of accompaniment that you might watch solar flares slowly erupting from the surface of the sun to. At around the four minute mark, I thought I heard other vocals in the pleasing wall of sound but that could have just been the way a mind hunts for things. They might have been there, they might not. It was nice none the less. The soundscape does change as the track continues, female singing/chanting adding a lovely dose of flavour and sound to the various rattling, buzzing and wind instrument notes.

The final track is Natura Renovatur (nature renewed, I think), an epic 23 minute finale that revisits a good number of the sounds and styles of the other tracks. Beginning with the gentle sound of wind, a drone soon grows from nothingness, airy movements and subtle chants hanging in the space around the other field-recordings that make an appearance, from bird chirps, to a kind of whimsical squeaking sound. At one point the dominant sound becomes a kind of siren, a kind of blaring sound although that word is too harsh to describe what is a pleasing effect. Natura Renovatur also contains a rhythmic drumbeat that adopts a number of different beats. A satisfying track to listen to.

There we have it. Deus Sive Natura is a stunning shamanic dark ambient album, the swaying drum beats and natural sounds mingling and hooking into the primal depths of the psyche, dragging that little wisp of essence that we believe to be “us” into another plane of existence.

Visit the Deus Sive Natura page on Bandcamp here for more information, and be sure to check out Ancestral Voice below.

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

Album Title: Deus Sive Natura
Artist: Creation VI
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: June 13, 2017

Friday 9 June 2017

Dark Game Review - First Strike: Final Hour

BlindFlug Studio’s PC game First Strike: Final Hour offers control of the nuclear red button of doom to the player, and pretty much says “Have at it!” What transpires is the most deadly firework display in history. Check out my full review on Geek Syndicate by clicking here.

This was one of my launches...I may have gone a bit power mad.

Thursday 8 June 2017

Dark Music Review – Book of the Black Earth

Dark Music Review – Book of the Black Earth

Review Written By Casey Douglass

Book of the Black Earth Art

The old leather bound book smells of crusted honey. Flecks of dust and dried parchment rain from it's interior as you open it. Ancient hieroglyphs and diagrams point the way to the obsidian gate.

A year later you walk through long forgotten caverns with lantern lit. You've finally found the underground lake. A tired face stares back at you from it's reflection. The air tastes sweet down here and in the distance flutes echo of a buried civilization. The feeling of dread washes over you. This is your last chance to get her back from the underworld.

Dark bass drone rumbles in the caverns under long forgotten cities. Ager Sonus has succeeded in creating an Egyptian backdrop that is accentuated with flutes and atmospheric layering. Occult and ethereal, this album is for lovers of Necromancy and the unexplored ruins beneath the sands of Egypt.

An Ager Sonus album (also known in the world as Thomas Langewehr) was one of the very first dark ambient albums that I reviewed that wasn’t from an artist on the Cryo Chamber label. Now, a good few years later, I am really happy to see that Thomas has joined one of the best known and respected dark ambient labels out there. I know that he has wanted to make an Egyptian themed album for some time as well, so the fact that it's his first Cryo Chamber released album just adds a cherry to the icing on the cake. Hang on, this is dark ambient, so maybe it should be that it added the field-recording to the drone on the soundscape. Dodgy jokes aside, lets get on with the review.

Book of the Black Earth is a dark ambient album that makes tremendous use of the ideas that an Egyptian backdrop would bring to mind. Wind blows hot clouds of hissing grit against old ruins, animals howl, and when there is a lull in the soundscape, it becomes something steamy and pregnant with echoes and strange rustlings. Opening track Through the Desert is typical of this sandblasted vista, with the added ingredient of some flute notes. This sets up a pleasing balance between the harshness of the environment, versus the mellow music notes. A bit like someone saying “Yes it’s harsh out here but it can also be beautiful!”

Second track The Dead City is an example of the other style of soundscape. The Dead City has an echoing shimmer to it, for want of a better description. A little like a lone adventurer finding an abandoned desert city at night, but a city in which every surface has baked for so long in the hot sun, that they give off a kind of anti-heat, a voidal coating of darkness marked by the absence of the light that birthed it.

Discoveries is up next, another soundscape in which uneasy movements jostle against the listener, the sounds of searching, flapping paper and other raps and tappings setting the scene with the suggestion of movement and secrets being unearthed. I had the mental impression of someone pulling back a curtain and revealing the true form of the wizard from the Wizard of Oz in some strange, half-linked way.

The next track is probably my favourite on the album, Inner Sanctum. Beginning with the sound of a gong, it soon evolves into a wind brushed environment with animal howls and an introspective air of abyssal meditation, a sanctuary against the light in some ways, as it made me feel like I was deep in the guts of an old temple. Add in a dose of some chanting and strange guttural sounds, and I felt it was one of the darkest soundscapes of the album. One element that didn’t really chime with me were the piano notes that came later in the track, if only for the reason that I had been enjoying the darkness, and they added a slightly unwelcome higher energy to things. A personal taste thing though to be sure.

Osriris’s Courtroom next, another echoing soundscape punctuated by metallic shrills and vibrating tones that hint at dead eyed statues and ornate gold detailing at war with the dust, and also at war with the latest intruder to their space. Layers of tradition rubbing against the era that came after, causing a friction that sets the air to tingling against the skin.

Apophis is the penultimate track, and the flavour of this one is very much deep bass throbbing and lots of interesting detail sounds like bubbling, tapping and rubble falling. Around the midpoint, things shift to hint at presences that grow and phase in and out around the listener, a feeling of movement, threat and fragility all rolled into one.

The final track is Awakening, a 12 minute piece that is quite quiet and introspective. Whispers and a fast flapping rhythm are joined by insect-like effects, creaking and instrumental notes. A fitting track to see the album to its conclusion.

Book of the Black Earth is a fine dark ambient album, one that takes the listener from sun to shade, from scorched to chilled, and from open horizons to sealed chambers. It gets a big thumbs up from me, even though I must admit that Egyptian themed media doesn’t often appeal to me. If you enjoy your dark ambient, your Egyptian lore, or even both, be sure to check out Book of the Black Earth.

Visit the Book of the Black Earth page on Bandcamp here for more information, and be sure to check out Discoveries below.

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

Album Title: Book of the Black Earth
Artist: Ager Sonus
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: May 30, 2017