Saturday, 20 July 2019

APP REVIEW: Prana Breath


APP REVIEW: Prana Breath

Review by Casey Douglass



Prana Breath
If like me, you suffer with anxiety and other mental health stuff, the chances are quite high that you might have had cause to use some kind of breath-based relaxation or awareness exercise, just to see if it might help you to feel better in some small way. Recently I’ve been using the free version of the Prana Breath Android app to help me keep track of what I’m doing, and in this review, I will describe how the app works and what I think of the various options it offers.

The main app screen is a simple circle with some timings in the middle. Depending on your training program selection, these will respond to varying durations of Inhaling, Exhaling, Retaining etc. The free version includes eight training exercises, from Clear Mind and Harmony to Anti-appetite and Cigarette Replace. More are available with the Guru version, which I will come to later.

Prana Breath

Once you start your training program of choice, you simply have to breathe along with the instructions on screen. Sounds accompany each state of the breath, and after a few sessions, you will likely feel comfortable enough to listen along with the screen turned off. The sounds you hear are customisable, from the background sweeping sound to the phase transition, there are a number of choices to suit the listener.

If you have your own breathing session in mind, there is nothing stopping you from creating your own program. I created my own Square Breathing (4-4-4-4 intervals) training program as I’ve found this to be most useful over the years that I’ve practised it. Changing the length of the session, Ratio of breath cycle or Seconds per Ratio unit is trivial, and I was up and “breathing” before I knew it.

Prana Breath keeps track of your total time spent practising in the Experience tab at the bottom, awarding you a Total Level and telling you the time you’ve spent on particular training programs. This is nice, and backed up by more viewing options along the top such as a detailed Log and Graph view.

Prana Breath

Next to the Experience tab is the Reminders one, and in this you can set a reminder to perform a certain practice. This Reminder will appear at the set time with a Random Motivator phrase, just to give you a jolt to action if needed. A nice touch.

The free version of Prana Breath is advert free, which is so rare in this current time. There is plenty of functionality in the base-app, and it doesn’t pester you to upgrade to the Guru version. The Guru version does open up more options and settings to tinker with however:
  • Dynamic Training (being able to vary timings within a single session)
  • The ability to use more training programs and patterns
  • More detailed progress charts
  • Infinite training duration
  • Health tests to help you keep track of your progress
  • More sounds to choose between
  • Google Drive Backup
  • An Import/Export Data option

You can gain access to the Guru version by a small monthly subscription, or unlock it permanently by choosing between the prices of £7.99, £9.00 and £12.00, depending on how much you’d like to contribute to help the app. My own feeling is that by using the free version, you will soon be able to guess if you would like these extra features.

Personally, I’m sticking with the free version for now, as money is so tight that I can’t afford to spend anything on apps. I do think the payment options seem reasonable for a well-made and slick app. Some breathing apps are just basic timers and that’s it. Prana Breath genuinely seems to go above and beyond this, and the fact that the free version is ad-free too always gains my respect.

Prana Breath

The only draw-back I might envision for some is that they might want an app that is more secular in appearance, lacking the symbolism and sounds associated with more belief-based meditation. Even to these people I would say give Prana Breath a go, as it’s a great little app. It really helps me to practice my breathing exercise of choice without getting too lost in mentally counting the intervals myself.

As an example of when this comes in handy, I sometimes enjoy slowing and deepening my breath to a rate of two breaths or less per minute. It has been known for my mind to lose count, and I forget to breathe for sometime. When I realise I’ve drifted, I get a bit of a jolt, and this tends to undo any calming or relaxation effects I’d already experienced. So yes, Prana Breath does help with this, to a degree.

Does it help me with relaxation and anxiety stuff? Yes and no. I find I sometimes bring any tension or stress I’m feeling into the exercise I’m trying to do. Even with the best of intentions and awareness, in these situations, the breathing stuff sometimes makes me feel worse. At other times, it helps me to settle and feel calmer. The act of focussing on both breath and audio cues also slows my mind’s usual ruminations too. On balance, I find breathing exercises helpful, but at other times I’d rather just focus on my breathing and watch it rather than change its rhythm.

As always though, you should go carefully with health stuff. Breathing exercises might help some but they could harm others or make things worse. I’m not telling you that breathing exercises will help you, I’m just describing an app that helps me to time the ones that I like to use. Don’t self-treat or self-diagnose blindly, see your Doctor for advice and realise that you are responsible for your own health, and that you try things at your own risk. Be safe and be sensible.

Visit the Prana Breath website for much more information and detailed breakdowns of the various exercises. There are also links to some of the science behind why breathing exercises might help people with various health and emotional problems.

Prana Breath is available from the Google Play Store and the Amazon Store.

***

If you found this review helpful, or think that it might be useful to someone you know, please share it on social media and tag them in. If you have any breathing exercise recommendations to try, please also let me know by commenting below or finding me on social media. I'm always on the lookout for new ones to try. Cheers.

Friday, 19 July 2019

TECH NEWS: A.I Depression Detection Moves Forward

Photo used freely from the excellent Gratisography website
As anyone will know, we humans have pesky emotions, those things that add both flavour and heartache to life. We might not always be fully aware of what we are feeling though, and it is in this that artificial intelligence might soon come to our aid.

A professor and student at the University of Alberta's Computer Science Department, Eleni Stroulia and Mashrura Tasnim respectively, have recently released their findings with regards to A.I's depression detecting abilities, and the potential this might have for future applications.

They used data from previous research and, using various machine-learning algorithms, they developed a new way to detect depression in the timbre of a subject's voice. This method might lead to new ways in which our tech can monitor our well-being:
"A realistic scenario is to have people use an app that will collect voice samples as they speak naturally. The app, running on the user’s phone, will recognize and track indicators of mood, such as depression, over time. Much like you have a step counter on your phone, you could have a depression indicator based on your voice as you use the phone." - Eleni Stroulia
As someone who suffers with depression, this kind of news is quite exciting. I don't always catch myself slipping into a bigger 'dip' in mood, and sometimes the realisation only comes once I'm entrenched in cycles of downward thinking. If I had an app on my phone that could pop-up a notification and say "Hey, you are dipping a little!" I might have a chance to get ahead of things and do those self-care things that sometimes help take my thinking down a more cheerful path.

The more I think about it, the more I'm curious as to how A.I might perform in detecting other emotions in our voices. How cool would it be to have a friendly app saying "You're very lonely right now, don't let this affect your standards with your Tinder swipes!" I know that is only a few steps away from HAL and his "I'm afraid I can't do that" attitude, but hey, it's interesting to ponder.

Source: University of Alberta

Thursday, 18 July 2019

HORROR NEWS: Wicked Witches Are Coming This August

Wicked Witches

We live in a time where more and more people are going vegetarian or vegan, but the titular characters in Wicked Witches not only fancy a bit of man-flesh but also the soul it houses inside. That's just greedy if you think about it.

The story follows a man ejected from his house for shagging around. He goes back to the farm of his youth, but all is not well there. For one thing, there is the small matter of his friend being possessed by said group of witches. Thus starts the plot to feast on the unsuspecting playboy.

Wicked Witches

Watching the trailer brought me to thinking that I haven't seen a decent witch film for a long, long time. There's that other shaky-cam found-footage film that I'm sure you've heard of, but I was pretty underwhelmed by that and its more slick sequel. Wicked Witches looks 'proper bleak and gory' in my opinion, and the whole set-up of the possessed friend working for them adds a bit of extra spice to things.

Wicked Witches

Wicked Witches will be in select theatres and also available on DVD and VOD from August 9th. It comes from The Pickering Brothers by way of Midnight Releasing, and stars Duncan Casey, Justin Marosa, Samantha Schnitzler, Jasmine Clark and Laura Coleman. Visit the official Wicked Witches website, and checkout the trailer below:


Wednesday, 17 July 2019

GAMING NEWS: Archaeological Deciphering Game Heaven's Vault Now on GOG.com

Heaven's Vault

I'm always partial to a bit of code deciphering, so when I saw an announcement about Heaven's Vault being available on GOG.com, and that it was a hieroglyphical, archaeological, non-linear narrative adventure game, I wondered how this game had managed to pass me by.

The game follows the story of Aliya as she explores The Nebula, a scattered network of moons. The ruins you explore garner inscriptions that need to be translated. What's more, the translations you choose apparently feedback into the story, and the game never tells you if you are correct or not. This is all wrapped in a lovely art-style and a sweeping soundtrack.

Heaven's Vault

Heaven's Vault

The game comes from inkle, the creators behind the world-roaming adventure game 80 Days, a game that I very much enjoyed, so I know that they have a pedigree when it comes to charming adventure games. Heaven's Vault released on PS4 and Steam three months ago, and I managed to miss it's arrival.

I'm intrigued by Heaven's Vault. I'm a sucker for games with a pleasing art-style, but the way that it sounds like your decisions/decryptions actually have meaning, and that the game doesn't hold your hand, that is something that I wish was a feature of many more games.

Heaven's Vault is on GOG.com at this link, and for a short time is 20% off, making it £15.99 rather than £19.99. You can also watch the trailer below:


Tuesday, 16 July 2019

HORROR NEWS: 3 From Hell Full Trailer Released

3 From Hell

3 From Hell is the third film from Rob Zombie that details the leisure pursuits of the murderous Firefly family, and it has just had its full trailer released.

Seemingly set to take place after their shootout with the police at the end of The Devil's Rejects, the trailer shows the trio beating their massive injuries. Some people despair at this, others create some kind of movement to get them released from prison.

Having a "real day of the dead" is mentioned, seeming to be backed up by a number of Mexican-themed scenes in the trailer. Then come the various scenes of a knife-wielding, mad-giggling, build-up to violence. "This is my death factory, and you are the product!" is just one of a handful of meaty quotes.

3 From Hell

I was quite late to the Firefly family party, only catching the first two films (the first was House of 1000 Corpses) on Netflix. I enjoyed their 'Texas Chainsaw' aesthetic, and there is something quite charming about a creepy clown, in my opinion. 3 From Hell looks set to continue the madness, and I think the element of the trio having "fans" while in prison is a nice touch.

3 From Hell stars Sid Haig, Bill Moseley and Sheri Moon Zombie along with a number of others including Danny Trejo, Richard Brake and Jeff Daniel Phillips. It was written and directed by Rob Zombie and the studio involved is Lionsgate.

First screenings will occur in September (in the U.S), and you can find out more by visiting the official site at this link: Robzombie.com/movies/three-from-hell-2019/ . Be sure to check out the trailer below too!


Thursday, 4 July 2019

Friday, 28 June 2019

Dark Fiction - The Carrion Maven

I have a short (very short) piece of fiction now up at Black Hare Press called The Carrion Maven. Click here to read it and here to visit the Dark Moments page where you can read others' work too.


Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Flash Fiction - Slow


Flash Fiction - Slow

By Casey Douglass


Slow


Spinkel had always been slow. Not slow in a dimwitted kind of way, but slow in both movement and speech. His friend Rami often joked that Spinkel lived life at half-speed. Spinkel felt this was an exaggeration, as he knew he would have to do his version of “running” to even approach “half-speed”.

The doctors were stumped as to whether his condition was mental or physical, or both. After years of tests, pumping him with caffeine, stimulants and courses of cognitive behavioural therapy, they did what any caring doctor would do. They washed their hands of him.

As far as Spinkel’s job prospects, they shouldn't have been zero, but they were. He’d achieved good grades at college and shown himself to be a friendly, sociable chap. Employers however, wouldn’t touch him. Job after job passed him by. The Job Centre tried to help. They had the bright idea of having Spinkel re-classified as a robot. It didn’t work. They penalized Spinkel for their own failings. He told them to go fuck themselves. Slowly, of course. With diagrams and everything.

On a darkening evening, Spinkel found himself on the roof of the local multi-story car park. He considered jumping. He idly wondered if he would fall at a slow, ponderous rate. It was as he ruminated on this that he spied a gathering in a back garden on the other side of the street. His heart hit a heady forty five beats per minute as his breath began to catch in his throat. He saw a group of people, and they were slow too!

As it turned out, they were full-speed people, but people behaving in a deliberately slow fashion. After his chat with the leader, he bought a book on Tai-Chi and other meditative movement-based disciplines. He wondered if he’d found his niche in the world. He studied hard and became a teacher, running his classes at the local town hall and amassing such a following that he soon had to expand his operation. He brought his innate slowness to the postures and movements he performed, something even the best ‘normal’ instructors could only dream of. 

Spinkel fell in love with a frazzled woman who’d worked herself into a nervous breakdown. Together, they found that his tempo and her over-drive blended perfectly into the bosom of their intimate relationship. They had two slow children, were adopted by a moderately-paced cat, and lived out their days in a quiet cottage, packing every second of every day with only as much as it could comfortably carry.

THE END

Saturday, 4 May 2019

DARK AMBIENT: Mount Shrine Interview


Mount Shrine Interview

Interview by Casey Douglass


Mount Shrine

In recent months, I’ve been listening to Rio De Janeiro-based dark ambient artist Mount Shrine’s fantastic Ghosts on Broken Pavement, reveling in the moods it creates. During the last few weeks, I was lucky enough to have an email chat with Cesar, and I was able find out a bit more about what makes him tick.

Laced throughout this interview are photos taken by Cesar, of the view that he often stares at when creating his music.

CASEY: How did your interest in creating music first form, and what drew you towards the dark ambient genre?

CESAR: I actually don't really know. I've always been an avid music fan, even when I was a child. I was always listening to my family's old records, watching video clips on local TV channels (back when this was still a popular thing), stealing my mom's pans and "playing drums" with them until my neighbors would scream at me and silly things like that.

There were some records that truly stood out to me at the time, but nothing ambient related. When I was around 11-12, I started being interested in how people I listened to made music, by doing silly Google searches like "how to make music Aphex Twin" or something like that. It was just for pure curiosity on knowing their process. Then I got some freeware stuff and started playing with them, making noises and having fun. I believe I could say it was simply a natural progression for me then, I guess, since I was never serious about making music before I was 13-14 years old. Of course, the lack of having a musical family and the lack of supportive people around me would be a huge factor on that, since no one ever gave me an option of living a life by making any form of art.

I think the first ambient record I actually ever heard was probably any of Brian Eno's ambient albums (my best guess would be the first one), but the album that really got my attention towards the genre was Akira Yamaoka's score for Silent Hill 2. I know it might be a bit cliche to say this, but it really was! The first thing that caught my attention was how diverse his soundtrack work was: within the same game, you had musical cues that ranged from ambient, downtempo, industrial/noise to, even, tracks that resembled a bit of early 90s alternative rock. But when I really delved by listening it in the album format, I can't even put into words of what I felt. All the playful joy of making noises with plug-ins disappeared and I decided to dive more seriously into this thing. I've already spent more than 6-7 years listening to this soundtrack, but I still get shivers when I listen to The Day of Night or White Noiz.

Most of the stuff he did for Silent Hill were made with sample libraries, especially with the ones Spectrasonics released in late 90s, but his sample choices were just perfect because it fits completely with the whole scenario of each game. Some might try to diminish his work today as just "lazy", due to its extensive use of sample libraries, but I don't think like that. I don't think any other artist might have used the same samples in more evocative ways like he did. You know, there's SO many people who hear any slow chords playing beneath a song and think "Oh, it sounds like Silent Hill!" even if it's something from a drum and bass track, and that's mainly due to his perfect sample choices. If it was a different composer working with Team Silent, it would be something completely different and that's so interesting.

Mount Shrine


CASEY: Which other musicians would you say have influenced you in the music that you create?

CESAR: On the ambient side of things, I simply love Akira Yamaoka and Tim Hecker. They're basically my two favorite ambient artists and I could listen to them forever. If I had to choose my "desert island" album by each of them, they would be the soundtrack for Silent Hill 2 and Radio Amor, respectively. Of course, I have other favorites in the genre, like Tor Lundvall, Leyland Kirby, William Basinski, Stars of the Lid, Rod Modell and Burial, if you consider him as, mainly, an "ambient" artist. I'm also very fond of late 90s so-called "IDM", like Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Amon Tobin, Christoph de Babalon, Boards of Canada, and Autechre. I've recently came across this little nice Luke Slater album, The 4 Cornered Room and I've been listening to it a lot. Basic Channel and Echospace [Detroit] labels have their own place in my heart too and they're a big part of my "weekend chill" playlist.

Ambient unrelated, I must say I have a healthy obsession with two artists: John Frusciante and Jorge Ben (now going under the "Jorge Ben Jor" name). I just love everything they've made so far and I can't really go a week without listening to, at least, one song from them. I think you can pick some bits and pieces of them in some of my artistic stylishing. For example, I started getting addicted on minor 7th chords right after I got into Ben's work. I'm also addicted to early oldskool hardcore/jungle stuff. Back when I was producing Ghosts on Broken Pavement, I was mainly listening to mixtapes cassette rips of these styles on Youtube 24/7, which was the cataclysm of giving my last album its sound. If I had to point one out as a favorite, it would be Dieselboy's Witness The Strength mix. Simply, a masterpiece.

CASEY: What does your technical setup consist of, which software and equipment are mainstays of your craft?

CESAR: Ableton Live only, with mouse and keyboard. Live was the only DAW that I really felt connected with, when I was trying out demo versions of various DAWs to pick my main one years ago. I tried so much stuff and I hated them all, but I don't know why. If I hadn’t tried Ableton Live, I would probably have given up making music. At least, with a computer. With that said, Live has been my main "friend" for almost 8 years and I'm still learning new things in it! Apart from some third-party plugins, like Fabfilter (their EQ and Limiter are some of the best third-party plugins you could probably have) and some ValhallaDSP reverbs (the "VintageVerb" one is my favorite), I'm completely happy with Ableton's stock stuff.

If someone thinks that Ableton sounds "flat" or "dull", they should go listen to Fanu and notice that they've been probably using Ableton wrong. Honestly, 90% of the sounds from Ghosts on Broken Pavement are just simple sounds made with Analog or sub/reese basses made with Operator. Almost all post-processing, like reverb, delay or filtering, were all from Ableton's own stuff. The remaining 10% are mainly loops I took from recordings I did with PureData or small patches I did with granular samplers/synthesis, like Ableton's Granulator or The Mangle.

Mount Shrine

CASEY: You make great use of field-recordings in your tracks. I particularly like the various ways you utilize the sound of rain. Do you have a favourite “real world” sound to try to capture, and what do you make your field-recordings with?

CESAR: These sounds are all, basically, a collage of sounds I love making, just to keep playing on the background of any song I make. The sounds sources, well, you can find them anywhere: there's some stuff I got by blindly searching on the internet, looped atmospheres I got from my favorite movies, low-quality recordings from my phone, manipulated samples of vinyl and fire crackle and, by keeping them "glued" together, a quiet tape hiss. I like to create this whole "inside world" feel on my tracks.

My music is quite a reflection of my personality; I like to stay in the background, in my little world, without people trying to get my attention and to move like shadow through the streets. The sound collage also reflects my whole neighborhood too. People think that Rio is all about sunny days, beaches and jungles, but where I live all you'll be able see is urban decay, streets with broken pavement, trash everywhere and, as much it can get hot some days, it can get truly cold too. So I think that, by creating this sound collage, it doesn’t just give the nice texture I always wanted to give for my tracks, but it's also a way for giving the listener to glimpse what I observe in my neighborhood.

CASEY: When you aren’t creating music, what else do you enjoy doing creatively, or even just for the simple fun of things?

CESAR: That's tough, because I don't do much, hahaha! I usually keep a daily schedule to myself. When I wake up, I like to watch some stuff on Youtube while I'm sipping a bunch of coffee cups. It's mainly these horror channels, like Nexpo or ScareTheater, or random gaming and tutorial videos. For some years, I've been watching around 1-2 movies every night too as a routine. I'm not a huge cinephile guy, but I like to watch weird and different challenging stuff, just to keep my creative juices flowing. I've recently gone through Pedro Costa's filmography and I watched all his feature films in a week. Just plain darkness and a claustrophobic view on the everyday life of simple people.

CASEY: What are you currently working on now, and what are your plans for the future?

CESAR: Well, I'm actually not working on anything right now. After the release of Ghosts on Broken Pavement, I forced myself to get some months off, to clear my mind a bit and take care of my health. The last 6-7 months have been tough and I haven't stopped a single day since then. While I was on this "forced vacation" for myself, I started learning Japanese and decided to go back and play some of my favorite games again, especially Dark Souls and Playdead's stuff. Only recently, I started to do some silly stuff on Live, but nothing too concrete or making any real "tracks"; it's mainly mindless noodling with synths, recording samples and chopping breakbeats, just to get myself back at the creative mindset.

Future plans? Surely is to keep releasing new stuff. I haven't been too interested in the "album" format lately, because I feel that its format is much better when you need to close a "chapter" of what you're doing creatively, somehow, rather than just a compilation of tracks that sounds nicely together. I started having these thoughts around the early drafts of my last album. With that said, when the right time to release something new comes, it will come naturally and with a personal reason for doing so. It might be something new for Mount Shrine, or any new alias I might feel like giving a try in the future.

***

Thanks to Cesar for such a detailed and fascinating look into what drives his music, how he does it and what might be coming next. You can find Mount Shrine on Bandcamp and you can read my review of Ghosts on Broken Pavement by clicking the links.


Sunday, 17 March 2019

Dark Ambient Review: A New Terror Born in Death

Dark Ambient Review: A New Terror Born in Death

Review by Casey Douglass


A New Terror Born in Death


When it comes to dark ambient, sometimes, you might just be in the mood for something long and lingering, rather than a series of quickies. Yes, I’m talking about track length, what else did you think I could be talking about? Tracks of a longer duration sometimes help whichever mood is being created to emerge, giving it the space to blossom into a dark winged moth flittering around the lamp that is your mind. Noctilucant’s A New Terror Born in Death is an example of just such an album, as it consists of two half-hour tracks that make great use of the extra time they’ve been given.
Album Description: A New Terror Born in Death is the latest opus from the atmospheric dark ambient doom bearer, Noctilucant (Joseph Mlodik). Where Joe has been carving out a niche in the dark ambient community with his foreboding cinematic compositions for several years, he brings us a new near hour-long seamless drone piece. Segmented into two halves, A New Terror Born in Death lulls you into a morbid trance as it entrenches you amidst the decaying architecture of a pallid planet.

While this album does not carry forward the post-apocalyptic story Noctilucant has crafted in his releases Back to the Mud, Oblivion to You All, and Bleak and Drained of Colour, A New Terror Born in Death offers a wayward wandering across ashen-coated fields of grass and derelict asphalt architecture, pockmarked by still-life moments of blissful serenity.

Track one is A New Terror, a track that for me, brought to mind a crumbling city, one that has fallen to some kind of dark malady or presence. The track opens with wet crackles of water and a drone that is soon joined by lumping/creaking metal. Maybe this is the dock yard where the city’s problem started? An insect-like hum swarms in the ear, and a pulsing, like a rasping breath emerges. After a short while, the soundscape quietens and turns a little more contemplative. Whispers carry on the wind, a deeper drone comes and goes, and eventually, the sound of a bell tolling rings out across the rooftops. Other things that jumped out at me were a section of the track that seemed to hint at the kind of music you’d hear at a carnival. There was also a stretch where I heard something that could have been something leathery-winged and hungry, following people who might have been traipsing through the abandoned streets. A track with urban terror and dark brooding at its core.

The second track, Born in Death, presents a more subterranean environment, to me at least. Maybe a cave system below the city of the first track? The track opens in an airy, echoey space, with certain sounds possibly being distant cries. It’s a deep and meditative track, a whooshing stream and the shrill sounds of a strange menagerie sitting well with a chant-like sound. The track features a number of changes in feeling, from the wet onrush of boiling gloop near the 10 minute mark, to a metal-clanging-airy-cavernous feeling a short time later. This cavernous feeling is caused by a wind-like effect rising and rising while another sound falls and falls. It felt a little like an underground vortex fuelled by the deep air currents of the cave system. I also thought I could hear the distant carnival style music once more. For me, this track takes the listener through a deep cave system and deposits them on the open river at the docks of the city above.

A New Terror Born in Death is a dark ambient album that flows with energy and movement. Its use of drone often caused me to hear things that I wasn’t sure were really there, catching hints of female chants and other tones that might well have been my mind playing tricks on me, pattern finding in the maelstrom. Both tracks shift and evolve, light and dark, cloying and spacious, and they took me on an enjoyable mental journey around mental scenes that appealed to my darker nature. If you like this kind of dark ambient, you’d do well to visit A New Terror Born in Death on Bandcamp at this link. You can watch the teaser trailer for the album below too:



I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: A New Terror Born in Death
Album Artist: Noctilucant
Label: From Corners Unknown Records
Released: Feb 28, 2019

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Dark Book Review: Fangtastic Tales of Werewolf Savagery


Dark Book Review: Fangtastic Tales of Werewolf Savagery

Review by Casey Douglass


Fangtastic Tales of Werewolf Savagery


I’ve always been more of a werewolf fan than of those traditionally over-romanticised vampires. Give me the brute force, bestial power and probable risk of fleas over the daylight-shunning corpse-jockeys any day. That being said, I’ve not really read any decent werewolf fiction for a long, long time. Until I read Toneye Eyenot’s Fangtastic Tales of Werewolf Savagery that is, a collection of short stories and a novella, that all feature the hunt-fueled activities of lycan kind.

Book blurb: La Lluna Plena – the Full Moon – that beautiful and mysterious celestial body which stirs within us all those deep, dark emotions we do our best to subdue and control. For some of us, her influence runs deeper, much deeper. We all walk beneath her maddening rays, yet, while most may shrug off the notion that inside us all resides a beast – a savage wolf – there are those of us who embrace the monster within and ride that lunatic wave with abandon each time she casts her gaze upon us.

Some see it as a blessing, others…a curse. To be bitten, and fall prey to murderous urges beyond our control, or to have the good fortune to be born into the pack, or perhaps even to whisper words of spell in order to evoke the lycanthropic gift, there are more than a few ways to cast aside the human skin and let loose the wolf within. Those ways are explored throughout this collection of werewolf terrors.

Suspend disbelief, dear reader, because whether you care to admit it, or continue to live in ignorant bliss, we walk among you. We smell the blood as it courses through your veins and taste your fear on the breeze. We long to see the life drain from your quivering flesh as we gorge. Beware the Full Moon, as you are about to enter the world of the Werewolf.

Blood Moon Big Top is the title of the novella, and it’s the first tale you will come to as you delve into the book. It tells the tale of Marbles the clown, a loner who enjoys the thrill of being someone else when he is in full costume and performing for the circus punters. An unlucky crossing of paths with a feral youth soon gives him the chance to become someone else in a more literal sense, his body and mind changing into something more bestial and less easy to manage.

The story follows his adaptations, and the gore, when it comes, is quite sudden. After the initial baptism of blood, the reader can tag along with Marbles as he struggles with the slaughter, but he all too soon warms to the thrill of the hunt. There are lots of nice descriptions of the physiological changes he goes through, and the pacing of the tale soon builds to the feeling that, if he carries on in this way, his days are numbered.

Next up is Hunter’s Moon, a short story revolving around a werewolf pack and their preparations to celebrate the glorious Blood Moon. Naturally this entails a rough time for any humans unlucky enough to cross paths with them, and the exclamation of “Run!” could very much be a one word description of the general mood of this tale. A nice build-up and frenetic at its peak.

Dire is next, and is a snapshot of misery for an unfortunate criminal. A cat burglar gets more than he expected when he is paid to steal the massive fossilized paw-print of a dire wolf from a museum. It’s a classic tale of there being more than one kind of payment, and to beware the price of dealing with strange people...

Human Skin relates the experiences of Alex and Jason, a private investigator and his protégé, as they study the body of a dead woman, and attempt to get to the bottom of who, or what killed her. The “who or what” angle is quite the cause of disagreement between them, but in the end, they do get to the bottom of things, however inadvisable that turns out to be.

The final story is The Tomb of Legion, a tale in which vampires also make an appearance. The two species are in a state of truce, until powerful vampire Legion is broken free from his prison, and the werewolves find themselves having to face a vampire threat once more. This felt like a more typical, classic tale of werewolves against vampires to me, the rustic setting and gothic overtones enjoyable and fun none the less. Pack against clan, but there are also other forces afoot too.

Rounding the book off is an excerpt from another of Toneye’s books: Wolvz: Whispers of War. I didn’t read this as I wouldn’t want to judge a story from an excerpt, nor already be familiar with the tale if I ever read it in its entirety.

What we have in Fangtastic Tales of Werewolf Savagery are five werewolf tales that give the reader a dose of that claw-and-tooth loving vibe, the kind of enraptured appreciation of how terrifying (and thrilling) it would be to actually be a werewolf, or to even be hunted and chased by one.

The humans involved all come to gain an understanding of the law of the tooth, whether as victim or convert, and the gore, when it happens, is vivid and visceral. If I had to choose a favourite tale, it would probably be Hunter’s Moon, in part due to its swift escalation, and also due to its brutal ending.

View more about Fangtastic Tales of Werewolf Savagery here.

I was given an advance review copy of this book.

Book Title: Fangtastic Tales of Werewolf Savagery
Book Author: Toneye Eyenot
Publisher: Luniakk Publications
Released: 21 March 19

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Why I Think Subnautica is One of the Best Horror Games

Why I Think Subnautica is One of the Best Horror Games

By Casey Douglass


Subnautica


Subnautica is a game that I almost didn’t buy. I’d had an interest, then a disinterest, and then things seemed to align and I saw it on sale and picked it up. I knew the kind of game I was getting: a sci-fi water-based survival game with exploring and beasties. What I didn’t realise is that Subnautica would give me some of the best experiences of horror and awe that I’ve probably encountered. Which, as surprises go, was a most welcome one.

Subnautica
The life pod with the wreckage of the Aurora behind.
The game begins with a spaceship, the Aurora, plummeting through the sky, a life-pod splashing down in water and a nice bit of fire-extinguishing. Then the longer-term survival begins. Everything you need is scattered for miles around, the groaning, flaming Aurora blotting the horizon. You can’t stay long underwater before running out of oxygen. You also don’t have much equipment. Or food. Or drinking water. As situations go, it’s a grim one. But to paraphrase The Martian’s Mark Watney... ‘Fuck you water-planet!’

Subnautica
My Seamoth in the moon-pool
The early game is spent creating basic equipment, scavenging resources and scanning everything you
can find to see if it’s useful. Before long, you will have moved from your small life pod to a base of your own construction. You will create a mini-sub called a Seamoth, and you will likely have swanky things like battery chargers, food-growing beds and sonar. Sonar links to one of the first ways that the game wowed me.

Subnautica
Sonar revealing the terrain
As you might imagine, shallow water is easy to see through. As you explore, the sea-bed dips away from you into ominous looking darkness. You might catch sight of something lurking out there, or even hear the alien-cry of some vast predator. But it’s all shrouded in murk. It’s like looking into the abyss of space, but scarier in some ways, more personal and reachable, rather than infinite darkness. You know there is a bottom to it, where unseen things dwell and cavort and consume. Pinging your sonar reveals the secret of the contours around you, but fades moments later, like the ultimate tease.

Subnautica
My humble base
As you push on, scanning and discovering abandoned places, you get the chance to build a Cyclops, a larger submarine. When I finally built mine, I was amazed at the size of it. My base at the time had four rooms, a moon-pool (a snazzy underwater docking room) and various corridors, yet the Cyclops, while narrower, sat three stories tall and loomed next to it like a leviathan of my own making. I wasn't expecting it to be so big. When you turn the engine on it rumbles and purrs with a power that the tiny Seamoth can only dream of. Oh, and that Seamoth can drive up into the Cyclops’s bowels and dock, strapping itself in to come along for the ride.

Subnautica
My new Cyclops 'looming'
The thing is, and I don’t mind admitting it, I’ve barely taken my Cyclops ten yards. During the early game, I lost two Seamoths to things that latched on and tore them apart. I’m wary of my Cyclops meeting the same fate. Sure, I can build another one, given the time and resources, but right now, I find myself sat in a comfy zone of mild fear. I’ve carried on exploring with my Seamoth, even built the Prawn suit that enables the player to bound around like a little underwater mech, but the Cyclops sits and waits for me, wondering when I will feel the urge to go deeper.

I know there are bigger things out there, deeper darknesses swirling with creatures that, if provoked, would attack me and destroy me. I also know that the answers to the various mysteries around the planet, and my own survival, lie down there too. I can definitely sympathise with Bilbo Baggins sneaking into the Lonely Mountain. You want to go but you don’t. That’s where I am. And I’m enjoying it. I can dictate the pace, and stretch out the anticipation as long as I feel like it.

At the moment, I am scouring the safer areas for resources, enjoying my feeling of relative safety. Every time I come to one of those areas of extreme depth, I ping my sonar and watch the red grid slide down a previously unseen funnel, and not even come close to showing the bottom. I hear things roar and take heed of the depth warning coming from my craft’s A.I, and I know I will find out what is at the bottom soon.

Subnautica
Fresh underwear time.

I never expected Subnautica to cause the feelings to arise that it has so far. It’s a different kind of fear to that found in a game like Alien: Isolation or Outlast. They provide a more acute fear. Subnautica’s is a nagging unease that occasionally results in moments of panic-fuelled retreat and loss, but it is more seductive for that very reason.

If you like horror games and have not tried Subnautica, due to it not really looking like a horror game, take a closer look. Visit Unknown Worlds Entertainment here to view the official site.

Saturday, 2 March 2019

Dark Ambient Review: Faversham

Dark Ambient Review: Faversham

Review by Casey Douglass


Faversham


Faversham is a collaboration between musicians Mauri Edo and Leighton Arnold. The album was born from a lengthy improvisation session, and then duly shaped by long-distance conversations and edits into a 5 track collection of dark ambient sound. The result for the listener is an album of bitter-sweet spaces in which the moods of hope and threat seem to gently battle for supremacy.

Album Description: Faversham is a collection of dark soundscapes, sprinkled with hope at times. The result of mixing guitar passages, low-frequency drones, field recordings, bells and traditional Korean instruments. The tracks evoke a landscape of barren lands, abandoned factories, old forests and a thick fog that surrounds the everything.

As is often the way with my dark ambient listening, Faversham created a kind of narrative for me, one about a dark village nestling in the bosom of an isolated valley, each track progressing the story further. Opening track Watchtower’s bell-tolling and deep crackling throb seems to suggest the shadows cast by the setting sun, the smooth hilltops somehow casting jagged, long-nailed stabs of darkness across the village besieged by some unknown threat.

If the first track was the oncoming gloom, the next, Kapela Mira, is the defiance. It opens with a harsh shimmer and the sound of insects, but soon warms into gentle piano and guitar notes. There is an underlying pulsing bass sound, but the lighter tones and melody seemed to show the defiant occupants of the village singing to display that they won’t sit and cower in silence.

Currents is the third track, one that starts with a low vibration, a bit like a petrol-fuelled generator. A tinkling beat joins, and before long, crackling notes are plucked. Strings feel like they warp, and the deep pulsing that flows beneath everything oozes threat. For me, this track was the evil wandering the streets, looking for anyone foolish enough to be out and alone. I really enjoyed the crackles that accompanied the notes on this track, they almost hint at some kind of etheric trembling.

The scene shifted for me when I came to the penultimate track Forest Outpost. I let the title lead me here and found myself looking down towards the ink-stained village from a high place. A shimmering rhythm opens things, crackling its companion once more. Wolf-howl tones raise and breathe as dawn kisses the outpost, the lone occupant wondering if there is anyone left to go home to.

The final track is Tunnel, a harsher track that opens with an engine-like swell of activity. Muted crashing and tumbling sit behind it. Maybe this track is the occupant of the Forest Outpost making their way to the village by way of a hidden tunnel. All I know is that as the track continues, certain of the instruments, particularly the hyang piri, put me in mind of some of the tracks from the Hannibal TV series soundtrack. I’m not sure if they were the same instruments, but they had the same kind of feel, something dark and primal.

Faversham is a dark ambient album in which the layers of each soundscape seem to have a clean purity about them. I never felt that there were too many elements vying for my attention, and the ones that were there, such as the crackling or chiming, sat nicely in the soundscape, easy to enjoy and absorb. As you can probably guess from my review, I enjoyed the images that Faversham brought to my mind, and I also appreciated the changes in mood, from threat, to hope, and back again. If you like your dark ambient to seduce you with crackles and gentle notes, but to underlie this with unnerving bassy threat, Faversham might be the album for you.

Click here to go to the Faversham page on Bandcamp. You can also watch the teaser video below:


I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Faversham
Album Artist: Mauri Edo, Leighton Arnold
Label: Chemical Imbalance
Released: Jan 3, 2019

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Review Policy

Review Policy


I enjoy writing reviews, whether PC games, films, music, books or gadgets, I enjoy the process of thinking and reflecting, of pondering and mulling over how I feel about what I’ve experienced, and trying to put it into words that read well (hopefully) and make sense.

I’ve been getting a lot of review requests recently, which is fantastic. With this in mind, below are a few guidelines that may be useful if you are thinking of asking me to review something. They aren’t etched in stone however, so feel free to get in touch if you have something not listed.

The various things that I review


Music


Mainly in the heavy metal and dark ambient genres. If you would like me to review a track or album, Bandcamp codes are my preferred method of tackling this. It also allows me to post a snippet of the review on my Bandcamp profile, which could get lead more people to your music. I don’t mind links to private downloads of the tracks either, but Bandcamp is preferred.

Films


The darker the tone the better, so horror and sci-fi are prominent here. My preferred format is some kind of file download, so that I can watch it on my not-so-smart TV via USB stick. I will stream other films if they are short, but I struggle to watch long films at my PC due to health reasons. A physical copy posted to me would also be fine.

PC Games


I like games of many varieties, but I do avoid MMOs as I don’t have the interest in sinking that sort of time into a game. A Steam Code is pretty much the only way I review games, and is all I’ve been offered for years, so why change what works.

Books


As with films, the darker the better. I enjoy horror, sci-fi, splatterpunk, basically anything twisted. You get the idea. I am also a lover of non-fiction, be it self-help, philosophy, psychology or techie stuff. My preferred format is a .mobi file for an e-book, as I can read it easily on my Kindle. If you would like to send me a physical book, with pages and glue and everything, that would also be fine.

Gadgets


It really depends on the gadget. I’m a geek, I love gadgets. I must admit that the most interesting for me are the bio-feedback devices that aim to get your body into a more relaxed/energised/creative (or whatever) state. Saying that, there is a lot to be said for an elegant power bank or cable tidying solution.

Miscellaneous


I can’t predict what I might be offered to review, so if the particular item you have isn’t listed, and you think that I seem like the kind of person that might like “your thing” please feel free to get in touch.

Interest


I do tend to only review items that I feel I would naturally be interested in. If I can’t find something about the item that links into other things I enjoy, or it doesn’t excite my curiosity, I tend to pass. Other factors can also come into play, such as my other writing workload, my health, and general life issues. I appreciate all contact about possible reviews, but if I don’t reply or take you up on your offer, it could just be the timing isn’t right at that current moment, or I feel the item really isn’t to my taste.

No Scores/Ratings


Generally, I do not give a review a rating at the end. There are odd exceptions, but most of my reviews are scoreless. One reason is the tendency for people to skip to the end, or say things like “The review didn’t read like a 2!” Another reason is that certain things, such as music or films, are often very much down to personal taste, which makes a score a bit meaningless.

My reviews describe what something is, which features came into play while I experienced it, the things I liked about it, the things I didn’t, and where you can buy the thing in question. I will also likely inject humour where appropriate. A pretty simple formula.

That being said, if you would really like a score or rating, I will add one.

Transparency


At the bottom of every review in which I received something for review purposes, I will state that fact. If I am ever paid by a creator to write a review of their work, I would also disclose this at the beginning of my review, and it would only mean that they paid me to look at it, not for a positive review. Honesty and integrity are very important to me, as there seems precious little of both online.

Contacting Me


If you have read the above and would like to get in touch, you can do so in a couple of ways on the Contact Me page at this link.


Cheers.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Dark Ambient Review: Palaces of Darkness

Dark Ambient Review: Palaces of Darkness

Review by Casey Douglass


Palaces of Darkness


Palaces... The ones in the real world never fail to disappoint me. Give me the more make-believe variety though, and I could happily imagine myself walking amongst their corridors or ruins, depending on what is happening. Palaces of Darkness is a dark ambient/ritual compilation from Black Mara, a compilation whose five tracks each take the listener on a tour around soundscapes steeped in ritual and magic.

Album Description: Some of the most impressive performers of the genre in Dark Ambient / Ritual Compilation open the gates to the Kingdom of Darkness. All compositions are like signposts that lead listeners deep into the possession of Mara.

As Palaces of Darkness has strong ritual elements, there are varieties of chants, drumbeats and pipe instruments, the rhythms created often buffeted by field-recordings of the elements, or maybe even the crackling of a bonfire. If you’re a fan of vocals and drumbeats creating a lulling or trance-like feeling in your brain, a number of the tracks do this very well too.

The first track, Muv-Anki, opens the album with a medieval-feeling composition, the wind instruments and plucked notes setting up a slightly quirky soundscape in which the listener is almost walking the trail in one of those classic fairytale forests, hoping to set eyes on the ruined castle where others fear to tread. If you have ever seen Jim Henson’s The Story Teller, it brought to mind the devils from The Soldier and Death episode. This track conjured curdled puddles, slimy walls, and Pan-like creatures playing amongst ruins of black stone, waiting to feast on foolish explorers.

The Kingdom of Nav is another track steeped in myth and brooding, the female singing and chanting creating what sounds like witches performing an incantation in a dark, windy cave. Their chants seem to get a response from something deeper inside the darkness, an ominous rumbling and sighing of the earth. There are moments where certain of the female voices screech and gurgle in hag-like fashion, their voices straining against the dark. This is a riveting track, made so because the voices are used to such a clever degree. Another track that makes great use of chanting voices is Spirit of Water. This time they are male and droning, set to the backing of water and various clacks and wooden rattlings.

The final track that I wanted to mention is Autumn of Time. After its opening pipe/flute notes are joined by a deeper beat, the soundscape seeming to open out into the dark night of a calm lake, bat-like swirls of sound dancing over a deep drone. To me, this track hinted at dark boats rowing out into the middle of the water, their flickering torches making the thin mist that’s clinging to the surface glow and throb, the strong drumbeat and chanting a telltale of the mystical goings-ons.

Palaces of Darkness is an album that creates pockets of mystification and surrounds them in the mantle of night and ritual. Whether it be the witches summoning the devil, or dark monks performing a secret rite, the soundscapes and chanting catch the ear of the listener and pull a shroud of occult fairytale over their mind.

Visit the Palaces of Darkness Bandcamp page here, and check out the teaser trailer below:


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

Album Title: Palaces of Darkness
Album Artists: Sol Mortuus, Corona Barathri, Nubiferous, Mrako-Su, Ad Lucem Tenebratum
Label: BLACK MARA
Released: December 13 2018

Monday, 18 February 2019

Freewriting For Anxious Writers

Freewriting For Anxious Writers

By Casey Douglass




If you write, the chances are high that, when searching for ways to boost your creativity, you will inevitably come across freewriting. As is frequently the way though, a technique that might help 9 out of 10 people can be a pain in the backside for someone with anxiety problems. When I first tried freewriting, it caused my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) to flare, something that I wasn’t really expecting. I kept at it though, and by a gentle slackening of two of the “rules”, turned it into something that I could tolerate and benefit from.

In this post I will talk about freewriting, what it is, and the common sense ways that I think you can approach it to get the best out of it, without straining your mental reserves. There might also be the odd bad joke along the way. If you struggle with anxiety or mental illness, only you can decide if freewriting may trigger things for you or not. If it sounds like it will, you might be best checking out other creativity tools, maybe ones that involve a less brain-frazzling process.

Plunging the Depths


Besides being an excellent porn movie title, plunging the depths is an apt description for what freewriting does. You sit, intending to start with a topic, but with a willingness to branch out and write every thought that comes up, no matter how rude, bad, strange, off-topic or brilliant. You commit to writing for a certain period of time, and at a reasonable speed, not giving your mind time to censor or critique. You'll decide which material warrants further use later, if any does.

You might decide to start with the topic of “Creativity in the Morning”, then give yourself ten minutes to just write and write and write. All sorts will come up, how stupid freewriting is, that you’re hungry, that the world is going down the drain. The act of freewriting is a continuous splurge of mental wordage splashing against the page, with little thought for how you are going to clean up the mess later. You just need to capture it in the bucket that is your blank page. Sorry, I got a swept away by my water imagery there, but you get the idea.

Releasing the Demons


Besides being a bad porn movie title, releasing the demons is an apt label, as freewriting can certainly bring upsetting thoughts to mind. If you have any kind of problem with anxiety producing intrusive thoughts, such as something like OCD can bring, freewriting might turn into a bit of a horror show. I’m a long way down the recovery path with my OCD. I still have it, really badly at times, but I know it inside out; its tricks and quirks and the way it fools me. If you often find yourself grappling with your thoughts, freewriting might be something that puts you in a frame of mind that is pretty unhelpful, not just to your writing, but with regards to your mental health too.

An aspect of my own recovery was in taking to heart the viewpoint that thoughts are only thoughts, and that there are those we can control, our voluntary thoughts, and those that we can’t control, the ones our mind produces of its own accord. Any OCD sufferer will know that in any situation, OCD usually throws up the most horrendous thought possible, one that goes against everything the person really feels or stands for; one that will cause the biggest anxiety surge. You like going to church? Get ready for some XXX rated thoughts about Jesus. You view yourself as a safe driver? How about some fears and concerns that you aren’t as safe as you think you are, that you are terrible in fact, and are a menace to others? You get the idea. Do we really want to prod this aspect of our mind?

Cattle Prod Dreams


Besides being a bad... Okay I’m done with that joke. If we decide to engage in some freewriting, how can we do it without torturing ourselves? The only way that I’ve found, as in many things in life, is practising acceptance. Accept that you will have all kinds of thoughts. Accept that some of these might make you feel horrible. Accept that you could have these thoughts at anytime anyway. Accept that the reason you are doing this is to unlock more of your creativity. Accept that creativity always carries a risk. You get the idea.

How do we accept though? It’s easy to write it in words, but when your heart is hammering as if it’s been jolted with a cattle prod, and your mind is chewing through thoughts like a hyperactive beaver at a bothersome log, it can all seem overwhelming. The first thing we can attempt to accept is the discomfort itself. We’ve been anxious before, we will be again. It never lasts, even if it seems like it does. The next thing we can do is to take a break, providing some time for the body and mind to calm down. Thoughts in an anxious state will very likely be anxious ones. Focussing on other things for a while, or doing something else gives the body time to emerge from danger mode, and the quality of your thoughts will probably change too. If you did find yourself in the fight-or-flight state after freewriting, maybe your writing pace helped fuel things?

The Tortoise Spanked The Hare


It’s a shame I’ve given up on that joke... Anyway, there can sometimes be a problem with trying to write or type at speed, and that is how it can make your mind race. Personally, the faster I type, the more worked-up my mind gets. I can type very quickly, so my mind ramps up trying to give my fingers more and more word-fuel, and before I know it, my head hurts, my body too, and anxiety is very likely tickling my fight-or-flight response. The simple solution is to write more slowly. It doesn't have to be at a snail’s pace (see title picture). The main thing is that you don’t censor what is coming up. You can freewrite in a less frenetic way, it's a matter of experimenting to see which pace is comfortable for you.

Let Some Thoughts Go


I had to have at least one subheading that wasn't colourful... You don’t actually need to write down every thought, especially those that you can clearly see are part of your anxiety response or latest ruminations. If you are freewriting on the topic of a new horror story you want to write, and thoughts about the coming day or any other current obsession begin to creep in, just leave those ones alone and return to the last thought that seems fruitful. You can freewrite in the way that best serves you, it’s down to you to find your own workable “rules” and technique.

If doing something a certain way just leaves you feeling wasted and bleary, you’ve learnt not to do it that exact way again. Of course, there might sometimes be inspiration gained by following the very thoughts that you feel aren’t very productive. They might even reveal something about you and your mental health that you would never have realised. You are your own best judge as to when to follow the rabbit down the rabbit hole, and when to sit next to the tree and breakout your picnic. I hope you brought cheese and Branston pickle sandwiches, otherwise its not really a picnic.

Dammed If You Do, Sad If You Don’t


Freewriting can be a useful way to generate ideas and notions. If you find the technique overwhelming for whatever reason, relaxing a “rule” here and there can make something that feels stressful more workable. If it helps you concoct the ideas around which your next story, article or poem will revolve, the time taken to tinker and experiment with freewriting is time well spent. If it feels bad, stop, take a break, and then reassess what you were doing and what you might try differently next time. Using a computer? Try pen and paper. Scrabbling to record all your thoughts? Let some go.

If your creativity is locked behind a dam, opening a small release valve for a few trickles of inspiration is a lot safer than trying to punch through the concrete with a jack-hammer. It’s also far better than staring at the dam and not doing anything at all, feeling sad and dejected that you can’t think of what to write. If I was sitting at the dam right now, I would be wondering why these bloomin’ water images keep coming up.

Maybe I need a pee. I’m off to investigate.

Thanks for reading.