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.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Dark Ambient Review: Ghosts on Broken Pavement

Dark Ambient Review: Ghosts on Broken Pavement

Review by Casey Douglass


Ghosts on Broken Pavement


I really like urban spaces. I like rural ones too, but being in a city feels so different to somewhere more natural. The traffic noise and fumes, the heat rising from the bricks, sometimes even the people, it all seems quite nice. Mount Shrine’s Ghosts on Broken Pavement brings the listener to a different kind of urban soundscape, but one no less interesting or intricate.

Album Description: The radio transmissions led you here, a city of memories past and passed. The streets lie silent as you watch from above the high rise. A twirling mountain casts a deafening shadow over this place. Here between the world of life and death you are but a tiny spec of dust on the shoulder of giants, a world built by the dreamers that came before you. The sleepers drift here, trapped in glitching time loops that crackle when reset.

When I was listening to Ghosts on Broken Pavement, I realised that, for me at least, each track seemed like a slow stroll, one taking me from the more urban areas and out into the fringes nearer nature at the end. The track titles seem to fit this notion, beginning with the likes of Gray-Tinged Suburbs and Underpass, before ending up at Outsider Station and Empty Slopes.

What many of the tracks share is a smooth and lulling aesthetic, tiny crackles and mellow static mingling with field-recordings of wind, rain, and other real-world sounds. On a number of tracks I thought I could hear a car passing by, but gently, as if its wheels were driving on a marshmallow road, its engine wrapped in cushioning foam. Underpass was a track that I felt was particularly vivid in its urban setting, the sounds conjuring the vision of an underpass at sunset. The road is quiet, the light golden, and the odd car that does pass casts watery lightning flashes along the walls as the sunlight hits its curves. I found it very peaceful.

Another track that resonated with me was Held Breeze, which, as you might imagine, features the wind. For me, it was a track that was about the momentary “caging” of nature, the wind that you can hear on this track is roaming and thrashing around an ornate courtyard, the kind where everything is far too tidied and tended. You know the sort, they usually sit in wealthier areas and have little cages around the bottoms of the trees. The mixture of the roaming hiss and other notes makes this a layered track, full of gentle movement and peace.

Outsider Station, the penultimate track, also became one of my favourites. It led me to think of an industrial train station, rather than the passenger kind, the trains coming and going without a human in sight. A metallic tapping rhythm features quite prominently here, a sound that I later came to think was probably the signal chimes you often hear at train crossings. This, mixed with what could be the sound of squeaking and knocking machinery, and the way the track goes a bit fuzzier in the second half, certainly lends itself to an intriguing “non-quiet” place, that seems quiet anyway. If that makes sense.

Ghosts on Broken Pavement, for me, was a journey from the emission-filled air and right-angles of the city, to the mantle of nature at its fringes, the quiet rumblings of humanity sounding softer the further I mentally roamed. Whether it’s the oil slicked streets and brake-squeal ghosts of the first track, or the occasional passing car and gentle tones of the last, the album takes you through bubbles of fuzzy comfort and leaves you safely at journey’s end. It’s another fine dark ambient album and one well worth chilling out to when you want something less harsh from your music listening.

You can visit Ghosts on Broken Pavement on Bandcamp here, and you can also listen to Underpass below:


I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Ghosts on Broken Pavement
Album Artist: Mount Shrine
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: Jan 29, 2019

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Dark Ambient Review – Tower Of Silence

Dark Ambient Review – Tower Of Silence

Review by Casey Douglass


Tower of Silence


Anything that mentions a tower usually leads me to thinking about the Tower of Babel, the mythical construction that tried to reach heaven, but which God stymied by causing language-based confusions amongst its builders. As you can imagine, I’m a riot when Jenga is broken out! While the builders might not have been united by language, their drive to reach heaven, avoid hell and to delay death is something many will identify with. I had these thoughts in mind when I began listening to Xerxes The Dark’s Tower Of Silence, and they were thoughts that would fuel an interesting expedition into something both dark and mesmerizing.

Album Description: Xerxes The Dark invites you to this excarnation, a high quality dark ambient journey, inspired by historic, contemporary and future events. Tower Of Silence is a mixture of drones, ritual ambient, dark and cold atmospheres with a touch of haunted field recordings. Recommended for the fans of psychological thriller, horror and mystery literature.

As a whole, Tower Of Silence presents the listener with shuffling distortions, ominous clangs and discordant tones that meld together into something both atmospheric and claustrophobic at the same time. A track that demonstrates this perfectly is The Omen (A Schizomanic Trip), a track that is also my favourite on the album. A juddering rhythm opens things, fleshy drippings and gluggings quick on its heels. Distorted electronic shrills buzz and whine in the air. Then came my favourite element, the sound of what could be a breathless shuffling creature, and this in turn, is soon married to a kind of police-siren shrilling. There are background whispers, and later what could be a roar. With the title of the track already channelling thoughts of the film with the same name, this track seemed to signify the coming of the dark one, or a dark one at least, and its miasma of busy rustlings and rattlings was a joy to listen to.

The next track, Dagon (MMXX), is also another favourite of mine, and it contrasts with The Omen (A Schizomanic Trip), in a number of ways. It opens with the sound of crashing water and the roar of a leviathan, setting this soundscape in the most watery of settings. The deep vibrating sound, when combined with a kind of metallic shimmer, makes this a quieter track in some ways, but one equally as engrossing. Later can be heard what might be a bell-like tolling, mixed with the signal sweeps of a radio scanner. It had me thinking of the classic Harryhausen films in which some god or other would rise from the sea to terrorise the mortals quaking on the shore. A fun, wet track to be sure.

The final track I wanted to talk about in-depth is Man & Deviance, because it created such a strong image for me. It opens with a scuttling/scraping sound, and a kind of pulsing that hints at pressure building in the aether. A fast-whispering begins, a resonance hanging in the air behind it. There are heavy footsteps and insidious clickings and rattlings. The latter part of the track seems to present vocalisations that could be someone calling for help or crying out in despair. The image this track created for me was of an angel being kept in captivity, probably in some twisted tower where the shadows seep and the shackles are rimmed with rusty nails. A darkly menacing track, infused with corruption.

Tower Of Silence is a wary shuffle along dark corridors, a shuffle in which the listener is feeling their way by sound, and fingertips against stone, wondering why the air is so hot and their brow is so moist. The tracks it contains all seem to usher something dark into the mind, and offer it a lullaby to entice it to stay. A great dark ambient album for anyone’s collection.

Click here to visit Tower Of Silence’s Bandcamp page, and check out the album preview mix below:



I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Tower Of Silence
Album Artist: Xerxes The Dark
Released: 25 Jan 2019

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Dark Book Review: Screaming for Pleasure – How Horror Makes You Happy and Healthy

Dark Book Review: Screaming for Pleasure –
How Horror Makes You Happy and Healthy

Review by Casey Douglass


Screaming for Pleasure

I’ve always known that horror was good for me. Except when I was so scared that I struggled to sleep at night for fear of nightmares. I was young then though, and once I became interested in dark things, the fear was replaced by fascination, and also, the courage to look more closely. S.A Bradley’s book: Screaming for Pleasure – How Horror Makes You Happy and Healthy, as you would imagine, is focussed on the notion of horror being beneficial, but as in most good books, its scope is wider than you might imagine.

A quick perusal of the chapter headings soon shows the various areas into which the book delves, from the mechanics of horror, what it actually is, the way that horror handles certain themes such as sex and gore, all the way to the various forms it takes, from film to books and music. I must admit that going in, I didn’t realise how broadly the book would roam, and it was a pleasant surprise to be confronted with such a range of topics.

There were plenty of areas that I hadn’t really thought too deeply about before, such as what the communal experience of watching horror on a big screen brings the viewers, and also the way that we get into horror, the often illicit “your parents say you can’t” kind of thrill that watching a “video nasty” might provide. Ah VHS, you little plasticy bastards, with your cute plastic windows that let greedy eyes feast on your coiled insides, wondering what you might throw onto the screen. Good times. Each section of Screaming for Pleasure also ends with an info-box of recommendations or interesting facts, from notorious sacrilegious horror movies, to a list of horror movies and the phobias that they play on. This is a nice touch to round off the chapter, and a great way to learn about horrors that you may not have heard of.

Even though I enjoyed the author’s analysis of the more intellectual/mechanical sides of horror, it was his own stories about how it helped him that I found most gripping. From helping his younger self deal with the turbulence in his early home life, to the time in later life when the horror community proved to be a valuable tonic to his feelings of isolation. In my own experience, I know the sanctuary that a good horror can provide at those times that life seems especially shit, be that by way of book, film or music, so it was really interesting to see how it helped someone else in the same way.

Screaming for Pleasure – How Horror Makes You Happy and Healthy is a worthy read for anyone that views themselves as a horror fan, or anyone that would just like to understand what draws people to horror itself. The variety of sections and horror suggestions it contains, married to the author’s personal experiences of it enriching his own life, all add up to make a book that has been lovingly produced, and I am sure, will be lovingly read by those that read it.

Visit Hellbent for Horror at this link for more information and purchasing links.

I was given a review copy of this book.

Book Title: Screaming for Pleasure - How Horror Makes You Happy and Healthy
Book Author: S.A Bradley

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Dark Ambient News: Cryo Chamber Field Recording Sale

Dark Ambient News: Cryo Chamber Field Recording Sale


Cryo Chamber Field Recording Sale

I nearly always love dark ambient music that features plenty of field recording, whether it's the sound of the wind rustling leaves in a forest, or the rumble of traffic on a rainy day, it just deepens the soundscape so much.

Cryo Chamber has just shaved 50% off four albums that are field recording heavy: Eximia - Visitors, Creation VI - Deus Sive Natura, ProtoU - Khmaoch and SiJ & Textere Oris - Reflections under the Sky. As they are all albums that I've previously reviewed, the links are to said reviews.

If you want to take advantage of these offers, head to Cryo Chamber's Bandcamp page here.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Dark Game Review: The Council (PC)

Dark Game Review: The Council (PC)

Review by Casey Douglass


The Council


Recent years have brought gamers some fantastic episodic adventure games, but for me Big Bad Wolf’s The Council has to be the darkest I’ve encountered, both in the characters’ deeds, and in the game’s aesthetics. I’m a big fan of Dennis Wheatley, particularly his Duke de Richleau character, the intelligent occultist gentleman who always has some piece of arcane knowledge that will get the characters out of trouble. The Council felt very “de Richleauian” to me, and about half an hour into the story, I knew that I felt at home.

The player character is Louis de Richet, a young man who in 1793, is invited to the island of Lord Mortimer, a powerful and mysterious figure who seems to know pretty much everyone mighty and powerful. Louis’ mother is also on the island, but she has gone missing, with no one knowing where she is. Both she and her son are members of a secret society, a society that wields its own power across the world. As Louis, you must find out what happened to your mother, deal with the intrigues of your host and his powerful guests, and also grow as a person in your knowledge and abilities.

The CouncilThe Council is a third person narrative adventure game. As you walk around Lord Mortimer’s island, you can interact with the characters and various other objects in a number of ways. When speaking to a character, you will often see a variety of conversation options to choose from. Some won’t be available to you, because Louis might be lacking the ability to use them at that time. As you complete tasks in the game, and collect various manuscripts, you can boost Louis’ abilities in a number of areas, from occult knowledge, to detective abilities such as logic and agility. If you have enough Effort Points and the correct ability unlocked, you can use that particular tactic during the conversation.

There are a variety of items to collect in the game world, from the hard to see collector’s coins, to useful potions that restore Effort Points or highlight other things, such as someone’s vulnerabilities for a short time. Getting information out of your conversational partners, and their trust, is key to achieving your aims in The Council, so anything that boosts your abilities in this area is a welcome thing. Even with the variety and number of pick-ups, things are still scarce enough to mean that you will likely have some conversations the old fashioned way, that is, without extra help. If you overuse certain potions or make a blunder, your character can be hindered by a de-buff that makes certain actions more costly. But hey, wouldn’t you know it, finding and drinking some Golden Elixir will remove any negative status effects, so things are golden in more ways than one.

The Council
The conversations are where The Council truly shines. Each character has their own personality, complete with vulnerabilities and immunities to particular manners of approach. Trying to manipulate someone who is immune to manipulation isn’t going to end well. Conversations are used to probe and test, the dancing around the subject at hand just as valuable as finding out what that character knows. There are times when you will have to lie, others where brutal, risky honesty might win the day. Slapping Napoleon Bonaparte to end a risky “what are you doing?” conversation chain is just one of the ways that you can deal with the challenges Louis faces. As the description on the game’s Steam Store page says, failing an encounter isn’t game over, but it will have consequences later.

The CouncilAs the characters are so central to The Council, it is no surprise to see that they are presented in
lovely detail, particularly their faces. I must admit that Duchess Emily Hillsborrow was my absolute favourite because she was dark, sarcastic, and seemed to channel Eva Green, both in look and attitude. Her particular elements of the main story were some of the most interesting too, a couple of “reveals” genuinely twisting things to a new level. All of the characters were fun though, out for themselves, scheming and duplicitous. The location too, a grand mansion with room after room of obscure relics, mystical artwork and books of knowledge, was a pleasure to explore. The blue-sky view from the guest room was a particular highlight, and later, the hidden places that aren’t visible unless you know their secret entrances.

The Council
The game gives Louis a fair few environmental puzzles to solve, from decoding the cryptic clues needed to open a combination lock, to using books and artwork to deduce how to find a rare artefact. The puzzles were for the most part very enjoyable. I did get stuck on a couple of them, but given enough time I was able to get to the bottom of things. This proved very satisfying, as the game made me feel like I had actually earned my progression. A couple of puzzles near the end of the game were a bit tedious however, but still relatively fun. I must admit that the game certainly gets great mileage out of its mansion location, but traversing the corridors and various rooms never seems to take too long, which is a fine balance to achieve.

My first play-through of The Council lasted around 12 hours, and the ending I achieved was so dark that I couldn’t help but smile. Before playing, I had seen a number of people say that they loved the game until the final episode or two, when things slipped a little. For my play-through, I don’t really recognise this. The story is layered, and as you play and reveal more and more of what is going on, the things you previously thought you understood sometimes shift, or sometimes solidify. I didn’t feel the rug was pulled out from under me, nor was I confused about what was going on. The only reason I can see for the comments of the people who didn’t like the way it went is that it somehow confounded their expectations of what the game would be like. Go into The Council with occult-detective in mind and I don’t think you'll be disappointed. I wasn’t.

The Council
I really want to play The Council again, taking the other options that I either messed up or ignored the first time. This is also something that is very rare for me, as when it comes to “your decisions have consequences” narrative games, I nearly always only play once, get my own version of the story, and move on. This is mainly because I like feeling that my outcome happened, and replaying over and over to get “all the endings” just lessens the impact of that first enjoyable jaunt through the game.

The Council has planted the urge in me to learn more about its world and characters, and to try and “better” the first ending I got. There is something about its dark mansion, masked servants and conversational combat that is trying to drag me straight back in, and I know it is a call I will answer soon. That being said, I am reasonably sure that my next attempt at the game will be my last, as thinking ahead with the knowledge I already have, the amount of repetition in a third play-through would be too tedious for me to fancy. Still, two journeys through the story will likely equal around 20 hours of play time, in a game world with characters I enjoy interacting with, so I’m more than happy enough with that.

If you know that you enjoy the Telltale or Life is Strange episodic adventure variety of game, but fancy something more layered, dark and RPG-esque, I highly recommend that you pick up The Council.



Game Title: The Council
Developer: Big Bad Wolf
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
RRP: £25.99 (on Steam)
Available on: PC, Xbox One and PS4.
PEGI Rating: 16+

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Dark Ambient News: Cryo Chamber Charity Bundle for Tinnitus Research

I'm not feeling very wordy of late, but I wanted to do a little post about a charity bundle that helps a worthy cause, and is also a fantastic way to boost your dark ambient music collection. Dark ambient label Cryo Chamber has put up 10 albums (with another to unlock shortly) for sale in the usual bundle fashion: the more you pay, the more you get.

Cryo Chamber American Tinnitus Association Bundle

Currently, in the $2 minimum category: 2145 by Sabled Sun, Winter Restlessness by Mount Shrine, The Old City OST by Atrium Carceri, Visitors by EXIMIA and Cthulhu by Cryo Chamber.

In the $4 category, as well as receiving the above, you currently get: Dredge Portals by God Body Disconnect, Be Left to Oneself by Keosz, Exoplanetary by Ruptured World, Markland by Northumbria and Heralds by World Clock.

Once the $2000 milestone has been reached (and it almost has), Miles to Midnight by Cryo Chamber will also be thrown into the mix for everyone.

The charity that is benefiting from these sales is the American Tinnitus Association, a body that has already funded tinnitus research to the tune of over $6 million since 1980, and most of this has been as seed grants into new promising areas of study.

The Cryo Chamber bundle ends 23 January 2019, so if you are interested, head over to the Groupees page here to purchase yours now.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Dark Ambient Review: Maal Niir

Dark Ambient Review: Maal Niir

Review by Casey Douglass


Maal Niir


Some dark ambient albums just seem to ooze threat, the soundscapes they contain seeping and glooping around the thoughts they create in the listener’s mind. Oestergaard’s Maal Niir is one such album, containing four tracks of lurking peril that drag the listener into the dark happenings of another reality. They also created a bit of a dark mental narrative for me as I was listening, which is something that I always enjoy.

Maal Niir gets things going, a track with a staticy rhythm and swells of dark tone. The interesting thing for me was that near the midpoint, the static sound became more akin to a flag flapping in the wind. Coupled with the other sounds, this conjured a mental impression of a crumbling city in a glowing fog, the only visible thing being a high tower with said flag fluttering in the breeze. I also felt that a massive leviathan shadow encircled the tower, a giant thing barely visible as a darker shade of fog. Gentle piano notes begin to sound nearer the end of the track, along with a squeaking grinding noise as the flag pole falls to the ground.

Next up is Niirbrôtn', a track that dragged me to a tunnel in the ground at the foot of the tower. The track begins quietly, with a breathing-like swelling of sound. A high tone occurs, like a bird call at distance, or it might be a scream. Then a crackling, like a boot stepping on a bone-strewn floor. A wave of static-distortion pulses along the tunnel at intervals, creating the impression of flickering red light bathing the walls before fading. This track, to me, was the entrance to hell, and I mentally walked straight in.

Rásiirat darkens things even more. The sounds at the start of Rásiirat begin like breathing, but soon turn into what could be a guttural demonic conversation or chant. A little later, a higher tone appears, the guttural demon words pausing around that point. The image this track created in my mind was that an angel (the high tone) might be dashing through hell for some reason, to give the poor souls there hope. The demon listens and then continues its chant, knowing that the intruder will soon be snuffed out by the watchers that guard the realm.

The final track is Kullméija', and I felt that this track contained the sound of the angel becoming trapped and having a long wait for the end to come. The opening music has a dark "om-like" quality, with juddering on-rushes of pressure. The soundscape caused me to think of the angel becoming caught in some kind of demonic fly-trap, stuck to glue-paper that melts the wings and scorches bone. A lonely track, one that ends with a quiet male-voiced monologue, speaking words that I couldn’t understand.

Maal Niir then, is a dark ambient album that I very much enjoyed. When an album causes my mind to create a narrative, and each track seems to progress that narrative, I often come away feeling quite the connection to it. Maal Niir did this, but I think that even if it hadn’t, I would have appreciated the darkness and bleakness it contains. The tracks have a pulsing quality, the low tones breaking against the mind like dark waves on a barren beach, each one helping the grimness to push into the brain that little bit more, but gently, calmly and patiently. If you like your dark ambient deep, dark and ominous, check out Maal Niir on Bandcamp here. You can also listen to the first track, Maal Niir, below:


I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Maal Niir
Album Artist: Oestergaards
Released: 28 December 2018