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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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
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