Thursday 21 November 2019

Dark Ambient Review: Anomalies

Dark Ambient Review: Anomalies

Review by Casey Douglass


ProtoU is one of my favourite dark ambient artists. I think I’ve reviewed more of her albums than I have any other artist. Which says something. Two of her albums were in my personal Top Dark Ambient Relaxation Albums as well. Which says something too. So here we have Anomalies, her latest album, and one that, for me, seemed to have a cyberpunk aesthetic.

The album description is one of dreams and memories. If that’s so, I went to a realm of churning pipelines, crackling electricity and strange robots. This began with the first track: The Escape. The light drone led me into a gentle rhythm and cushioned soundscape, but one that seemed industrial. The best way I can think of describing it is like a bird flying through the kind of tunnels you might have seen in the real-world scenes of The Matrix. This culminated in it emerging into a massive, night-filled crater, maybe one caused by some kind of nuclear detonation. There is an increasing fuzz to the track, and some nice field-recordings of rain nestling amongst "egg-shell pebbly crackling" and echoing beats. Quite an opening track.

If that track was the emergence into the crater at night, the next: Transparent Clusters, was for me, the sun rising and casting its golden rays into the crater. It opens gently with some interesting sounds, one like someone flicking a plastic straw over and over. Dripping water peacefully hits the ground and later, sets up a bit of a beat as it seems to hit a plastic container or something. A rising tone seems to hint at the sunrise, and for me, this light shone on all of the debris and discarded things. A dump basically. Later in the track, piano notes and furtive movements hint at the life of things amongst the rubbish.

Track three is my favourite track, and runs with the junk-yard theme even more. Electric Grounds begins with a deep, bassy sound, gently clicking metal joining it. The sounds tell tale of something moving. Fast paced notes enter the ears like boiling atmosphere, with static and hisses as the moving thing gets closer. For me, this was a kind of robot, hulking and steaming as it searches through the garbage. With this in mind, some of the clattering sounds might well be caused by it picking up old shopping trolleys and emptying out their contents. Some of the peripheral tones seem to embody that of an air-raid siren, which again, for me, reinforced the post-nuclear feel. The track ends on a lighter feeling, maybe the bot having found something of interest amongst the rusted metal and discarded smartphones.

This particular narrative seemed to end at track three for me. The next track: Lucid Sequences did seem more dreamlike and ethereal to me. The track that follows though: Chamber of Visions, is my other favourite track on Anomalies. Chimes and echoes, and what could be the sound of millions of dead leaves cascading down the walls. Ghostly swells and cries sound, alongside gently tapped notes and whisper-like tones. The sounds of machinery emerge, creating a thrumming soundscape that ends with what could be a “real world” scene, people bustling at a tram station, going about their commutes. I really liked how the unreal seemed to become more real in this track, a bridge between the soundscape reality and the reality we might recognise.

The final two tracks, Ghost in You (Part 1) and Pellucid Waters, were two more tracks that seemed more nebulous to me. I enjoyed the sounds in them, whether it was the gently clinking machinery, distant voices and warm static of the first, or the field-recordings of water in the second, but there was less to hang my hat on, image wise, so to speak, in these tracks.

Anomalies is another brilliant album from ProtoU. I was pleasantly surprised by the cyberpunky feel for me, as that wasn’t something I was expecting going in. I appreciated the relaxing field-recordings and the way that lightness and darkness seemed to play with each other, and certainly enjoyed my time with the album. If you like the smoother, darker kind of dark ambient with a bit of lightness to relieve the murk, check out Anomalies and other albums of ProtoU’s.

Visit the Anomalies page on Bandcamp, and check out the Electric Grounds below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Anomalies
Album Artist: ProtoU
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: November 12, 2019

Friday 1 November 2019

Battle Quest Book Playthrough – Caves of Fury - Part 4

Battle Quest Book Playthrough – Caves of Fury - Part 4

By Casey Douglass

Caves of Fury

Welcome to Part 4, the final part, of my adventure through the Caves of Fury. If you’ve yet to read a single instalment of my barbarian’s tale, you can find part 1 at this link, with each part leading to the next, until finally bringing you back to this one again. It’s worth a read. It’s a tale of paranoia, inadequacy and bastard goblins, to name only a few elements. You might not like it if you’re an advocate for goblin rights, but if you are a normal, warped human being, you’ll agree with me that they are bastards.

Part 3 ended with my barbarian floating unconscious on a raft in an underground swamp, a drowning bastard goblin nearby, and little hope of getting much further. The barbarian had only two Strength left of the six he started with, and only one treasure to his name, secreted in his loin-cloth inside the ingenious hidden pocket. Between you and me, I think he is quite ready to get this adventure over with, his luck has been terrible from the start. Let’s see if his tale ends with triumph or a whimper...

The barbarian slowly regains consciousness and finds the strength to stand. Not feeling like being a floating-lure for any underwater leviathans, he steps back onto the stepping stones to continue his trek across the swamp. There’s no sign of the drowning bastard goblin, which makes him smile. ‘Good!’ he thinks as he pushes forward into the deepening mist, the thrumming of mosquitoes and green vapours his only company.

In the same manner as the previous tunnels, the stepping stones actually split into three paths. Who’da thunk that would happen? Remembering my resolve to not keep choosing the middle path, I went with the left one this time, hoping for something evil to be waiting at the other end. Why not? It isn’t far down this path that the barbarian spies an inscription on one of the stepping stones. This is surprising in two ways. Firstly, that it’s there at all, that someone took the trouble to mark a stone in the middle of a dangerous swamp. Secondly, judging by the inscription's length, I realize that I’ve been imagining these stepping stones as woefully tiny, which irks me a little. The message has lost some of its letters to erosion but it says:

‘O, foolish one! It was one of the oth r brac es that you should have c osen. The mag c power of fores ght would have been g ven you there.’

Oh for fuck’s sake! A chance at gaining a bit of magical power goes begging! If I can believe the message of course. Not much in this place has been truthful, so why start believing the rock graffiti now? It could be the equivalent of seeing a “Call Bianca for a good time!” scrawl in a public toilet cubicle, a mystery very possibly, or more likely some false advertising at the minimum. None the less, my barbarian ponders whether to retrace his steps, but on turning sees that the previous stepping stones have vanished. That figures. Pushing on sees the stepping stones ahead meet up with the other two paths again, but no option is given for backtracking down one of those other paths at this point.

It’s just after the paths have joined that he hears quiet footsteps coming up behind him. He wheels around and his mouth falls open. It’s the bastard goblin again! He swings his sword at the wretched thing’s head. It screams for him to stop, yelling that it hasn't done him any harm! The gall of the little prick makes his sword falter. Hasn’t done him any harm? He almost caused him to drown! The goblin snivels and says that the barbarian encountered his wicked twin, and that this one is the ‘good’ one. How convenient! It’s a little like when politicians say that “they are different” to the ones that have come before. Be wary in both cases.

You’ll be amazed to know that this goblin also has advice to give, don't they all? He urges me to step off the stones and to wade the rest of the way to shore, saying that it’s shallow enough here. Bollocks to that! There’s no way I’m going to believe this goblin, even if it isn’t the same one. For all I know, it might have found out that I let its brother drown and be out for revenge. I’d rather die due to my own choices than to being deceived again. I choose not to take his advice.

I push on, not hearing any sign of discontent or disapproval from the goblin behind me. All seems okay, but after a few stepping stones, the next one ahead bursts into flame! Then the next and the next! The book describes the flames as being two metres high! These are less like stepping stones and more like Bunsen burner nozzles poking out above the water. I try to step off to the side but some force is keeping me on the path. My only option is to run ahead through the flames.

I push through, the smell (and pain, let’s not forget the pain) of sizzling flesh gives me uncomfortable flashbacks to the wizard’s scorch and my hungry stomach. Thankfully, survival is the up-most thing in my mind, ahead of how tasty I smell. I make it across to the shore and collapse on to the ground, trying to get my breath and thinking about finding some mud to soothe my burns. I’ve lost another Strength with all of that messing around. Only one left and then I’m dead.

As I rest, I find the goblin standing beside me again, but I don’t have the energy to throttle it. The book describes his eyes as having a friendly aspect to them. I guess it’s still the ‘nice one’. He warns me to rest awhile, and that when I’m ready, there are four monsters that live here. Two carry swords set with diamond, the other two have swords set with ruby. Shouting Cragcliff’s name summons the first two, shouting it twice the other two. I’m not sure I want to be shouting Cragcliff’s name at all if I’m honest. I notice that saying his name three times isn’t mentioned, so he isn’t related to Beetlejuice in that regard.

I ponder a little, trying to outfox the conundrum of who to summon, as it appears I can’t just keep my mouth shut. I opt for the diamond bearing creatures as ruby could signify some kind of fire monster, and I’ve more than had my fill of being roasted. I yell Cragcliff’s name. The goblin trembles and runs away. He doesn’t want to see what happens next. I wait for five minutes, ten minutes, and nothing happens. Mosquitoes still buzz and whine but everything else is silent. Until that is, the water glugs, and it comes.

Caves of Fury

The water bubbles near the shore, a creature slowly rising from its gloopy surface. It has black tangles of weed and slime draped over its body, and is holding a large sword. The book points out that it is holding said sword with webbed fingers, and that this might be a handicap for it in combat. Funny that the book is being so helpful all of a sudden. I decide to fight it and am overjoyed to see that it is another creature that only needs two wounds to slay it.

It’s a fight that lasts for fourteen dice rolls. There is much clanking of swords and plenty of instances where my shield is raised as the swamp creature just stares at me in disgust. Of course. I should be used to that by now. On roll thirteen, I wound it with a massive sword slash, trimming the weed on its left side and carving a deep furrow into its hip. It mews and bubbles, which is a sound I didn’t really expect if I’m honest. But regardless, one wound down, one to go! I might be able to do this after all!

Roll fourteen sees it run me through with a glugging bellow of rage. Well... shit. My barbarian looks down at the sword pushed through his abdomen. He knows it’s protruding from his back too as his legs are numb, suggesting some kind of damage to his spine. He puts his hand into his loin-cloth to hold his treasure one more time. His one precious diamond that is, not what you were thinking. 

It had all been for nothing in the end. He laughs. The funniest thing is that he lost more Strength in his dealings with devious bastard goblins than he did in fighting the more obvious monsters. He’d have liked more time to reflect on that, on another day, in other circumstances, but now, on this day and in these circumstances, he spat out his last words before he died: “Bastard goblins!”

The swamp creature nodded as it let his body fall to the floor with a glug.

Caves of Fury


That’s the end of my playthrough of Caves of Fury. I really enjoyed writing about it and injecting my own take on things into the narrative. As I said at the beginning, I didn’t think it would go on for so many parts but it did, and it’s a shame it ended in the way that it did. That being said, I do enjoy bitter stories and unhappy endings so I can certainly find enjoyment in that. I hope you did too, if you followed along from the start.