Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Dark Grimoire Tarot Review


Dark Grimoire Tarot Review

Review by Casey Douglass


Dark Grimoire Tarot


Many years ago, I bought the Dark Grimoire Tarot, a tarot deck that takes as its inspiration a variety of dream worlds, dark grimoires, and the horrific visions that they are reputed to lead to. The star of the show, for me at least, is H.P Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, and it was the Lovecraftian imagery that drew me to this tarot deck more than a decade ago. I’ve finally given it a more serious perusal, and this review is the result. I also gave myself a very amateur tarot reading with the deck, which begins about half way through the review. I hope you’ve got your Great Old Ones slippers on...

Michele Penco is the artist that created this set of tarot cards, and a fine job he did too. When I think of Lovecraft’s eldritch stories, I think I’ve nearly always seen most of them in my mind’s eye, as blandly coloured landscapes, with the people looking grey and unwell as they struggle with existential horror. Penco’s colour palette and eye for detail pretty much nails this aesthetic. The shadows are deep, the colours are muted, and the images carry an otherworldly melancholy that’s certainly intriguing to look at. The back of each card features a stern painting of Lovecraft himself, with an assortment of creatures looking over his shoulder.

Dark Grimoire Tarot

Accompanying the cards is a small booklet that gives a very brief introduction to the deck and the various associations and meanings that the deck contains. It also details a simple Magic Pentagram card layout, in which you draw five cards, each giving a particular insight into an aspect of the issue or question you bring to them. If you have a deeper interest in learning the tarot, you’ll certainly need a heftier tome to gain a decent understanding. I’ve dabbled with the tarot before, many years ago, so I thought I would follow the technique mentioned and see what the deck had to say.

Dark Grimoire Tarot

I like to view tarot as a way to plumb the subconscious depths. I also think that the universe is a very strange place and uncanny things can happen, or events might be linked in ways that we don’t yet realise. I’m happy to sit in this “don’t knowingness” as I consult this deck, and if I enjoy the experience or feel I gained an insight, that’s just a bonus. With this in mind, I decided to ask the deck “Why do I feel so doomed?”

Yes, I like to start with the light-hearted stuff. I’ve been struggling with a variety of things lately and they could all fit quite nicely into the general bracket of “feeling doomed”. Consulting a darkness-themed tarot with such a question also seems quite apt to me, especially as many of Lovecraft’s characters ended up struggling with just such a feeling. I'll paraphrase the parts of the companion booklet’s insights that seem to apply, and I'll flesh out the various meanings of the cards with my own impressions and ponderings of the imagery too. I'll say again, I’m no tarot expert, but I can certainly wing it with prompts to set my mind off in the right direction.

I shuffled the deck while thinking about my question, because... quantum/occult/theatrical reasons. I then drew my five cards. The first is meant to relate to the purpose of the query. The second, to illustrate the past that led to the current state of affairs. The third is said to show how things will progress if I continue on this path. The fourth is meant to warn of possible difficulties to overcome. The final card should deliver a way to overcome said difficulties. Here are the cards I was given:

Dark Grimoire Tarot

1 – The Magician. This card appears to show Abdul Alhazred writing the Necronomicon. That’s a nice, big-hitting card to get things started! I was more drawn to the view through his window than anything though. As I write these notes, I’m sitting about the same distance from my own window, which is an enjoyable synchronicity. When I look at the image, I get the impression of life passing someone by as they sit and turn inwards. This is pretty much my own default state. Are we both approaching the same doom or both trying to escape it by turning inward?

2 – Knave of Pentacles – This is the card that is meant to tell me how I came to this current situation. The Pentacles relate to the physical body, our attachment to it, and the things around it, such as our possessions. The knave means “presage of oncoming transformation”. I also notice the gold disk that the character is holding, with their back turned to the far more interesting view behind them. In this card, I can kind of see my situation, how chronic illness has caused me to live a far more limited life, and to also become fearful and more attached to the few things that give me security.

3 – Ace of Swords – So how will things progress if everything continues unchecked? Swords are the element of Air which relates to our intellectual centre. It relates to our thoughts and how, if allowed to run loose, they can become demons and actually hinder us. The Ace aspect means a beginning or concentration of forces. Well I know how thoughts can be a pain, I’ve struggled with OCD since I was ten years old. I guess this card could be telling me that if I follow my obsessions and fears down that rabbit hole, my mind will end up creating some kind of anxiety-fueled black hole, something that would go very badly for me.

4 – Two of Swords – As far as any difficulties that might need to be overcome, it’s interesting that the next card is also a Sword, which again, is an intellectual/mind-based card. The “Two” means forces facing off against each other. I was really taken with the imagery of this card, the blindfolded musician playing in front of strange creatures. I initially thought that they were trying to attack him but on closer examination, they look enraptured by his music. A big source of my “doomed” feelings are the hang-ups I have about my writing. It’s quite funny to see a card drawn that seems to scream “Do it anyway and ignore your fears!” Maybe I should type while wearing a blindfold?

5 – Inverted Five of Swords – When I read through the small booklet, I couldn’t find any mention of “Inverted” (upside down) cards and their meanings, which is something I’ve previously used with other tarots. When I shuffled the deck, I made no effort to randomly rotate the cards at all, so they should have all come out facing the same direction. This card didn’t, and I just felt it was worth going with my feelings and keeping it inverted. From my very meagre experience with other decks, an inversion tends to carry the opposite meaning to the usual associations. The Five of Swords is another “mind” card, and again, it was the image that struck me the most. It depicts a man running from a mob of creatures. He is calm, as if he has been doing this for so long, that it’s everyday humdrum to him now. With the inversion in mind, I pondered if, instead of running away from his fears, he should turn and run towards them. I guess if nothing else, it would mark a change of pace for him. So for me, again, this card was about approaching fears rather than running away.

So, there we have it, a review of a tasty tarot deck and an amateur attempt at giving myself a reading from it, all in one article. My reading told me what I already know about anxiety, fears and acceptance, but it’s nice to have this endorsed by the dark gods too. If you enjoy the dark imagery that the Dark Grimoire Tarot contains, and you also happen to be a bit partial to Lovecraftian horror, I think it’s a fantastic card-set to own, even if you never intend to give it a run-out for a bit of tarot-reading fun.

Visit the Lo Scarabeo site for more information.

I’m off to run towards my doom now. Only kidding, I never run anywhere...

Item: Dark Grimoire Tarot
Artist: Michelle Penco
Instructions: Giovanni Pelosini
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
Released: 2008
Price: Around £18

Thursday, 16 April 2020

Book Review: Aliens: Phalanx


Book Review: Aliens: Phalanx

Review by Casey Douglass


Aliens: Phalanx

One of the things that drives me to stories that feature xenomorphs is that they often mix science fiction and horror. When I read the blurb for Scott Sigler’s Aliens: Phalanx, I was almost put off by the word “medieval” in the description. My first reaction was that it didn’t sound like it was for me. My love for anything starring a xenomorph eventually burst through that initial resistance, and I purchased the book. Were my own personal misgivings proven correct, or was I blown away like a face-hugger disintegrating in pulse-rifle fire? Read on to find out.

The events in Aliens: Phalanx take place on Ataegina, a rugged continent of mountains and ravines. The inhabitants have been slaughtered by black-husked ‘demons’, the survivors driven to living in subterranean mountain keeps. People don’t venture above ground often, but the ones that do, the Runners, race between the various holds to trade goods. These mainly take the form of various essential medicines, but this doesn't stop them bringing a variety of luxury items too.

The book follows Ahiliyah, a young woman who is one such runner, as she serves Lemeth Hold and tries to earn her keep. She also wants to become a warrior, but in Lemeth Hold, women aren't warriors. She runs with two others, the large framed warrior-in-training Brandun, and a weaselly little gobshite called Creen. Brandun is a warrior-in-training and is already blessed with a larger frame than is expected for someone of his age. He is also a little slow at times, which Creen loves to point out to him by calling him “dumbdun”. Creen is actually the comic-relief in many ways, coming out with many cruel words but also displaying vulgar humour in almost equal measure. It is this trio that the reader gets to know during the course of the book, how their already limited world becomes yet more dangerous, as the demons start to eradicate the last traces of humanity in Ataegina.

The societal landscape, the relationships between the various holds, plays an integral part in the pressures that fall on the dwindling people. Due to the nature of the threat from the demons outside, what doesn’t naturally grow in one hold often ends up being an urgent item for another. There are a number of illnesses that can afflict people. Imbid flowers grow abundantly in Lemeth Hold, and Imbid Soup is the cure for something called Weakling Disease. If another hold is suffering from such a disease, runners from Lemeth will trade Imbid flowers for something that they might need to treat their own hold’s different outbreak of illness. Add into this the usual way that humans become greedy, paranoid and even religious zealots, and the politics between holds becomes a true driving force, and often hindrance, to them actually working together.

When the humans clash with the demons, the weapons they have at hand are knives, spears and shields. On my first thoughts about this notion, I think I was guilty of thinking “How the hell are they going to fight them with spears?” in a “Pfft” kind attitude. It didn’t take too long to think the exact same question with a more curious “How will they?” frame of mind. Having finished the book, I didn’t realise that the answer could be so exhilarating. Just as in the films, if you go from the pulse-rifles of Aliens to the cleavers and machetes of Alien3, there’s an exhilaration to be found in that.

The holds themselves are also aptly suited to this kind of horror. The humans are trying to shut out the danger, but by doing so, they have to live claustrophobic and grim lives. They use strangely glowing water in glow-pipe plumbing to light their dark corridors, harvest plants and make use of anything that sits within their “safe” realm. When things take a turn for the worst - as you’d expect they would in a tale like this – these corridors turn from claustrophobic passageways into tunnels of death. I’m not sure what is more scary, meeting a xenomorph on open ground and seeing it dart at you from hundreds of yards away, or hearing one coming towards you along a dark tunnel. Probably the latter...

Aliens: Phalanx is a very satisfying tale. We get to see all three of the runners rise-up in their hold, fighting against prejudice, fear and politics, even sometimes against each other. They all become nicely fleshed out characters with more about them than their more obvious traits. They all grow as people too, and their relationship changes and strengthens as events unfold. It was nice to see a society that viewed the xenomorphs in a different way, as demons and semi-supernatural rather than na├»ve humans stumbling across them on a spaceship-based jaunt across the galaxy. The story itself escalates in a way that any xenomorph fan will enjoy, and the culmination at the end is the kind that sets the previous events in a slightly different frame, which I thoroughly appreciated. Aliens: Phalanx is a brilliant story, and I’m very glad that I decided to give it a try.

Book Title: Aliens: Phalanx
Book Author: Scott Sigler
Publisher: Titan Books
Released: 25 Feb 2020
Price: £7.99 paperback / £4.74 Kindle (currently)
ISBN: 9781789094015

Friday, 10 April 2020

Dark Game Review: We Went Back (PC)

Dark Game Review: We Went Back (PC)

Review by Casey Douglass


We Went Back

There are so many cautionary tales about going back to things you shouldn’t. Never go back to a lit firework. Never go back to someone who treats you badly. Yet we’re human, we’re idiots, we go back. We Went Back is a free sci-fi horror game from Dead Thread Games, and even though by the end, I wasn’t sure what we “went back” to, or why for that matter, I’m kind of glad “we” did. Okay, I’m banning myself from doing “this” again in this review, unless I’m quoting something I said.

We Went Back begins with your character inside a stasis-chamber, being helpfully prompted to Press E to open the thing. The computer system warns of a life form being detected, and if you’ve cut your teeth on the space horror genre, you'll be itching to see what this life form is. Unless it’s space fleas of course, in which case you'll just itch. You move off to explore and find a camera hanging from the roof. This is an important item; it’s your way of solving the puzzle that spans the game. You then come to a door that will only open with the correct password. Opening this is your goal, and the puzzle that you have to solve.

We Went Back is a game in which you explore the corridors and the items in them, trying to find clues that will help you enter the correct password. You only really walk in one direction, and seem to make a circuit of the space station. You soon find yourself back where you started, but each time around the circle reveals new things, and these sometimes come with a jump-scare. The creepy horror atmosphere is handled nicely and I was pleased that the game also managed to create insidious and more subtle tension too. The jump-scares got me twice, one even causing me to shout: “Fuck me!” which doesn’t happen that often.

It was the more insidious type of fear that I enjoyed the most. There is a rat in a science lab that you pass early in the game. When things started happening on another rotation, I stopped short at that spot and realised that the rat was gone! This startled me and wowed me in equal measure as it genuinely felt like an “Ohh!” moment. I’ll also add, that it isn’t the end of the tale (tail?) as far as the rat is concerned, so I haven’t robbed the rat of all its mystery.

On a technical level, I played the game at 1080p, all settings turned to high on my GTX 970. It ran smoothly but I detected a slight judder to things when I looked around at times. The game recommends a 960 at minimum so maybe my 970 is too close to the lower end? Who knows. It wasn’t any kind of problem, just something I noticed. The graphical style of the environment and the objects it contains is pleasing. The life-form that you catch sight of at times was probably the least impressive visual element. The music/ambient sounds did a fine job of setting the atmosphere too, and married with the 70's style sci-fi aesthetic, does help you to feel like you are stuck in some kind of retro-sci-fi space flick.

We Went Back is a short game. The developer says it’s a 30-50 minute experience. My first playthrough clocked in at 28 minutes, and I didn’t rush. I think it’s well worth the download. If I remember rightly, the download size (not install size) was 2.5 gigabytes, so even if you have a crappy connection like mine, you can soon grab it in a couple of hours. I think the best thing I can say is that if it was a 30 minute section in a much longer game, I’d have been happy to play on to see what else might happen. As it stands, it’s a fun 30 minute horror experience that did make me jump, and I’m happy with that.

Click the link to go to the We Went Back page on the Steam Store.

Game Title: We Went Back
Game Developer: Dead Thread Games
RRP: Free!
Released: 3 April 2020
Platform: PC

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Dark Fiction: What Monsters Do For Love

Love twists people into strange shapes. It can make monsters of the nicest people, and sometimes, turn a monster into something a little less monstrous. 

What Monsters Do For Love is a new horror anthology from Soteira Press. It consists of 3 volumes, each stuffed with tales of human and inhuman monsters; the shapes that love twists them into. 

My own tale: The Corrupter, is in Volume II.

What Monsters Do For Love

Amazon links: Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3.