Saturday 31 October 2020

Book Review: Black Shuck: The Devil’s Dog

Book Review: Black Shuck: The Devil’s Dog

Review by Casey Douglass

Black Shuck: The Devil’s Dog

I first saw Piers Warren’s Black Shuck: The Devil’s Dog on a display table in my local Waterstones. I’ve always found tales of supernatural black dogs to be interesting, and a book with a story set in Norfolk, the county that I also live in, seemed to hold a double attraction for me. Strangely, I didn’t buy the book that day, but it stayed in my mind enough that I eventually picked it up from the Kindle store.

After a prologue in which the origin of the narrative’s own devil dog is revealed, we meet the protagonist of the tale Harry Lambert. Harry is a wildlife photographer trying to shake off calamity. His best friend is dead and his wife has deserted him. It’s with a down-trodden soul he takes himself off to Blakeney on the North Norfolk coast. He hopes that a bit of sea air and a different pace to life might give him the time he needs to rest and recuperate. Like any good horror story though, he’d have almost certainly had a far more relaxing time if he’d just stayed at home.

Harry has a booking at Tern Cottage B&B, a homely place run by Linda and Frank. Harry is touched by how at home they make him feel, and is charmed by the village itself. He gradually meets more of the residents of Blakeney, and when accompanying Frank on a fishing trip, he first hears the term “Shuck”. Frank laughingly calls a friend’s dog his “Shuck”. Frank then fills the puzzled Harry in on the legend of the ghost dog. Harry soon finds that not everyone is as open to discussing the creature however.

The story darkens further as it progresses. Blood is found on the beach, seals are being attacked by something strange, and superstition rises in the locals. Harry moves out of the B&B into a more secluded building further along the coast. The isolation this brings begins to play on his mind and he starts to see and hear strange things. The one thing that seems to give him some solace is Anna, the daughter of the wildlife warden and a woman he becomes increasingly close to as events begin to take their toll on the community.

The author handles the issue of Black Shuck itself very well. It isn’t just a standard “ghost hound” story, and there is extra variety in the phenomena that surrounds the dog and its activities. An example is the way that the dog doesn't just seem to portend the death of someone close to the witness, but actively kills or attacks at times. The bleakness of the coast and the harsh weather also lends an interesting backdrop to events. At times, the characters are as much fighting against the elements as against the dog, once they begin to understand what is going on at least.

There are some wonderfully creepy moments in the story too, things that had me scratching my head as again, they didn't seem to fit with the “whole ghost dog thing”. You begin to wonder what else is going on, but the links do become clearer later on. The climax of the book is suitably chaotic for the characters. The story, which has been slowly building with the odd moment of threat or revelation, hits the final act with a flurry of dangers. The author manages to mix claustrophobia, the elements, and the supernatural, in a “what could go wrong, will go wrong” kind of way, and I enjoyed that very much.

I enjoyed reading Black Shuck: The Devil’s Dog. It was a story set in a location that mixed peace and bleakness with warm humans and supernatural upset. I liked how these different elements fused together into a narrative that really suited the antagonist’s theme. It was also very pleasant to see places that I am familiar with named in a story. It’s rare for me to come across this local kind of feeling, the last time was in an anthology that happened to include a tale set in The Fens. You don’t need to be familiar with Norfolk to enjoy the book, but for me, it added an extra level of enjoyment. If you like slow-build supernatural horror, you should check out Black Shuck: The Devil’s Dog. Then if you are really brave, go for a long walk, alone, on a bleak windswept shore.

Book Title: Black Shuck: The Devil’s Dog

Book Author: Piers Warren

Publisher: Wildeye

Published: 2011

ISBN: 978-1905843015

Price: £5.83 (paperback) / £3.99 (Kindle) on as of 30 Oct 2020)

Thursday 29 October 2020

Dark Ambient Review: Andarlīh

Dark Ambient Review: Andarlīh

Review by Casey Douglass


One of the goals of Swedish music creators Hymnambulae is described as seeking “a vocabulary for the innermost and a deciphering of liminal spaces.” Their album Andarlīh certainly seems to meet this goal, and in great style. Some of the album was even recorded in an underground church, which is probably a liminal space in a number of ways; the strange feelings it might bring up, to be somewhere where life meets death, or when light meets the deepening darkness.

Andarlīh is an album that gave me the impression of dark spaces, flickering candles and rock walls. It is dream-like, a little melancholy, and layered with subtle sounds that mean wherever you focus your attention, you'll hear something a little different. The soundscapes feature a variety of musical notes, emitted from such instruments as the zither and harmonium. These notes sit in drones and loops that sometimes feel ominous, and at other times, a little lighter. In some tracks, I thought I could hear the aspect of a howling wind, in others, strange cries or warbling sounds.

Súmbolon is a track that opens with these warbling sounds, and it’s one of my favourites. They sit in a drone and are soon joined by a quiet melody. There is a kinetic throbbing to the bass tones, everything seeming to quiver with nervous energy. For some reason, this track made me think of a robot running out of power in a dark cave, having just enough juice to make its voice circuit garble, but nothing else. It could have easily been a ghost, but for me, and my mind in this instance, robot. Maybe I’ve just been reading too much science fiction lately.

Alkoven is another track that I really enjoyed. It opens with a deep rumbling and crackling, long notes soon beginning to ring out in the grainy soundscape. There is the occasional cascading of grit, like tiny earth tremors dislodging dirt or tiny bits of rock from a cave roof. I heard an occasional knocking/beat-like sound too. This track is a dark soundscape, but with lighter elements. As it progresses, there are some chime-like impacts and the impression of wind and bats flying around in the spaces unseen. I enjoyed this track, as it gave me the feeling of walking through a cave system, one that could collapse at any time, but that hopefully won’t.

Andarlīh is a smooth listening experience, a collection of tracks that slowly weave the liminal into layers that form beautiful soundscapes. It’s introspective, ghostly and mainly dark, but with lighter tones that stop this darkness from becoming unrelenting. It’s a dark ambient album perfect for the early gloom of a winter night, when the Moon rises early and the sky slowly darkens through your window. It’s also a fine album to listen to this Halloween, in my opinion.

Visit the Andarlīh page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Andarlīh

Album Artist: Hymnambulae

Label: Hypnagoga Press

Released: 10 Sept 2020

Tuesday 27 October 2020

Dark Fiction: Fine Times

Dark Fiction: Fine Times

By Casey Douglass

Fine Times

He prayed to God that he not wake up. Every night, when he went to bed, those were the last thoughts on his mind, the last words on his lips. An illness without cure, a life without hope, a coward suffering on, without the courage to end things himself. God didn’t listen. If he did, he didn’t care.

He prayed to Satan that he not wake up. He prayed to any deity he could think of. The aether never brought a reply, not even the celestial equivalent of a “Your call matters to us” with some soul crushing muzak belting out behind it. The lines were dead, the lights were off and no-one cared for his customer satisfaction.

Halloween arrived. He prayed to any ghoul, ghost or goblin that might hear him. The same prayer. The same plea. The Moon cast a mellow light through the open curtains. A dog howled somewhere faraway. The roof creaked with a sudden gust of wind. No reply came. Mind fogged and despairing, sleep billowed in his body, the pressure pushing his consciousness down into the depths.

Images of a dream. Scenes from his life. A laugh. A sob. A pain in his arm. A new scene. A massive tree, the kind that would need at least ten people to reach around it with hands linked. The bark around its base looked loose, but rigid, and still in one layer. It looked like a flasher opening his coat, the bark hanging free like wooden floppy wings. A creature stood in-front of the tree, grinning with an evil twist to its mouth. It was like a smear on the landscape, an after-image in the eye after brightness. It beckoned. It walked up to the tree. It pushed itself between the bark and the trunk, wheedling its way out of sight. Seconds later it emerged from the other side, brushing moss and splinters from its body. “Fine times!” it croaked, its voice hard to make out, like someone burbling underwater. It held up a misty, bleeding hand, and watched the skin knit together. It winked and nodded. Then it screeched.

He woke, his hands clasping the sheets, pale daylight illuming the room. He knew that tree! He had hiked past it many times when he walked deep into the woods. He rushed to prepare, to get out of the house and on the trail. It was dusk when he finally arrived at his destination, the sky darkening between millions of leaves, the birds puttering on their perches. His heart hammered, his body was shaking. His illness was awake and ready to pound him into the ground. Pound him into weeks of shuffling around, into weeks of barely having the energy to lift his head, into weeks of limbo.

He thought he would be in two minds. He wasn’t. He stripped off all of his clothes. Easier, possibly, he thought. He walked up to the flaring tree. The scent of loam and old leaves tingled his nostrils. Tight it looked, dark too. He set his back to the wood and pushed his left arm into the gap between trunk and bark. Each side chafed against his skin. He sidled. Pushed deeper. Edged further. The open flap brushed his shoulder. He pushed again. Felt a splinter cut his arm. The thought occurred that blood was a natural lubricant. He felt the sting of another slice into his flesh.

An hour passed. He was almost half way around. Face, body and limbs all encased in the rough sandpaper interior of the hulking tree. He felt fluid trickling down his body. A mass of cuts, tears and scuffs keeping him focused and alert. He’d got stuck twice. His slickening body soon found a way to twist through. He was hardly breathing. There wasn’t room. Insects ran over his face. He was starving. He let one run into his mouth. Chewed. Swallowed. Felt his bile rise. He decided he couldn’t do it. Tried to edge back the other way. Spines pierced his skin. He screamed. He ran fingers the way he’d come. The whole trunk was saturated with needle sharp splinters, all pointing against him. He whimpered and resumed his initial direction of pushing. He pushed hard, something gave, the spines in his other side slid out. He moved on.

Much, much later, he felt his left hand push into cool night air. He felt weak. Empty. He mustered one last push. With a scream he fell out of the other side of the opening, his almost three hundred and sixty degree perambulation complete. He fell to the ground. He sobbed, he cried, he screamed again. The pain flowed as freely as the blood. He sat back on his haunches and gazed down at his body. Lacerations, tears and punctures gaped, blood pooled and flesh puckered. He watched hungrily, looking for signs of the healing that should be about to happen.

Minutes passed. Nothing happened. His heart raced as it struggled to circulate the diminished blood in his body. Why wasn’t it happening? The edges of his vision started to go blacker than the night around him, pixie lights floating in the center. A twisting, smirking face formed from the glowing specks, a hissing whisper pushing into his thoughts. This time he heard what it had to say all too clearly:

“I said not fine times but five times fool!”

He sat in the darkness and trembled, waiting for the laughter to stop, or for oblivion to claim him.



Happy Halloween 2020 and thanks for reading!

Saturday 24 October 2020

Dark Ambient Review: The Inner Fear

Dark Ambient Review: The Inner Fear

Review by Casey Douglass

The Inner Fear

The COVID pandemic often feels like we are living out life in a disaster flick. When going shopping evokes similar feelings to watching 28 Days Later, things have taken a turn, that’s for sure. On the plus side, things haven’t devolved to us having to live in the sewers and worship strange new dark gods. Moloch Conspiracy’s The Inner Fear is a dark ambient album themed around this very way of life, and I’ve been listening to it over the last few days.

Album Blurb: The days of humanity have darkened. In the cities, the population survives in the old sewers and the many networks of galleries dug in the rubble on the surface. The cults have persisted and call on the lost souls to join awful ceremonies. The horror of invocations and prayers traces the path of a humanity which henceforth supports the domination of unknown gods and celebrations.

The Inner Fear depicts this theme in soundscapes laced with a variety of sounds. There are traditional instruments, such as the cello, alongside field recordings, and a variety of vocals, from guttural ritualistic tones, to voices talking in the dark. The sounds of trickling water, the sweep of mournful cello and distant metallic clankings do a fine job of transporting the listener into a murky underground domain. I must admit that as a Metro 2033 fan, it brought back a few fond memories of that game/book.

There were a number of tracks that stood out for me due to the mental imagery they brought about. The first was Radiant Water. It opens with high, warm tones, a distant hum and an ‘end of work’ kind of siren sound. Dripping water echoes amongst swells of sound and a background shimmer, string notes adding a dose of strangeness to things. For me, this track painted the picture of a shaft that reaches the surface, the pale face of the Moon shining through a metal grate, somehow reaching the water far below. Strange things dance in the shadows around the moon light, and as the track quietens towards the end, the Moon finally moves from sight, the shadows settling down once more. It felt a little magical.

The notion of magic is a nice link to the next track I wanted to describe, as one of the notes I wrote about it was that it had a ‘witchy feel’. Current Disturbance opens in a bassy, bubbly way, distant sounds seeming to hint of faraway intruders breaching the tunnel system. There are high tones and what seemed to be the sound of the gentle crumbling or falling of rocks. There was just something about this track that felt a little otherworldly. The high tones led to me thinking of pixie lights floating near the ceiling, and the distant activity seemed a little like an incoming witch-hunt, for some reason. It was good fun, whatever was really happening.

The final track I wanted to mention specifically is Vertical Horizon of Darkness. I think this one felt a little Lovecraftian to me, in so far as I got the impression of someone sitting on watch at the edge of a vast abyss. A mellow opening soon includes the sounds of a crackling distant rockfall. The soundscape feels hollow yet vast, plucked notes echoing and being joined by a high pitched resonance. I felt like bats or something else were flying in the darkness. The male chanting is what set me down the abyss path though. There was something lonely and brave about it, and the thought of someone sitting watch when they are almost totally surrounded by a dark yawning space; I liked that idea very much indeed.

The Inner Fear is a bit like a dark audio tour of a future that has gone very wrong. This future sees humans living in the bowels of the earth yet surviving in the darkness. The string notes often add a feel of melancholy to the soundscapes, the trickling water and echoes an airless closeness. I guess it’s little wonder that chanting and ritual make a comeback in such a world, and hearing that chanting in the dark soundscapes of The Inner Fear makes for a compelling listening experience.

Visit the The Inner Fear page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: The Inner Fear

Album Artist: Moloch Conspiracy

Label: Distorted Void

Released: 17 Oct 2020

Wednesday 21 October 2020

Book Review: Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now

Book Review: Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now

Review Written by Casey Douglass

Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now

Jaron Lanier, the author of Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, breathes technology. He’s attributed with first using the term “Virtual Reality” and has had a hand in many technological industries. What makes him even more interesting though, is his concern about the effects technology has on the user, what it means for how we interact with each other and how we view the world. As you might imagine, Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now focusses his gaze on the world of social media, and he has some interesting things to say about it.

The book opens with a fairly light-hearted introduction expounding the virtues of cats, their intelligence and unpredictability. He also admits that in some ways, his book is about how to be a cat, particularly when it comes to how we might use the internet. He also states that he hopes the reader will consider the issues he raises and make a decision to best suit their circumstances. This isn’t a preaching book in which the author assumes it will change your mind. He just hope it helps, which I think is a fine way to open a book.

Jaron presents his notions in the form of ten arguments, each hoping to shine a light on an aspect of social media that he thinks is problematic. When I started to write this review, I began some note-taking after finishing the book and soon found I was getting bogged down. Ten Arguments is a reasonably short book, but I found so much that I wanted to note down, I had to stop for the sake of brevity. With that in mind, I'll look at some tidbits from two of the arguments that I found particularly fascinating, but they did all contain something well worth thinking about.

Argument One is “You are losing your free will”. Jaron begins by talking about the ubiquity of the smartphone in almost everyone’s pocket, not to mention the other smart devices in our homes. He then explains how algorithms “gorge on data about you, every second” and how they correlate what you do with what everyone else is doing. He says that the algorithms don’t really understand you, but when your data is compared to the data of everyone else, things can be noticed. Maybe you listen to a certain kind of music. Maybe the data shows that other people who listen to this kind of music typically react negatively to a certain word in a headline. The chance is, when seeing that same word, you will react that way too.

Jaron goes on to explain how advertising might take advantage of this, showing you individual content that it thinks will engage, or alter, you the most. He says that, rather than being called advertising, it should be understood as “continuous behaviour modification on a titanic scale.” He explains why he thinks this is a problem with how social media websites operate, and explains how topics like addiction, punishment and reward, and “mystery” or unpredictability, keep people engaged with their feeds. He also explains how the manipulation of social emotions (or social pressure) can supply the punishment or reward needed to keep someone posting. There is yet more to his first argument but I think you get the idea.

The other argument that I wanted to talk about is argument three: Social Media is Making you into an Asshole. In this argument, Jaron points out how people who use social media a lot can display the same personality changes as junkies, gamblers and other addicts. He says that a couple of the ways this manifests in social media use is someone becoming increasingly quick to take offense or showing more aggression, to avoid being the victim themselves. Jaron then explains how he became aware of his own inner troll in the 1970s, in the early stages of the internet. He realised that he would often get into arguments with individuals or other groups, and they devolved in such a way that it became about the most petty and silly stuff. He hated how he’d ruminate on the debate between posts, and how, on the flip side, to avoid this petty stuff, he felt he had to become “fake-nice”, which was even worse. So he decided to stop using the kinds of services and sites that required this type of behaviour. Jaron says that of all the arguments in the book, this one is the one he feels the most strongly about, saying “I don’t want to be an asshole. Or a fake-nice person”.

Sadly, he observes that since social media became the behemoth that is it today, assholes are having more say in the world, and that the biggest ones get the most attention. He goes on to explain the idea of a Solitary/Pack switch in the mind, and the way that it relates to how wolves operate, being a lone-wolf or part of a pack. He then points out the similarities with our internet behaviour and mentality. He comes down on the side that, for most people, the switch should be kept in the Solitary Wolf position, as it fosters unique thinking and varied perspectives on what is happening in the world. He says that democracy fails when the switch is set to Pack. Again, this argument does contain more meat than what I’ve skimmed over here, and it all provides some tasty food for thought.

Jaron’s other arguments are just as fascinating as he touches on issues of economic dignity, politics, happiness and even spirituality. He writes about these things in a concerned, but optimistic way, circling back to why deleting your social media accounts is, in his opinion, the way to bring about the change that we need to see in the world. Did he convince me? I agree with much of what he says, but I will be staying on social media for the foreseeable future. A large part of this is that my health problems limit my life, and even though there is a lot to dislike about social media, my life without it would lose a little something. I’ve always tried to use it mindfully and minimally, and I will continue to do so. I don’t use it to get my “news”, and I have no interest in arguing with people... about anything. I post about the things I enjoy or that I created, and interact with some of the people who create the books, music and films that fill my eyes, lugs and mind. I’d just like more content in my meat-space life to complement the virtual one. But enough about me.

Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now is a book that gives you fresh stuff to think about every few pages. It’s an easy, swift read, and even if you get to the end and don’t feel inclined to leave social media, I think you will have learned or heard something that will stay with you as you move on with your algorithm-fuelled life.

Book Title: Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now

Book Author: Jaron Lanier

Publisher: Vintage

Released: 01 August 2019

ISBN: 9781529112405 

Current Price: £6.73 (paperback) / £5.49 (Kindle) (As of on 19th Oct 2020)

Sunday 18 October 2020

Dark Ambient Review: Nusquam

Dark Ambient Review: Nusquam

Review by Casey Douglass


One of my favourite films is Alien. I like it for a number of reasons, but one element that I really enjoy is the duplicity of Ash the synthetic. As if it’s not enough to have to worry about the strange acid-bleeding alien, the crew of the Nostromo also have to contend with a malicious product of human ingenuity too. Nusquam is a dark ambient album from Aegri Somnia, and it delves into the feelings and notions of transhumanism and the interfaces between our technological and biological selves. When I listened to it, it brought about the same kinds of mixed feelings that Ash did in me, especially about how amazing technological advances might lead to evil. Although Ash is a robot that mimics being a human, I’d imagine the ability to create such a robot would be part of the wider tale of transhumanism in general. That’s my thinking at least.

Nusquam creates this same feeling of unease by mixing sounds that you might not think of mixing. Many of the tracks feature rain or dripping water, but also the sounds of machinery that seems to have a life support function: beeping heartbeats and sighing breathing apparatus. I guess it’s the difference between imagining a patient in a state of the art, clean hospital, and one in an underground tunnel with flickering lights above and water pouring down the walls. I must admit it brought out a kind of Frankenstein’s monster notion in my mind, some kind of clandestine, immoral experiment being conducted at the fringe of society and dooming us all.

The opening track Throne encapsulates this feeling nicely. Crackling and signal-sweeps meet dripping water and scraping. A drone fills the soundscape with ominous threat and a sound like a warped dot-matrix printer rises and falls. A little later some beeps can be heard that sound like a heart rate monitor, with snaps and hisses that might just be electricity dancing through newly awakened muscles and synapses. Other tracks create this feeling too, in their own way. I particularly enjoyed the ones that seemed to contain a breathing analogue, maybe rasping hisses or prolonged exhalations that seem to permeate the soundscape.

One of my favourite tracks is Antithesis. It opens in a bassy space, with rustling wind and a kind of “opening out” feeling. A faint heartbeat-like rhythm emerges, and what sounds like deep, tech-assisted breathing, but prolonged and hissing. Later comes a gentle, tickling puttering sound, a little like cockroaches scurrying around. Near the end of the track, a crackling egg-shell type sound can be heard, with a few sounds that just might be swallowing. The images created in my mind by this track were of a new form of technologically enhanced human, wandering the night-time streets of a large metropolis, finding, and dragging off, a sleeping hobo, to delve metal fingers into the unfortunate’s brain.

Many of the tracks caused this kind of imagery to float through my mind, dark and brooding, with the augmented brushing up against the “normal”. A track that stood out as being a little different was Archetype of Fraud. This track felt a little trippy, like someone being caught in a digital house of mirrors, the data and impressions falling past their eyes, feeding into each other in a destructive feedback loop. The sounds seem warped, and have a power-building dynamo aesthetic. Maybe the newly augmented human is stuck in a software error, or maybe its creator is trying to shut it down before it kills again. Who knows? It’s fun to think about though.

Nusquam feels metallic, wet and ominous, and paints an emotive atmosphere that could well be the soundtrack to humans being the creators of their own obsolescence. This is another impression that I really enjoy, and it also gels with my opening thoughts about Alien and the greedy corporation-led technological future it plays out in. It’s a dark ambient album full of clanking metal, data-transmission squeals and biological functioning, and it’s a fantastic, brooding listening experience.

Visit the Nusquam page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also check out Throne below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Nusquam

Album Artist: Aegri Somnia

Label: Cryo Chamber

Released: 22 Sept 2020

Friday 16 October 2020

Dark Fiction: Parched

Dark Fiction: Parched

By Casey Douglass


The day they drained the big reservoir behind my house, I was standing on my patio, enjoying the warm summer breeze. I saw the workers moving around like ants in the distance, the clanks and bangings of their yellow machinery sounding like a distant war stepping into motion.

The reservoir is an oval shape, about three miles across the longest part. It was a novel sight, when the water level began to drop. I thought it would be slow and hard to notice at first, but it only took around thirty minutes. From beauty spot to silty mud fest in less time than it takes to cook a nice roast. Then the police swarmed in.

I watched these for awhile too, bulky figures in waterproofs wading out into the centre of the newly revealed depths. There were a cluster of massive boulders in what you could call the middle. I guess they served some kind of wildlife purpose, or maybe they protected important machinery. I never did find out. It was when the squelching figures reached these boulders that the activity really kicked up a notch. Shovels and buckets were rushed out, and a strange vehicle chugged its way out to them with a big container on the back.

By evening they’d found all of the bodies. Three women and one man, assaulted, battered and apparently weighted down with blocks. They dubbed them “The Bikini Murders” because they all had their hands and feet tied with shredded bikinis. They never did catch who did it, and I have no idea how whoever killed those people managed it. The reservoir has houses around ninety percent of its circumference. It’s also a busy water-sport location. Even during the night there are often many lights skudding around on its waves.

It’s now three years on, and the reservoir still hasn't been refilled. I don't know why, the bones and everything else were bagged up long ago. The air is arid and dry, and even in the most pleasant of summers, the landscape feels like it’s leeching the moisture from any living thing silly enough to be near it.

You get the odd tourist, someone who has come to have a look at the parched ground of the reservoir, to traipse around and kick up the dust. Dry, cracked, pale earth peeling back in the glare of the sun. How interesting. They never stay long, unless they happen to be a metal detectorist or similar, doing something that takes a lot of time. We get a fair few out here. I’m not sure what they expect to find. I recently discovered that the whole base of the reservoir is artificial for around ten metres, and then it is metres of concrete below that. Maybe they hope people threw some coins in and made a wish? Or they fancy they will find some grizzly evidence missed in the murder investigation. All I know is that they are out there a lot, and I can’t stand to be, because of the thirst.

I always feel so fucking thirsty! Always! It doesn't matter how much I drink, or what I eat, my throat feels like sandpaper, and my body feels like it’s withering away. I’ve tried to sell my house, to move to somewhere, anywhere else, but The Bikini Murders are still too closely in recent memory. I'm stuck here, doomed to die and shrivel in the baking sun. Even the birds have left, which is an eerie thing to notice. You can’t unnotice how quiet it is. Thirst makes your brain strange, makes it get locked into ruminations and dark thoughts. It wasn’t long after I noticed that the birds had fled that I wondered if this was even the landscape I was used to, if I’d not been popped into some new, warped reality. I didn’t seriously think so, but the thought kept spinning.

One thing I discovered a few days ago though, one grizzly thing, is that there is something that helps the thirst. I discovered it by accident when I was eating. For some reason I chewed my food in a silly way and bit my tongue. It bled quite forcefully, filling my mouth with blood. I coughed and spluttered as I rushed to the sink to spit it out, but on impulse, I swallowed it before I got there. It wasn’t until later that evening, with a throbbing tongue and a buzzing head, that I realised it was the first time in years that I didn’t feel thirsty.

I don't know what this means, and I don't like the avenues my mind is going down. I find myself wondering if any blood will do? Will animal blood help? Is another human’s blood better? Will I ever get desperate enough to kill someone, just because I'm thirsty? Is that why the killer who committed The Bikini Murders killed? Maybe this dryness doesn't relate to the reservoir, maybe it seeps out of the environment in some other way. I just don’t know.

I’m sipping a little cow blood from a shot-glass as I write this. I have a friend who works in the meat industry and who was able to get me some. I didn’t lie about why I wanted it, I thought the truth would sound less fantastical than any lie I could come up with. It also reassures me that someone else knows how I’m feeling. Someone who I can trust and who might see any signs of my urge advancing down those other fearful avenues before even I do.

Maybe I’ve read too many vampire stories. Time will tell. The cow blood doesn't taste unpleasant, but knowing what it is keeps making my gorge rise. If it will work in the same way as my own blood, I just don’t know. I hope it does. I’ve got to try.


Wednesday 14 October 2020

Book Review: Predator: If It Bleeds

Book Review: Predator: If It Bleeds

Review Written by Casey Douglass

Predator: If It Bleeds

I found myself in the mood for some Yautja-fueled, violent entertainment a few weeks ago, so when Titan Books’ Predator: If It Bleeds was suggested in my Amazon recommendations, it didn’t take much for me to buy it. It’s a collection of sixteen stories from some of the authors you’ll already likely be familiar with if you’ve read any of the various Alien/Predator comics and novels over the years, authors such as Tim Lebbon, John Shirley, Kevin J. Anderson, S.D Perry and Steve Perry.

Many of the tales in Predator: If It Bleeds drop the Yautja into a novel period of human history, pitting the humans of that time against the alien hunter. Other stories are set in the harsh, sci-fi future that I personally prefer, but that’s not to say that the historical ones weren’t fun. The best of these, in my opinion, came from Larry Correia and is called Three Sparks. It is set in Samurai era Japan, and it answers the question: How would a samurai fare against a Yautja warrior? I think what makes this one particularly enjoyable is the craftiness of the main character, the stubborn prejudices of the people in charge, and the way that the skirmishes with the Yautja play-out.

Another tale that stands out for me is Drug War by Bryan Thomas Schmidt and Holly Roberds. It reacquaints us with two of the characters from Predator 2: Mike Harrigan and Garber (Adam Baldwin’s left-hand-man to Gary Busey’s Peter Keys). It takes place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, some years after the events of the second film. I felt it was really nice to see Harrigan and Garber cross paths again, especially in such a different setting when compared to L.A. As you might expect, another guest pops-up in their reunion, causing them both to have to face the monster of their past once again.

Of the tales set in the future, I think Jonathan Maberry’s Gameworld is my favourite. Set among “the rocks”, the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars, Gameworld is a place where all kinds sketchy things can take place. In the words of the story: “If you wanted to bet on it, have sex with it, eat it, or kill it, Chiba could set it up.” (Chiba being the mastermind trillionaire who created it). The main thing Chiba has a penchant for, is fights between all manner of creatures, human, animal, and transgenic mixtures of the two. A tiger with snake jaws and puffer fish toxin being just one example. I’m sure you can guess who, or what, the hapless protagonist (not Chiba) of this tale ends up having to face. This story was such good fun.

Another future-based tale that I found a lot of enjoyment in was Kevin J. Anderson’s Indigenous Species. Set on a colony planet racked with hardship, that happens to be called Hardscrabble, the story sees the settlers struggling against the local environment and the local giant, vicious beasts called gruzzlys. These creatures are a menace to the colonists and their livestock, and, wouldn’t you know it, a certain mask-wearing, cloaking race of aliens think that the creatures make for excellent trophies. This doesn’t necessarily solve the colonists’ problem, but gives them one more thing to worry about. I loved the other-worldly setting of this story, and the double dose of being alone on a strange planet on the one hand, and alone, against various threats on top of this. A double heap of trouble, you might say.

Even though I’ve only mentioned four stories in any depth, the others were all well worth a read. The only ones that I didn’t really click with were those in settings that didn’t really interest me, but even these often managed to have something to keep me reading. I also enjoyed the stories that made good use of switching between the human and Yautja points of view, such as Steve Perry’s Rematch and S.D Perry’s Skeld’s Keep. This gives the reader an excellent insight into what’s going on in the Yautja’s alien brain, when plans go wrong, or they find themselves facing a heavy defeat.

If you fancy reading some short Predator-based tales, stories that flit through history and set some of the human world’s various warriors against the stealthy hunters, Predator: If it Bleeds is a collection of stories that you should definitely take a look at.

Book Title: Predator: If It Bleeds

Book Author: Anthology

Publisher: Titan Books

Released: 17 Oct 2017

ISBN: 9781785655401

Current Price: £7.39 (paperback) / £3.99 (Kindle) (As of on 12th Oct 2020)

Saturday 10 October 2020

Dark Ambient Review: Spirits of Rhea

Dark Ambient Review: Spirits of Rhea

Review by Casey Douglass

Spirits of Rhea

Saturn is a sexy planet, there’s just no getting away from it. Spirits of Rhea is a dark ambient album from Phelios, and its theme is pretty much all things Saturn, from its rings to its moons, and the planet itself. In a loving nod to reality, the album even incorporates radio emissions from the NASA CASSINI mission that visited Saturn. This lends it that extra enjoyment factor, in my opinion, just like how a Hollywood film that featured a real alien might.

As a whole, the tracks on Spirits of Rhea make great use of smoothly flowing and ebbing tones. Many of them open with a slow swelling of drone which fades again to a quieter space, and then re-emerges again. They also play with the expectations this creates in the listener, giving some gradual overlapping and occasional discordant tones that reorient the listener’s attention. A good number of the tracks feature the blipping, sweeping tones of signals too, which adds extra flavour to the often quite isolating soundscapes.

The feeling of isolation and awe is wonderfully created by pretty much every track on Spirits of Rhea. If ever there was an album to contemplate the immenseness of space and how it might feel to be adrift around a different star or planet, this is it. It is also an album that plays well with a feeling of discovery. A prime example is the track Saturn Emissions. The tones and drones of this track gave me the impression of what it might be like to be scanning for a signal, minutes passing of getting nothing but background noise. Then, a ‘squelchy’ signal starts to sound, and the other tones that emerge, a chime-like impact and a resonance that tickles the air, create a feeling of wonder and hollow dread at the same time.

Another track that creates both a sense of wonder and the otherworldly is The Deep Sea. It opens with the lapping of sea waves, but ones that sound somehow vaporous as the track continues. There are high tones that almost sound a little like wolf howls and later, a shimmery quality to the track makes it feel a little unsettling. I guess it’s the aural equivalent to waking up at the beach and then slowly realising that the sea is the wrong colour, and that the sky looks strange!

Other tracks seem to incorporate a sense of whimsy and the otherworldly in a different style, most notably Through the Gates of the Silver Key and Signal. The former, and to some degree, that latter, has a kind of distant signal fuzz and shimmer, that create the feeling of a ‘whistley’ mirage. I know we are talking about a space-themed album here, but they are the kind of tones that had me thinking of Pan’s Labyrinth as much as 2001: A Space Odyssey. I really enjoyed this after the more cold, bleaker feeling, of some of the other tracks.

Spirits of Rhea is a truly stunning album. It taps into those big feelings of vast distances and cold realities, while mixing in a hint of the unknown and the otherworldly. It manages to do this smoothly and calmly, by recognising the power of the subtle to captivate and insinuate, and feels all the more powerful for it. If you like dark ambient / space ambient that makes you feel isolated and exposed, yet does it in a non-threatening manner, Spirits of Rhea is well worth checking out.

Visit the Spirits of Rhea page on Bandcamp for more information. You can check out a snippet of Spirits of Rhea below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Spirits of Rhea

Album Artist: Phelios

Released: 07 August, 2020

Thursday 8 October 2020

Book Review: Halloween Horror: Volume 2

Book Review: Halloween Horror: Volume 2

Review Written by Casey Douglass

Halloween Horror: Volume 2

It’s that time of the year again, that time when Halloween decorations and sweets are the only thing stopping the stores going all out “Christmas manic.” I actually would prefer it if Halloween was a far bigger deal, and Christmas went and “did one”, but that’s just me. If you are a fan of spooks, pumpkins and people meeting messy ends, this book review might just hint at something nice to put into your treat bag. Just don’t let the chocolates melt onto it. DBND Publishing’s Halloween Horror: Volume 2 is an anthology of 22 tales that feature many of the elements that Halloween is known for: chocolates and sweets, tricks, and strange creatures visiting our plane of existence.

Some tales feature sinister games that end up containing a hint of truth. Others feature strange trick or treaters that aren’t quite like the others that knock on your door. Yet others feature strange time loops, ghosts, and cookies with a sinister secret. Each story is told very well and all of them set the scene in such a way that it’s clear how much the authors love Halloween. If you think the reader must surely end up with pumpkin fatigue or “trick or treat-itus”, it’s not something that I noticed myself. Even stories that may share a few elements use them to their own ends. This was great to see.

As I do with most of my reviews, I’ll highlight three or four stories that I particularly enjoyed. The first is Last Treat of the Night by Cullen Monk. Two young children return from a night of trick or treating. Their parents are preoccupied with getting them to bed before “the final one arrives”. It is then discovered that they aren’t ready for this mysterious guest, and a sequence of events results in the children being home alone, just at the moment that this ominous visitor pounds upon the door. I enjoyed this tale as it leaves a fair bit to the imagination, and it did a great job of giving me the creeps.

Trick’r Treats Himself by Daniel Hale is the next story that I loved. It features Jack reforming in his grave, returning from the Hallowed Realm to see how things are going on Halloween night. He is concerned that the “air should be frigid with goblins about their wicked work.” Things are strangely silent. His investigations lead him to find that a darker threat has settled over the nearby homes, and he decides to get to the bottom of things. This tale was enjoyable for being from the point of view of a Halloween creature, and also for the way it melded Halloween with more mundane, everyday evil. I also liked the descriptions of the goblins and what they got up to.

The Other Kids by Patrick Moody starts is as a traditional trick or treating tale but one with a nasty outcome. It opens with news clippings and statements, but when the story proper begins, it starts with some young kids, The Hilltop Crew, planning their trick or treating route for maximum efficiency. They are also preoccupied with beating “the other kids”, their mortal enemies, the kids who don't even live in the area but get brought in by cars and buses to take advantage of the sugary bounty nearby. The trouble is, this year, there are some very strange other kids around, and these aren't just a threat to the chocolate food chain, but to the lives of the people on Hilltop too. My main enjoyment from this tale came from the unsettling qualities of the “other, other kids”, and also the psychological effects that this event clearly has one of the characters.

The last story I want to mention specifically, is Final Halloween by Scott McGregor. It’s about Simon, a boy who loves Halloween, but is possibly getting a little too old to go trick or treating. He decides to visit somewhere called Orchid Woods View, a richer neighbourhood that his father always skipped when they went out in previous years. This year, Simon decides to visit, and he gets stuck in a confusing series of exchanges with the residents, the real truth of what is happening only being revealed fully at the end of the tale. I enjoyed this story for that very reason, it was a bit mind-bending but also did a great job of conveying Simon’s confusion and anger at what he thought was going on.

Halloween Horror: Volume 2 is a very enjoyable jaunt through the mental landscapes of Halloween. There are jack-o'-lanterns, costumes and candy. There is also the undead, blood and nasty tricks. It didn’t awaken in me a desire to go trick or treating, I’m not sure anything could do that. What it did do though, is leave me looking forward to Halloween this year. It has also tickled my appetite for more ghoulish Halloween horror, which I think is a fine outcome.

You can buy Halloween Horror: Volume 2 on Amazon. You can also visit DBND Publishing to see their other books. I previously reviewed Ghost Stories for Starless Nights and really enjoyed that one too.

I was given a review copy of this book.

Book Title: Halloween Horror: Volume 2

Book Author: Anthology

Publisher: DBND Publishing

Released: 04 Oct 2020

ISBN: 979-8687076371

Current Price: $13.99 (paperback) / $5.00 (Kindle) (As of on 7th Oct 2020)

Tuesday 6 October 2020

Dark Ambient Review: Shadows of Forgotten Legends

Dark Ambient Review: Shadows of Forgotten Legends

Review by Casey Douglass

Shadows of Forgotten Legends

At the beginning of 2020, Shadows of Forgotten Legends released, a dark ambient album that takes the colossal Kraken as its muse, weaving a collection of watery soundscapes around the creature’s mythology. The album is the work of three dark ambient artists: Alphaxone, ProtoU and Onasander, and belatedly, this is my review.

As you might imagine of an album based around a sea creature, there is a very nautical flavour to most of the tracks it contains. When you aren’t treated to the sounds of lapping waves, you might hear the clanking of bells, or snippets of voices distorted by radio interference. There are also many tones that seem to embody certain briny atmospheres, some might take on the mantle of a radar ping, others the hissing of a steam-powered boiler.

The first two tracks, Beneath the Dark Night and Below the Thunders of the Deep, are probably my favourites. This is mainly due to the strong imagery they created in my mind. The first opens with the sound of the sea lapping against something. To me, this suggested some kind of metal submersible, floating on the surface, all potholes and rivets. The low drone and electronic radar-like plinking tone made it feel like night had fallen. As the track progresses, a feeling of submergence takes place, the lights of the thing shinning down into the shifting darkness of the abyss below.

The second track seemed to carry on where the first ended, but with a short time shift to where things had gone horribly wrong. A deep warbly drone, complete with crackles and a sigh of air create an atmosphere of isolation. The atmosphere feels like being trapped and at a high pressure. A high, metallic tone made me feel like strange, ghostly things might be afoot. For me, this track created a metal room, bathed in the red of emergency lighting. It made me think that the submersible hinted at above, was stranded at the bottom of a deep trench, all the other rooms and compartments flooding except this one. Tense, but very nice too, in a dark way.

The other track that really stood out to me was Scourge of the Seas. This track opens with the aforementioned clanking of bells, making me think of a buoy being jostled on the undulating sea. A buffeting wind and a deep bassy impact soon appear, with plucked notes and an uneasy tension in the air. A metallic clinking impact sounds as the soundscape gives the impression of things stilling. I felt the sea was calming rather than getting choppier. It crossed my mind that maybe, just as birds might fall silent when a certain predator is about, maybe the sea waves vanish to avoid a Kraken? This track, for me, was of a Kraken passing by, not really being seen or felt, but just setting nature into a state of breathless fear.

Shadows of Forgotten Legends gives the listener a relaxing trip into the dark realms of the sea. The hints of the Kraken are subtle and by insinuation, which creates a peaceful, yet tension-filled listening experience. The field-recorded sounds and crackling, sometimes echoing spaces, are a great place to escape to when you need a break from the idiocy in the world today.

If you are interested in some more sea-themed dark ambient, you might like to check out my reviews of Cthulhu, Hydromancy and Abysmal.

Visit the Shadows of Forgotten Legends page on Bandcamp for more information. Check out Beneath the Dark Night below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Shadows of Forgotten Legends

Album Artists: Alphaxone, ProtoU, Onasander

Label: Cryo Chamber

Released: 28 January, 2020

Friday 2 October 2020

Book Review: Feeling Great

Book Review: Feeling Great

Review Written by Casey Douglass

Feeling Great

I was first exposed to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) when I was getting treatment for a horrific bout of OCD in my teens. During a recent period of depression, I heard about Dr David Burns’ original book: Feeling Good. It was old enough that I worried it might be quite dated, but I bought the workbook based upon it after seeing it recommended in some relatively recent Youtube videos. It was mostly the CBT I’d read and practised, but Dr Burns’ variety of CBT does have a few elements that seem to set it apart from the others. Feeling Great is Dr Burns’ newest book, an update to Feeling Good that injects all he has learned in the many years since his first book was released. I purchased it at release, and here are my thoughts about it.

Feeling Great doesn’t take long to get into the meat of what Dr Burns teaches. It boils down to three things that underpin cognitive therapy: 1. Your thoughts drive how you feel. 2. Your upsetting negative thoughts are nearly always distorted. 3. If you change the way you think, you change the way you feel. Dr Burns then provides his TEAM-CBT framework to help you achieve this change.

A key element in TEAM-CBT is the patient filling out a Daily Mood Journal. This is a form where they record certain details of their feelings and emotions, their thoughts about a particular event, how much they believe them, and a little later, this where they analyse the cognitive distortions present in each thought. Cognitive distortions are ways that we twist our thinking; they make our thoughts appear to be something they really aren't. An example is Magnification, where we blow up the importance or seriousness of something that really doesn’t warrant it. Another is All or Nothing thinking, such as “If I’m not a winner, I’m a loser!”. There is no room for grey areas with that kind of outlook. There are ten common cognitive distortions, and some thoughts may have traces of all of them!

I’ve come across the concept of cognitive distortions before, in countless CBT and OCD related books. I find it very helpful to think about these distortions, and the more of them that I find in a certain thought, the easier it is to feel more certain that it’s a twisted thought. One thing that I don’t remember encountering before though, is positive re-framing. A very important element of Dr Burns’ treatment method is that he asks the patient: “What does having this thought or feeling show that’s really awesome about you?” As an example, most people want to get rid of their anxiety. It feels awful. If you stop and think about it though, feeling anxious about something, maybe an upcoming exam, actually says something about you. For a start, it shows that you care about doing well. This anxiety may have motivated you in the past to achieve things, and it also shows that you have high standards. It’s strange, but sitting and finding the good qualities in something that feels wholly negative, you find yourself in the position of not wanting to get rid of the anxiety in total, but maybe just reducing it so that you don't miss out on the good stuff it provides. In one of Dr Burn’s podcasts, he says something along the lines of “The therapist actually ends up saying to the patient: “If you get all these good things from your anxiety, why would you want to give it up?”. Paradoxically, this seems to lower any resistance to change, and makes the methods Dr Burns teaches even more effective.

Dr Burns gives the reader 50 tools to help them crush their negative thoughts, some of which work better on thoughts with certain distortions than others. The charm of having so many techniques is that it doesn't take long to work your way through some likely ones until you find the one that seems to do the trick. What’s more, Dr Burns often mentions on his podcast something he calls “fractal psychotherapy”. He believes that dealing with one specific moment, and the thoughts related to it, helps us to deal with the repeating cognitive patterns and issues that underlie most of our problems. This often means that “putting the lie” to one negative thought on your Daily Mood Journal often means you can swiftly work your way down the others, once you’ve found that one of the methods begins to shift your thinking. I’ve experienced this myself on countless occasions. Sure, you get some thoughts that might need extra work or multiple sessions, but for the most part, when one domino falls, the others fall quite easily.

I already feel that this review is getting a little too long, so I will briefly touch on other topics Dr Burns writes about in Feeling Great. He describes the 5 Secrets of Effective Communication, and how they can help relationship issues. He spends one section of the book talking about the philosophical idea of the self, if we really have one and the role it plays in feeling worthy or unworthy. He describes relapse prevention techniques for when you trip and stumble, as will inevitably happen with life's ups and downs. Dr Burns often says that “We are entitled to an average of five happy days a week and two lousy days.” I quite like this as it flies against the usual bullshit often seen in the media, that if you aren't happy all of the time, there's something wrong with you. The book also ends with a chapter written by Dr Mark Noble, who looks at the neuroscience behind why TEAM-CBT seems to be so effective.

Feeling Great is a lovely update to Dr Burns’ earlier body of work. It puts all of the newer advice that he so often shares in his podcast, and the things he has learned over the years, into a handy reference book that is written with humour and plenty of examples of real people’s struggles. A few of the tables/charts didn’t display very well on the Kindle edition that I bought, but that’s such a common issue across countless Kindle books I own, I don’t really mind. Using Dr Burns’ techniques helped me to get out of a severe depression a few months before this book released, and while most of the stuff in Feeling Great was already known to me, by way of his Feeling Good Workbook and his podcast, I am still very pleased with having it expanded upon and freshened up in this new book.

Visit Dr Burns at his website for more information and to find your way to his podcast.

Book Title: FeelingGreat - The Revolutionary New Treatment for Depression and Anxiety

Book Author: Dr David Burns MD

Publisher: PESI Publishing & Media

Released: 15 Sept 2020

ISBN: 9781683732884

Current Price: £17.79 (hardcover) / £10.34 (Kindle) (As of Amazon UK on 1st Oct 2020)