Friday, 26 February 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Songs For Distorted Times

Dark Ambient Review: Songs For Distorted Times

Review by Casey Douglass

Songs For Distorted Times

Songs For Distorted Times is a dark ambient album from composer John Donovan Malley, and it was born from the strangeness and the sorrow of the Covid pandemic last year. Even if you are lucky to be rich enough that the misery barely reached the door of your mansion, the eerieness of the abandoned streets, the closed shops and the plague atmosphere would surely have still got through to you. I’m not sure there’s any avoiding it.

As any artist worth their salt would do, John has poured his own perceptions of this (hopefully) once in a lifetime event, and created a dark collection of tracks that both soothe and agitate the soul. I say agitate because many of the tracks contain a harshness that shreds like a sinister ghoul waiting to drag the listener away for some blood-curdling fun in the corner. Even the tracks that might first be thought of as sweet, contain barbs that will latch into your skin. The track Romantic Suffering is a great example of this, with its gentle piano notes, looming drone, and sweet female vocal, singing such lyrics as “Where there is sickness, may it find you” and “I hope you suffer in a romantic way.”

Within The Temple of Machines is probably my favourite track. It opens with a rushing low hiss and an echoing space. The hiss is like an angry, malevolent exhalation from some lunatic android. These hisses make up a good deal of the soundscape, like a technological pit of demons infesting some kind of factory or warehouse. Near the midpoint, a trundling sound begins, hinting at machinary and a fizzing at electricity. The second half of the track is also underpinned by a sacral chant-like drone, making the space that the sounds are inhabiting feel all the darker.

Another great track is Naomi’s Cry (Humans as a Biohazard). It’s only around 90 seconds long, but it contains a great mix of sounds. Prominent is a female voice talking about Silicon Valley, apps, and humans as a biohazard. Behind this monologue are technological sounds like a harddrive spinning up, a computer beeping, a modem dialling in and screeching, and the keys of a computer keyboard being pressed. The juddery tones behind things steeps the track in an ominous feeling of “Haha, beware fools!”. That’s what I got from it anyway. Technology has certainly played its role in this pandemic, from creating the vaccine to spreading outrage and fake information. I think this track reflects that in its own dark way.

The final track that I wanted to mention was Of Wolf and Wind. This track contains exactly what you might think, the opening wolf howls and the whistling wind are soon joined by a mellow string-like tone. There is a warmth to the backing swells of sound and a little later, a chime-like note. I liked this track because it brought to mind a clear, crisp moonlit night, and a space without people, a space without a world changing virus, and a space without technology. A lovely track to end the album with.

Songs For Distorted Times is a dark ambient album in which you can clearly feel what John had used for its inspiration. The mechanical aspects of some of the tracks seems to hint at the way that the modern world has brought this pandemic upon itself, but also how the world will try to get itself out of this shit again, which is largely “more technology”. The soundscapes are dark and hissing, and the dose of nature at the end with the wolf howls and the wind maybe hints at a more balanced way to live with the world. It’s a great listen.

Visit the Songs For Distorted Times page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given access to a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Songs For Distorted Times

Album Artist: John Donovan Malley

Label: Noctivagant

Released: 27 Feb 2021

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Taibhsear

Dark Ambient Review: Taibhsear

Review by Casey Douglass


Taibhsear is a dark ambient album from the Scottish Borders-based ElectronicDeathBlackDogs. The album description describes it as a collection of dismal visions, and explains that Taibhsear is the Scots Gaelic name for some kind of mystic or seer. The tracks are the Taisbean, or visions, and are numbered as such. I guess it’s little wonder that, upon listening to it, my mind took me on flights of fancy that contained dark woodlands, strange magick and cackling witches.

Taibhsear, for me, was an album containing sounds that brought about the bleak tang of medieval squalor. My mind furnished me with recollections of the Kevin Costner Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves film, particularly the sinister witch that I'll admit I found quite scary, watching it as a ten year old in the early 90s. Not as scary as the companion Bryan Adams love song that infested the airwaves for what felt like forever, but that’s a different story. What Taibhsear brought back for me, was the mud, the squalor, the brutality and the harshness of the film’s setting.

For me, the five tracks (there is also a continuous mix as track six) painted the picture of one location but across different periods in history, my own little mental narrative depicting people first settling there, then a witch taking up residence in the woods, getting attacked, taking her revenge and finally, a war breaking out. This last impression was formed by the machine-gun like sounds punching their way at intervals, through track five’s soundscape, hinting at time having moved on.

I noted “Witch attacked?” in my notes to track two, which is where the “witchiness” began for me. The track opens with a low boiling buzz, high tones dancing around above it. There is the beat of a drum and a creaking noise, like an arrow hitting its mark and splintering wood. The sound of tortured strings vibrates in the air. Distant metallic clattering vies with a windy static-like sound, higher tones blaring and shimmering at the top of things. An arrow impacts and judders again, a yell close on its heels. The track ends with a squeaky tone that begins to cut through the listener’s ears, before things settle once more. Maybe this track is the witch taking up residence in her hovel, the locals firing at it as they hunt to keep her at bay? I’d like to think so.

If the previous track is the witch being attacked, the next one, for me, was her fighting back. Cawing birds and the sound of the wind gets things going, alongside a deep bass tone and dead leaf rustling. A swelling tone begins, and what sounds like distant voices can be heard. There are moments of breathing in this track, sounds similar to a massive inhalation or a prolonged sigh. It’s insidious and watchful, and I really enjoyed that. A woman’s voice gasping a “hah” can be heard too, maybe as the witch draws a blade across her palm for some magickal mischief. Later, a more vigorous “hah” sounds, followed by a crash and the sound of cascading wood. Slow string notes inject an oppressive feeling to things, like a mist that hangs around all day but never lifts. This is a brooding, eventful track, and one full of threat.

The final track that I'll describe is track four, as in this track, for me, the witch got her revenge on the yokels foolish enough to pester her. This track begins with a rushing sound accompanied by jittery high notes. Voices roam in the listener’s ears, ghostly and half-formed. A sacral chant simmers beneath everything, with echoes and a blaring horn-like tone appearing later. A crying sound can be heard, like that of someone in pain, wondering why no one will help them. Whispers chunter at the edges, and a deep impact sounds. As the track continues, the crying/moaning voice seems to become more bestial, more animal, a snort escaping pained lips. I think the witch is turning someone into a pig, or something far worse. I loved this track.

Taibhsear certainly lived up to its album description and delivered some intriguingly dismal visions. While your mind might not go down the same path that mine did, the general ominous feeling it captures, and the brooding nature of the soundscapes will almost certainly unlock some equally dark impressions for you.

Visit the Taibhsear page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given access to a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Taibhsear

Album Artist: ElectronicDeathBlackDogs

Released: 6 Feb 2021

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Shapeshifter

Dark Ambient Review: Shapeshifter

Review by Casey Douglass

Album Cover

At one point or another, who hasn’t wanted to turn into someone, or something, else? I know I’ve wanted to, many many times. Something more powerful, less afraid, more capable. Kehseverin’s dark ambient album Shapeshifter seems to be the soundtrack for just such a change, the track names hinting at some kind of werewolf skin-shedding going on.

The first track, Bitter Root, caused me to think about someone watching TV and getting high. Maybe this person isn’t even looking for a “change”, but just wants the discomfort or the pain of life to go away for awhile. The track opens with a kind of cacophonous, channel-jumping feel, a droning tone coming along for the ride. A piercing metallic tone also emerges, the soundscape seeming to swell and loom as the listener hears snatches of TV voices. A little later, a blaring horn-like tone sounds and a low hum begins. The soundscape seems to shimmer and to fill with a bouncing fuzz. Near the end, a static-like rain falls and things start to feel lighter, like the change has already taken place and things already feel a little bit better for it.

Next up comes Lycanthropy, a track that seems to further cement the transformation that has occurred. It begins with small crackles and a bassy drone. An echoing space opens up, and a very faint chant-like tone seems to suggest itself in the far distance. A pregnant pulsing tone begins, joined by an expanding electronic melody with bouncing notes and jaunty, retro-horror energy. A buzzing shimmer floats in the air. At this point the soundscape feels quite discordant and brooding. In the second half of the track, as things come to a close, a wind or crowd-noise sound can be heard, a quiet melody echoing away too. For me, this either meant that the TV watcher was still high and out of their mind with sport on the TV, or they’d ventured into the woods to run and to hunt and to do bestial things.

The final track is Overlapping Consciousness. This track really did seem to suggest an outdoor space. It opens with wind, knocking trees and gritty flowing water or rain. All of these familiar sounds are manipulated into an echoey, strange-sounding version of themselves. There is an insect-like buzz, bird chirping and a deep vibrating tone. The “outside” feel of this track persists throughout, and it makes me wonder where the newly transformed person is going. A morose melody begins near the midpoint, before the sounds of nature re-emerge more strongly again towards the end. Maybe the wanderer is revelling in the feeling and the sensing of everything, even what the creatures of the landscape are feeling and seeing. It’s a great track, one where the everyday sounds of nature sound so amplified and sinister.

Shapeshifter is a brief dark ambient album, and while this adds to its punch, I would have been equally happy if it contained a few more tracks to enjoy. It is an album full of vibrating atmospheres and a strange malevolence, a soundtrack to the otherworldly in a rare instance when it encroaches on this reality. I like how it seemed to anchor stuff in the mundanity of the everyday, and then warped it into something that would be great fodder for an 80s horror flick.

Visit the Shapeshifter page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given access to a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Shapeshifter

Album Artist: Kehseverin


Released: 2 Feb 2021

Sunday, 14 February 2021

Dark Ambient Review: 666 Minutes in Hell

Dark Ambient Review: 666 Minutes in Hell

Review by Casey Douglass

666 Minutes in Hell

Hell and its denizens inspire so much in the creative sphere, that if you aren’t devoutly religious and fearful of the very concept, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to hellish novels, films, games and music. When dark ambient music takes Hell as its muse however, it’s a match made in Heaven. BlackWeald’s 666 Minutes in Hell is a mammoth slab of hellish goodness, one that takes the listener through the moment of death and the grave, and leads them along dark hallways to the chasms of the pit.

666 Minutes in Hell is eleven hours long. It’s the longest album I’ve ever listened to, let alone attempted to review. Some of the tracks are longer than an entire dark ambient album. I listened to it an hour or so at a time, and made notes on which tracks really tweaked my devil horns. If you take a broad overview of the album, there are copious amounts of dark, rumbling spaces, demonic sounds, chanting and other grim melodies, plucked on forlorn guitars or the keys of a piano. It’s both eclectic and familiar, and carries the feeling of brimstone, despair and damnation.

The first track that made me think “Wow” was the second one: A Cold Funeral. It opens with peaceful vocals and a hint of wind. Then come the sounds of activity and impacts, and a song that seems closer to the listener. An insect-like whine and the sounds of night merge with movements of soil and digging, of wood scraping and the world outside being shut out. A woman’s sobbing can be heard, footsteps walking around. A thunderous storm begins, mellow piano notes and a hollow wind. This track is basically the listener being buried.

The next track: Coffin Snatcher, sees things escalate. A creaking sound punctuates a droning, whirling soundscape, whispers impinging on the edge of the soundscape, echoing footsteps walking on stone floors. A guttural demonic voice detonates in the distance, and a chugging seeps into the awareness. At one point, a vibration begins, like massive steel cables blowing and resonating in the wind. This track creates a rasping, sinister soundscape, making the listener feel like they are at the edge of something nasty, something that is in the next room or the next corridor. One step closer to Hell.

My favourite track was As One Great Furnace, Flamed. It opens with the crackling of wood in a fire, the puttering flames sending a nice bassy flapping into the air. A distant demonic voice chunters to something unseen, and later, far away squeaks and sounds of activity filter through the flames. The track is 30 minutes long, which is a brilliant length of time for the listener’s mind to be lulled into a cosy stupor, wondering if it really is hearing haunting vocals in some other hallway. The golden glow of the mental flames makes everything else seem so much darker by comparison.

Dragged into the Maelstrom is track number thirty eight, and is another fine soundscape that benefits from its length, lasting almost fifty minutes. It’s a space that seems hollow and cavernous, a windy drone and rumbling bass again lulling the mind. It changes subtly over time, a warbling/pulsing slipping in at one point, a variation in the drone at others, a delving into ever deeper bass tones and melodies later still. This isn’t a dramatic “demons and despair” track, but one that depicts an insidious darkness, a darkness at the edge of an abyss of black infinity. Great to meditate or doze too, in my opinion.

666 Minutes in Hell is an epic dark ambient album, one that, for me, contained just the right kind of awe-inspiring, sinister soundscapes. Some tracks were pleasingly field-recording heavy and really set the scene. Others used voices to great effect, such as a preacher’s sermon in the track Into The Bottomless Pit. Some featured those grim melodies that I mentioned in the early part of this review, such as the echoing guitar melodies that can be found in track the Wrath Harvest. The majority however, fell into the category that I most enjoyed: drones, demonic sounds and rumbling spaces. If you’ve a certain kind of mind, even the sounds of Hell can be relaxing and fascinating. If you want to dive deeply into the infernal, pick up 666 Minutes in Hell and fill your boots.

Visit the 666 Minutes in Hell page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also check out a teaser video below:

I was given access to a review copy of this album.

Album Title: 666 Minutes in Hell

Album Artist: BlackWeald

Released: 14 Jan 2021

Thursday, 11 February 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Aftermath

Dark Ambient Review: Aftermath

Review by Casey Douglass


Almost every time that I see a bit of “space news”, it fills my head with vast distances, fiery stars and the crushing majesty of the universe. I enjoy dark space ambient albums for that same reason, as they have the ability to transport my mind to somewhere that I’ve never been, and never will. Aftermath released in 2018, and is a collaborative album from dark ambient artists Alphaxone and Xerxes the Dark. It’s an album set up to trigger that “wonder gland” in your mind, particularly if you get turned on by strange planets and the prospect of alien life.

The album description tells tale of an ancient stone tablet that sent you to an alien world. Once there, you find a strange black monolith, the kind of monolith that emits all kinds of strange energies and transmissions that mess with your equipment. That’s right, the best kind of monolith. The track titles frame each soundscape as relating to certain parts of the story, from the discovery of an Ancient Amulet, to Deep Space Signals and onwards to The Planet and beyond.

Unveiling The Script is one of my favourite tracks. It opens with a pulsing hollow drone and a rising insect-like sound that changes to a more sweeping shimmer. Chittering echoes judder into life, a deep drone rumbling beneath them. There is a hiss, which just might be the sound of pressurised air being used to blow way dust that hides ancient writing. An “ahh-like” vocal aspect seems to suggest itself, a fuzzy beeping/pinging tone shortly on its heels. This track really brought to mind the idea of examining something ancient, something not seen by human eyes for millennia, and the mystical feel to it really shines through.

Activating is another track that I really enjoyed. It begins in a dark, echoing way, distant impacts seeming to resound and pulse from ear-to-ear. A low swell of a windy drone comes and goes, an “Om chant” effect seeming to settle in the soundscape. There is a metallic feel to the echoes here, the high whistling tone that emerges setting the scene for some kind of energetic process about to begin. I’m not entirely sure what is activating, but it sounds suitably ominous.

The Planet is also a fine track, one that sees the exploration party set eyes on a new world. It kicks off with what sounds like the muffled air-crack of thunder. Alongside this is a resonant drone and a pulsing hum that seems to press at the sides of your mind. A distant metallic clattering and an “airy whistle” join the fun, with bird-like chirps and calls insinuating themselves not long after. This is a shimmery track, one that hints of discovery and vast distances. I can only imagine what it might be like to land on a strange new world. I wouldn’t be surprised if it sounded a bit like this.

Aftermath is a dark space ambient album that embodies the thrill of exploration, but does so in a smooth, gentle way. Many of the soundscapes are whistling, droning affairs, the high shimmer seeming to blend into the galactic background of a universe that is so much bigger and stranger than we will likely ever realise. Aftermath takes the listener on a relaxing journey into the stars, and it does it very well indeed.

Visit the Aftermath page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also checkout one of the tracks, Unveiling the Script below:

I was given access to a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Aftermath

Album Artist: Alphaxone & Xerxes the Dark

Label: Cryo Chamber

Released: 6 Nov 2018

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Dust Of Human Race

Dark Ambient Review: Dust Of Human Race

Review by Casey Douglass

Dust Of Human Race

Death has been a constant in the world since the day that life decided it wanted to get out of bed to stretch its legs. In these current pandemic-fuelled times, the big “D” has attained ever more prominence, particularly in the way that we’re now fed daily figures of how many have sadly become acquainted with it. Some people don’t like to think about death, unless forced to by circumstance. Others have no problem pondering the nature of it. Personally, I think this second bunch have the right idea, and Sonologyst’s dark ambient album Dust of Human Race provides the soundtrack for these intrepid souls.

The album description of Dust Of Human Race is a quote from Ovid which reads: “Wherever you look, there is nothing but the image of death”. Sonologyst has taken inspiration from an assortment of philosophies and outlooks on death, hoping that the created music can in some way capture or explain the essence of this universal, but also deeply personal, experience. As a consequence, the tracks roam from the work of horror writer Thomas Ligotti to Buddhism, and even to Sardinian funeral rituals.

My favourite track is Teatro Grottesco. It begins with a sustained tone, and an organ melody soon joins it. Then a screeching, witch-like howl shreds the soundscape, turning to laughter a short time later. Things warp and buzz, and at one point it sounds like a whole coven of witches cackling. A two-note rhythm begins, and things shriek some more, backed by hiss and static. The track ends with a “music box” melody, soothing the mind after the harshness that came before. I didn’t know anything about Thomas Ligotti and his dark fiction before writing this review, but if his stories are as sinister and mocking as this track, which was inspired by them, I think I’d do well to read some of his work.

Another track that I really enjoyed was Avidyā. It opens with a pulsing, string-like tone, backed by a waterfall static. Things judder and stutter, tones sweep and beep like strange insects. The overall effect of this track, for me, was to make me think of some kind of digital Buddha, an advanced A.I that is so fed up with the crap it has to deal with on social media, that it has constructed a small digital waterfall oasis, just to have a metaphorical ciggy and to take five. Maybe the A.I we create will inherit our fears and mannerisms too? Maybe this Buddha is ready to call it a day? Who knows.

Titular track Dust of Human Race is a slightly different beast, opening the album with ear-to-ear tones and a hypnotic pulsing. It felt like a kind of gritty, boiling feeling, and for some reason, I envisioned pillars of light, each at the corner of a pyramid, sending strange energies into the sky, the apex itself beaming a different colour. It’s a dark landscape, and the soundscape becomes more agitated, more sweeping signals and “busier” as it climbs. I thought about tiny people walking towards this blooming of power, their bodies vaporized in the beams and shot into the heavens. The soundscape, for me, was one of annihilation, the ahh-like tones and shimmering, hiding the reality of extinction from the minds of those breaching the beams. Don’t psychoanalyse me, I’m just doing my best to explain the way that my mind interpreted stuff. I’m normal. Honest.

Dust Of Human Race is an eclectic dark ambient album, one that contains a variety of soundscapes and moods. Some of the tracks feel a little gothic, others fizz with radio tones, and yet others treat the listener to dark chants or strange pulsing energies. It’s quite fitting really. Death, as with so many topics, has so many ways of being looked at, it’s little wonder that something that takes our various outlooks as inspiration, will have such a range of expression. Visit Dust Of Human Race on Bandcamp to check it out.

I was given access to a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Dust Of Human Race

Album Artist: Sonologyst

Label: Eighth Tower Records

Released: 5 Feb 2021

Saturday, 6 February 2021

Dark Ambient Review: The Dead Dreamer Tapes

Dark Ambient Review: The Dead Dreamer Tapes (Lo Fi Dark Ambient Mini Album)

Review by Casey Douglass

The Dead Dreamer Tapes (Lo Fi Dark Ambient Mini Album)

I love dark ambient music that uses big sounds and drones to create feelings of awe or uneasiness. I also love it when an album manages to conjure those feelings in a more understated way. The Dead Dreamer Tapes comes from Death on Cassette, a side project of Iron Cthulhu Apocalypse, and it falls into this latter style of album.

Before I even get to the music, I have to say that I really love the album cover. It looks like an apartment building in hell, or at the least, some post apocalyptic landscape where who knows what is running wild and free. I particularly enjoy the bottom right hand corner, where on first impression, the sky or whatever it is, is behind the edge of the tower, but on another appraisal, it appears to be closer to the viewer than the edge of the tower. That uneasy feeling of “is it or isn’t it” is further bolstered by the sounds on the album.

The Dead Dreamer Tapes consists of four, 14 minute tracks, each of which has an insidious sound that rumbles along in a calm, purposeful way. The tracks are all different, but they also share so much in feeling and tone. In my memory, I struggle to differentiate them, but my notes detail the way that they each gave me different impressions. Each track has a soundscape that seems to convey a certain theme. The first felt like walking through moonlit concrete corridors. The second felt like utter darkness. The third felt grey and the fourth felt like technology, somehow.

First Tape Side A probably goes down as my favourite track. It begins with a low, hum-like drone and an unnerving, gentle whistling sound. A bassy throbbing begins, a hiss and hollow tone appearing a short time later. This track’s soundscape created such a pregnant atmosphere of desolation, but also of not being alone. The whistling sound seems to latch on to my notions of old sci-fi whizzes and beeps, leading me to think of the moon and the vast distances of space. When teamed with the cover art above, I felt like I was wandering through that hellish tower block, with just enough moonlight shining through the gaping window holes to see the mottled concrete. On a side note, the bass at times had me lifting my headphones off to listen to the outside world, because it sounded exactly like a helicopter flying over my house, which was both funny and uncanny.

I also really enjoyed First Tape Side B. The track opens with a rumbling and a warbling, distant-feeling high tone. There seems to be a rush of air or movement, and a low tone that at times, seems to make the rest of the soundscape sputter and warp. I also thought that I might have heard the muffled sound of distant impacts. This track for me, felt like something was looming over me, and that, if I was still roaming the same decrepit tower block, I was deep in the basement levels, where the air is baking hot and the darkness is like tar. Like the first track, the distant, whining high tone, when matched with the throbbing sounds, created a feeling of both eeriness, and of distant power.

I found The Dead Dreamer Tapes to be a bit of an enigma, but in a good way. Even though I’ve listened to it at least three or four times, two of those back to back, I find the tracks difficult to write about. Sure, I seem to have just done that very thing, but it feels unsatisfactory, like the words are just fussing around the edges of something. It’s a very enjoyable album to listen to, and it certainly creates some uneasy dark feelings with its soundscapes. I think you should head over to the Bandcamp page below and check it out.

Visit the The Dead Dreamer Tapes page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given access to a review copy of this album.

Album Title: The Dead Dreamer Tapes (Lo Fi Dark Ambient Mini Album)

Album Artist: Death on Cassette

Released: 19 Jan 2021

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Megafauna Rituals

Dark Ambient Review: Megafauna Rituals

Review by Casey Douglass

Megafauna Rituals

Before I discovered the dark ambient genre, I listened to some New Agey stuff. The only kind of New Age music that I was actually able to glean some enjoyment from tended to be shamanic. The rest left me feeling a bit nauseous if I’m honest. The non-shamanic variety often contained a mixture of panpipes and saccharine notes that not only bored me, but made me a little angry for some reason. Anyway, moving on. A short while ago, I purchased three of Paleowolf’s dark ambient albums, albums themed around prehistoric times and primal feelings. Here, I’m reviewing the one that I’d say is my favourite: Megafauna Rituals.

When I was previewing Megafauna Rituals on Bandcamp, I was impressed with the meaty, earthy feel to the tracks. Everything has such a massive heft and presence, and there is certainly nothing fluffy or saccharine about these soundscapes. The tracks are themed around various kinds of megafauna, those massive beasts that populated the earth during the Ice Age. Each track is the embodiment of the animal it gains its title from, and all of the tracks are fat with tribal drums and various kinds of drones and chanting.

One of my favourite tracks is Direwolf. It opens with a rising drone that’s met with a kinetic drumbeat and another, deeper drone. It isn’t long before the tribal vocal “huffs” begin, the soundscape blurring at the edges, like a massive rush of fuzzing wind. A low growling or snarling can be heard, and you just wonder when the first wolf howl will come. The chanted drone has a hard edge, feeling like it’s shredding the air. It’s not long after this that the first wolf howl sounds, the soundscape echoing this back in various ways, even when the howl hasn’t been heard for awhile. I enjoyed the fast drum-beat of this track, and the way that the soundscape seemed to quiver with energy at so many times. I would have kind of liked a more meaty wolf howl, but that’s only because the other sounds felt so strong and powerful. A fantastic track.

Direwolf had a faster drum-beat in comparison to most of the other tracks on the album (Sabretooh is also fast-paced). This is because Paleowolf does a great job of matching the speed or energy of the sounds to the animal involved. A wolf is far fleeter on its paws than a cave bear, for example, and the track, Cave Bear, is another of my favourites. It opens with a low, gritty, echoing drone, one that does conjure up feelings of being in a cave. A massive, muffled impact whumps and the rushing sound of breath flowing in and out of a big chest can be heard. A lumbering drumbeat begins with a hollow tone faint in the distance. An “ahh-like” chant sounds, and then fades into a hissing space. The deep grunts and chuffs of the bear are all suitably powerful and scary, and you get a great feeling of what this animal might have been like to be close to.

Totem is a track that focusses more on the humans in the Ice Age landscape, the shamans and the spirituality around these great beasts. Totem opens with some lovely, echoing tribal singing, the undertones flowing off into the shadows. The echoes seem slower than the chant, reflecting back in a very cool way. A massive drumbeat sounds at a slow interval and a drone grows. Later, we hear animal sounds, grunting and snuffling. Flurries of faster drum-beats fall. The rumbling of thunder and a howling wind can be heard a short time later. The second half of the track is a darker, deeper, rumbling affair, multiple chants and rushing sounds melding with dark drum-beats and worshipful drones.

While I appreciated the tracks that focussed on the more predatory animals, the kind that you wouldn’t want to be chased by if you were out for a walk in the woods, Megaloceros (a variety of deer) is a track that, for me, depicted a different kind of majesty. It opens with a kind of tropical birdsong and a gentle shimmer. There is a slow drum-beat and the sound of the megaloceros grunting or calling. The beat picks up and a horn note sounds, with lighter tones and a windy, exhalation kind of feeling. I felt there was a kind of sadness to this track, the melodies, when they appear, mournful that such a creature is no longer wandering the land. It’s a peaceful track, more gentle than the others, but just as graceful and powerful.

Megafauna Rituals takes the listener back to a time where life was so much harder and briefer, but also far simpler. Survival was linked to food, warmth and safety, rather than the continual mental masturbation inherent in modern society. Our ancestors knew how to survive, otherwise we wouldn’t be here to moan about so much. I wonder what they’d make of us now? I really enjoyed the time I spent taking an audio trip back to a different time. I’d like to think that the more ancient, survival orientated parts of my brain, heard something to set them churning too.

Visit the Megafauna Rituals page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also listen to Direwolf below:

Album Title: Megafauna Rituals

Album Artist: Paleowolf

Label: Prometheus Studio

Released: 23 Aug 2017

Sunday, 31 January 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Chapter One

Dark Ambient Review: Chapter One

Review by Casey Douglass

Chapter One
Album Cover

Bullies suck. Sadly, the world is infested with them. It might be the knuckle-dragger at the shop who bumps into people deliberately, hoping for a fight, or the keyboard warrior on social media who rages and screams at the slightest, tiniest offence, righteously dishing out death threats and harassing people off the platform. These are the thoughts that flowed through my mind on listening to Engravings’ dark ambient album Chapter One, because, for me, it sounded like the soundtrack to a film that sees the bullies get a big dose of payback from someone they pushed too way far.

I think the track titles are probably the spark that kindled this particular idea in my mind. Track titles such as Spite, Hatred and Revenge certainly steered me away from any notion of peace and fluffiness. I’m sure someone, somewhere, has named their cute little bunny-rabbits those names though, such is life. For the most part though, those words tend to mean what we think they mean, so I'll jog on with those meanings. Of course, the music also helped to bring me to the “bully revenge” idea, its mixture of vibrating tones, footsteps and echoes depicting nicely insidious soundscapes.

The opening track: Spite, gets things off to an ominous start. An echoing, cave-like beat knocks along from ear to ear, a buzzing tone weaving its way through the air as a tinny whining sound falls. There are resonant flares that put me in mind of a pulsing light-bulb, hanging bare in a barren room. The beat changes and gathers more energy, taking on a more sinister feeling. For me, this track would be the kind of track that’d accompany a montage of a character in a film plotting their revenge. Hunched over, desk strewn with scribbled notes, and an energy and drive that they’ve never experienced in other areas of their life. Until now.

One of my favourite tracks is The Last Thing I See. It opens with a pulsing feeling, whispers, and echoing high tones. The soundscape fluctuates and is airy, or light, but also buzzing. The track title and music combined to give me the image of someone tied to a chair, one of the bullies unlucky enough to fall into the clutches of the films’ protagonist. There is a dark, rasping, panting aspect to things, a warbling buzzing, melancholy tone setting a sad scene. The soundscape felt like one of desperation and resignation, and ends with panting, scraping echoes and rumbles. A really dark track.

Another favourite track for me was Alone In The Shadow Of My Failure. It begins with a buzzing and a resonant drone, a bass rumble deepening things. A soft electronic tone begins, one that feels both sad and a little bit cyber-punk. Some of the tones are a little “car-horn-like” at times, and after the midpoint, there is a kind of digital-broth simmering sound. In the context of the bully revenge film theme, this track caused me to imagine a bully who was too afraid to face the consequences of their actions. They work in a basement comic book store and use one of the many samurai swords decorating the walls to commit suicide, surrounded by the comics that they love. A low, pink light bathes the scene in warmth, the clicking of the ventilation system the only sound.

Chapter One is a dark ambient album that does seem to simmer with spite, and others of those emotions that come along as part of being human. Any horror lover knows the benefit of enjoying a nice on-screen bloodbath or fright-fest, and horror fans tend to be the some of the nicest, most even-tempered people that I know. This album might send you off on a different imagination holiday, but I certainly enjoyed mine. If you like brooding soundscapes and buzzing tones and echoes, you should check out Chapter One.

Visit the Chapter One page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Chapter One

Album Artist: Engravings

Label: VoidSoundLTD

Released: 21 Jan 2021

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Threshold

Dark Ambient Review: Threshold

Review by Casey Douglass


In this time of pandemic, it’s hard not to feel like you’re being watched and judged by others. I know this, because I find myself judging people more often too, and I’m usually pretty hot on the old mindfulness stuff. I do eventually realise that I don’t really know a single thing about where someone is going or why, which is something I guess. This watchful state, either as watcher or “watchee”, it’s not an enjoyable feeling. Strangely, switch things to imagining that I’m walking in a haunted woodland, being watched by strange beings in the trees, or watching them in turn, and I find that flight of fancy very enjoyable. It’s this latter feeling that Quiet Dusk’s dark ambient album Threshold brought to the surface for me.

The feeling of being watched began with the opening track: Everything is Known. It opens with a radio-hum, the rustle of rain-fall and pulsing deep tones. There is the “click” of something opening in the echoing space, a resonant chiming, and warping, clipped tones. A little later, the whispers begin, with slow tinkling notes, and what sounds like quiet reversed speech. What this track brought to mind was the notion of watching something that you really shouldn’t be watching. Maybe you’re walking through the woods and you witness a little door opening in a tree trunk a little way ahead. A strange creature rushes out and disappears into the leaves. Then you notice every tree has such a door, and little windows to go with them, and every one of them contains glowing eyes watching you.

I really liked Everything is Known, but another favourite track for me was Walking Vessels, partly because it still left me in this watchful woodland space. Walking Vessels begins with a drone and a smooth pulsing or throbbing. The drone is like a light air-craft flying lazily in the sky. There is also the rustle of wind and rain, hence the woodland notion appeared for me once more. A buzzing joins the drone, one that might best be described as a bee-hive hum, but one you can feel as well as hear. There is another sound that made me think of something opening or closing again, and possibly footsteps. Towards the end of the track, a small engine seems to start, more lawnmower than car. Maybe the denizens of the wood have stolen it and are using it as a generator? Who knows?!

Another fun track is Under The Skin, as it contains an interesting sound effect that made the soundscape feel off balance, in a nice way. It starts with a resonant shimmering sound, and a pulsing note that sounds as if it’s being made by someone breathing down a flute. A fuzzing, knocking sounds in the right ear, which when combined with the airiness in the left, creates a lovely feeling of lopsidedness. Not in a literal “I feel off-balance” way, but in the impression it gives. I don’t know why I liked it but I did. This knocking softens a little later, and is replaced by a whiny electronic, gnat-like tone. The second half of the track features some interesting vibrations and high tones, and finishes with a distant female voice talking about death, and how “there never was a real me”.

The last track that I wanted to mention is, funnily enough, the last track on the album: Gasoline Demons. This track starts with a harsh, buzzing note that appears at a slow interval. The sounds that join it in the echoing space seem a bit like robots chuntering or debating about something. Some warble and squawk, others hoot more like cuckoos. A whistling element joins, a drone too. After the half way point, an “exhale-like” sound appears for a time, and the soundscape feels like it deepens. The “robots” still debate and haunt the place however. I guess my mind latched onto the gasoline part of the title, more than the demonic part. Gasoline-fuelled robots arguing over who gets the body of a dying person in an abandoned gas station? Could well be...

Threshold is an album that, for me, created many moments of the “being watched” vibe that I spoke about above, alongside other moments of uneasy strangeness. In many ways, the music only hints at the things that could be happening or that are causing the sounds, and this leaves a lot of space for the imagination to fill in the gaps. It’s a bit like the difference between seeing a ghost compared to just the feeling of one passing by and setting your body on edge for no apparent reason. I found the soundscapes smooth and lulling, and a fun place to let my mind roam, and I think you might too.

Visit the Threshold page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also have a click around in the full album on YouTube below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Threshold

Album Artist: Quiet Dusk

Released: 13 Jan 2021

Monday, 25 January 2021

Dark Ambient Review: A Silent Vigil for Oncoming Plagues

Dark Ambient Review: A Silent Vigil for Oncoming Plagues

Review by Casey Douglass

A Silent Vigil for Oncoming Plagues

I’ve seen a lot of dark ambient fans listening to dungeon synth in recent months. I’d flicked through a few of the albums that fell across my timelines, but I wasn’t really sure if it was for me. A few weeks ago, dark ambient creator Joseph Mlodik (Noctilucant), sent me a review code for his new music project Gavella Glan and its first album release: A Silent Vigil for Oncoming Plagues. It’s described as a mixing of dungeon synth and fantasy music, and is largely inspired by The Witcher 3, even featuring some samples from CD Projekt Red’s game.

What I first noticed about the music of A Silent Vigil for Oncoming Plagues, was a kind of perky innocence to many of the tracks. For me, things felt for the most part, clean, chirpy and optimistic, and the moments of darker tone felt like a safe kind of darkness, the difference between watching a horror and being in one, if that makes sense. Joseph explains in his album description, that this album was born in a period of isolation, and from “Something reminiscent of old video game scores, the 90’s output from Mortiis, forgotten memories, lust for adventure, and a means to escape this deranged world and to momentarily cope with it...” With that description in mind, I think he nailed it.

In the very first track: The Calm Before The Storm, the listener is treated to bell-chiming notes, sparkling outer tones, birdsong, and a mellow synth sound. It’s a peaceful track, with the odd, harsher, foreboding sound. It felt like walking up a grassy hill and seeing a quaint village laid out in the distance, the golden sunlight of dawn catching in the lazy woodsmoke of the chimneys. Other tracks might differ in tone but again, never felt threatening or too ominous. The Ones Atop the Mountain is a great example. After a low, droning, windy opening, once the melodies begin, it feels like a fun adventure again, rather than a dire expedition. It was genuinely nice.

The Oxenfurt Drunk is one of my favourite tracks. It starts with a voice saying “I’m here to talk about the contract!” and a jaunty string-like note with sparkles at the fringes kicks off. We hear corks popping out of bottles, drink pouring, and a little later, this pouring turns into a kind of “infinite pour”, becoming part of the music. It sounds like a potion being poured, backed by drunken muttering, and later, a confrontation and a nasty voice saying “I sense your blood!” This track felt zany, intoxicated, and just like how a pub fight would probably sound in a fantasy world of magic and poverty.

Another of my favourites was A Stormy Night of Arcane Hexes. It opens with a distant chiming and an oncoming rumble. Insects chitter and there is a dark shimmer to things. You can hear something panting, with whispers intruding at the edge of the soundscape. A haunting female vocal begins, the odd bell-chime, and a sparkling tinkling. Later, there is laughter, wind and rain. This track felt very much like what someone stumbling into a witches’ circle might experience, or maybe someone harried by playful sprites as they walk through a haunted woodland.

The title track, A Silent Vigil for Oncoming Plagues, is probably the most dark ambient track, in my opinion. It opens with a pulsing electronic tone and an oozing trickling. There is a deep vibration and ominous, string-like notes. It feels sad and foreboding. A deep shuddering bass sound rumbles along like a giant creature sleeping, and a female vocal floats and nestles on top. This track felt like a world dancing on the precipice, the last good times about to slip into the chasm, and people trying to catch the last small enjoyments that they’re able.

A Silent Vigil for Oncoming Plagues is a fun album, one that taps into some of the retro feeling of old Saturday morning cartoons and classic video-games. I think that the dark ambient, where it seeps in, does a great job of keeping it anchored, balancing the ying and the yang of lightness and darkness nicely. I’m still not certain that dungeon-synth and this style of album will be something that I visit regularly, but I did enjoy the time I spent in Gavella Glan’s world.

Visit the A Silent Vigil for Oncoming Plagues page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also check out the teaser video below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: A Silent Vigil for Oncoming Plagues

Album Artist: Gavella Glan (Joseph Mlodik)

Mastered: Mombi Yuleman

Released: 15 Jan 2021

Saturday, 23 January 2021

Dark Ambient Review: The Black Stone – Music For Lovecraftian Summonings

Dark Ambient Review: The Black Stone – Music For Lovecraftian Summonings

Review by Casey Douglass

The Black Stone – Music For Lovecraftian Summonings

The fiction of H.P Lovecraft has inspired so many other creative projects, that if you are a fan, and I am, you will probably never be short of some kind of Lovecraftian entertainment. The Black Stone – Music For Lovecraftian Summonings is a dark ambient album that has collected together 14 tracks from a number of dark composers, wrapping them up in one 80 minute long (approx) eldritch package.

Before I get to the tracks themselves, I want to say that I enjoyed the album description. It ponders the notion of whether H.P Lovecraft liked music himself, and looks at the role music often plays in certain of his dark stories, such as in the story of The Music of Erich Zann, and also in how the mad god Azathoth is often mentioned with regard to his “monotonous lullaby of cursed flutes”. The album description did a great job of framing this album, priming my mind to wander down certain pathways, with the track titles themselves finishing the effort.

I think that my favourite track has to be Dead Space Chamber Music’s Nocturne For Erich Zann. Lovecraft’s story: The Music of Erich Zann, is one of my favourites, and one of the most memorable for me. Hearing a track like Nocturne For Erich Zann, a track that really captures the events of the story, was a genuine pleasure. It opens with a creaking, squeaking space, tortured strings groaning and drumsticks knocking. It all feels a bit discordant, but doesn’t take long to build a pregnant atmosphere, one where the music starts to come together, and you get the impression that a sinister audience is beginning to gather outside Zann’s window. There is a ghostly sighing, a high pitched twisting to the soundscape, and things feel like some kind of cosmic intelligence is paying far too much attention to the unfortunate musician. A brilliant track.

As much as I enjoyed the previous track for its uncanny impression of the events of a story, I loved Lars Bröndum’s The Legend of Dagon for the way that it didn’t. For me, the sounds on this track placed Dagon in a very strange setting, that of a glass of beer in a sleepy pub. This is very much a track full of electronic buzzes and reverberating tones, it feels a bit lo-fi, if that’s the right word. A short time in, a plinking bubbling sound begins, which to me, sounded like ice rattling against the side of a glass. I bet you can see where my imagination got “pub” from. Things deepen and get more rumbly, and I was struck by the notion of Dagon manifesting in some tiny way in this abandoned glass of beer. I bet the pub lights even flickered and the wind howled outside too. I really enjoyed how this track led me to think about Dagon in a novel way, and in tones and notes that wouldn’t have first come to mind when I think “Lovecraftian”. A lovely surprise.

Another track that I really enjoyed was New Risen Thrones’ The Whisperer in Darkness. A low, subdued opening gives way to the sound of lapping water and insidious whispers. There are occasional water splashes, like something cresting and sinking once more below the surface. A drone grows with shuddering high tones and string notes for company. The second half of the track sees the soundscape become steeped in vibration, with squelchy, uncanny echoes, a feeling of something surging and infesting the air. For me, this track gave me the mental image of an abandoned jetty jutting out into the sea, the moonlight playing off the midnight mist as things creep toward the shore. Very atmospheric and well done.

The final track that I'll mention is Mario Lino Stancati’s The Color Out Of Space. A prolonged tone opens the track, a pulsing puttering tone joins, and things begin to whine and shudder. Some of the sounds made me think of how teleporters sound in certain sci-fi films, like something was coming. After roiling awhile, the tones merge and blare, announcing something. Things turn harsher and the second half of the track sounded a little like a 10ft bee buzzing around inside a 30ft glass jar. This track also led me to remember how much I enjoyed the Nick Cage Color Out of Space film, and Mario’s track would’ve sat very nicely in that film’s score, in my opinion.

The Black Stone – Music For Lovecraftian Summonings contains a brilliant dose of Lovecraftian music. I enjoyed the diversity of sounds and the way that some of the tracks came at the subject matter from perspectives that certainly didn’t fit my preconceptions coming into the album. If you love Lovecraftian things, or even just dark things in general, you should take a listen to The Black Stone – Music For Lovecraftian Summonings.

Visit the The Black Stone – Music For Lovecraftian Summonings page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: The Black Stone – Music For Lovecraftian Summonings

Album Artists: Mombi Yuleman, Martyria, Lars Bröndum, Solatipour Reza, Dead Space Chamber Music, Alphaxone, Mario Lino Stancati, M. Cosottini, C. Bocci & D. Barbiero, Kloob, Ashtoreth, New Risen Throne, Moloch Conspiracy, Dēofol, SÍLENÍ.

Curated and Mastered: Sonologyst

Released by: Eighth Tower Records

Released: 8 Jan 2021

Thursday, 21 January 2021

Dark Ambient Review: S.S. Moreau

Dark Ambient Review: S.S. Moreau

Review by Casey Douglass

S.S. Moreau

I’ve never read the book, or seen the films inspired by H.G Wells’ The Island of Dr Moreau, but I guess that the fact I know the general gist of it speaks to its pervasiveness in parts of our culture. While I remember watching a Simpsons’ Halloween special that tipped its hat to the tale, I’m not aware of having heard any music that was inspired by its species-meddling. That is, until now, as S.S Moreau is a dark ambient album from Scott Lawlor and Mombi Yuleman, one that takes the sinister idea of Dr Moreau and runs with it... all the way into space!

I quite like coming across stories or ideas that uproot something from its familiar setting, and that plants it somewhere quite different. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but others, it can take something that you previously felt quite indifferent to, and give it enough of a twist to make you realise that you really enjoy it in this form. The concept of S.S Moreau is that of a stranded spaceship crew who are rescued by the sinister doctor when his space station, the S.S Moreau, detects their distress beacon. Once “rescued”, and after a period of uneasy discovery, the crew eventually find themselves fleeing from his strange alien-hybrid creatures as they threaten to overrun the station.

I thought that the first track, The Biological Station, set this up beautifully. It opens with an eerie whistling drone, a little like what you might hear in the first Alien film’s score. A light beeping and a whirring tone looms, and what began as restful, grows into a more ominous soundscape. It starts to feel a bit swarm-like, and as if something big is coming. It is the audio equivalent of being on the verge of starvation and coming across a maggot ridden cow carcass. Salvation and doom all in one. A little later, the sounds and tones gave me the feeling of the stranded ship being swallowed up by the larger S.S Moreau, the creaking metal and cavernous feelings giving the impression that the larger ship actually licked its lips. Then you hear the organic, guttural sounds of strange creatures.

The tracks that follow feature a nice range of creature sounds. Some sound bird-like or monkey-like, others more alien. He Knows Something Of Science feels damn right tropical, with clicking trickling water, insect-like rattling and the hoots and chirps of who knows what. Monsters Manufactured is a different beast, one that feels more lab-like, more meddling. It opens with a deep male chant, a female one joins, and a third that warps up and seems alien... something other. An ominous beat and a tinny beeping rhythm create an enjoyable feeling of “wrongness”. It lightens a little later, with a female vocal and light, breezy tones, but the background sounds still hint at dark things. I thought that I heard faltering footsteps on metal floors at one point, and at another, a kind of trundling rising discord, like a mass breakout of warrior insects.

How The Beast Folk Tasted Blood is a clinking, smooth space, the slow beat soon joined by faster tempos. It felt a little tribal, a little “cannibal”, a little “exotic”. I liked the last third or so the most though, when things seem to darken, a sound like sea waves breaking on a beach of bones and a vibrating tone hinting at a line crossed that can’t be undone. The final track, No Desire To Return To Mankind, seems to give the protagonist a dark dose of grim determination. Its plastic-carrier-bag-rustling and throbbing bass tones giving it a “film end-credit” type feeling, one where the ending was far from happy and the scars and trauma will last in the survivor/s for the rest of their life. I particularly enjoyed the radio-chatter and the strange squawks and sounds that seep into things.

S.S Moreau is a dark ambient space treat for people who like their darkness with a sci-fi twist. Some of the sounds it contains seem close to their earthly counterparts, others seem warped and manipulated, which is a pleasing parallel between how tones are created for dark ambient albums, and the subject matter of hybrid-creation. If I was drifting in space and the S.S. Moreau offered rescue, I’d be game for that, even knowing how things would turn out. It sure beats starving to death or turning into an icicle as depressurization occurs.

Visit the S.S.Moreau page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also check out the track Monsters Manufactured below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: S.S. Moreau

Album Artist: Scott Lawlor & Mombi Yuleman

Released: 8 Jan 2021

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Rites Of Darkness And Dismal Visions

Dark Ambient Review: Rites Of Darkness And Dismal Visions

Review by Casey Douglass

Rites Of Darkness And Dismal Visions

As someone who suffers with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I know the value of putting my mind into a state where I just accept that the stuff I fear has already happened, and I might as well enjoy the rest of my day before everything comes crashing down around me. It releases the mental tension of trying to control or protect myself from misfortune, and ironically, helps me to see things more clearly afterwards. I think this is what drew me towards Umbrarum Tenebrae’s dark ambient album Rites Of Darkness and Dismal Visions.

In a Covid world, where people are trying to cling on to any little tidbit of hope or good news, the idea of an album themed around “haunting people into further desperation” really appealed to me. Alongside the OCD stuff above, it appeals to my dark and perverse sense of humour. I also feel like it’s a great tonic against the continual rumination and regurgitation of the media, where often, there’s nothing new to report, so lets just speculate ad infinitum until something happens, and scare people even more. Sorry, this is a dark ambient album review, I promise.

For all that Rites Of Darkness and Dismal Visions is set in a world coping with a new plague, the soundscapes it builds sent me down into cavernous cave systems and rumbling temples. It made me feel a little like an old-school DnD thief type character, creeping through dangerous spaces and spying a procession of monks or holy soldiers venturing forth to slay some dark thing inside. The darkness seems to be very watchful, a common sound being the teeth-clicking chittering of some kind of creature, prowling and guarding their domain. The first track, Path To Oblivion, set this scene for me, its fluttering-wing sounds and drumbeats making me think a little of Tolkien’s goblin-infested Moria. The next track, Liber Mortem, brought the monk-warrior feel to things, its raspy rattling soundscape populated by stick-clacking, chimes and malevolent hisses. It is during this track that the sacral chanting fully hits home, which gave me the imagery of some kind of holy army trying to reach the root of the evil.

I think my favourite track is Chambers Of Shadows. It opens with a distant wind and echoing chimes, but soon turns into a droning, drumbeat punctuating, hiss-filled soundscape, one with creature screeches and clicks, alongside a mellow female, and later, a male chant. This track brought me the image of the holy army in a mist-filled cavern, a place in which something like Medusa might be roaming, with people being snatched off into the murk, but the others slow on the uptake as to what is happening. The swelling notes also hinted at strange marvels to see, like carvings and lore engraved on hellish statues, stuff that hasn’t been read or seen for millennia. A varied soundscape with a quiet ominous feeling, brushing up against snatches of drumbeat and chimes and creature sounds. I really liked it.

The next track, The Chaos Principle, seemed to hint at some kind of rite being performed. After the low pulsing opening and muted chimes, the gentle echoing soundscape is punctured by a large hissing or snarl. A deep ritual beat begins, and the chiming tones start to feel like they are warping or twisting in the air. There are creature clicks and more chanting, and it all led me to feel that the goal of the quest was at hand, and that the denizens of that place aren’t taking kindly to that kind of audacity. I didn’t really think about what the outcome of the quest was, I found it more fun to leave things up in the air and to not think too hard about it. The final mellow track, Knell Ritual, could easily be the triumphant army celebrating, or just as easily, it could be their associates in some far away cathedral holding a funeral in their absence. Either is fine by me.

Rites Of Darkness And Dismal Visions for me, was a chant-fuelled trek into treacherous, hissing subterranean caverns, one where I could safely watch from the shadows and not really care which of the forces involved might prevail. It was peaceful and soothing, and seemed to provide a pleasant tonic against the crap going on in real life. It let me sit in a space where the worst has already happened, one where there is no need to dig up feelings of false optimism or hope. And that is kinda of refreshing.

Visit the Rites Of Darkness And Dismal Visions page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also check out the track Liber Mortem below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Rites Of Darkness And Dismal Visions

Album Artist: Umbrarum Tenebrae

Label: Noctivagant

Released: 20 Jun 2020

Saturday, 16 January 2021

Review: Audio Visual Coherence Breath Pacers

Review: Audio Visual Coherence Breath Pacers

Written by Casey Douglass

Audio Visual Coherence Breath Pacers Syntropy States

Heartmath UK+IR offers customers a number of tools that help to bring their mind and body into a state of coherence. They’ve just released a pack of new Audio Visual Coherence Breath Pacers from Syntropy States, and I’ve been putting them through their paces for the last couple of weeks.

So what is coherence and why is it useful to enter it? Basically, your heart rate varies in timing between each beat. This is your Heart Rate Variability (HRV). When you’re experiencing negative emotions, such as anxiety or frustration, your HRV, if plotted over time, would look jagged and dramatic. When you’re experiencing positive or heartfelt emotions, such as appreciation or love, the time plot would look closer to a smoother, sine-wave pattern. Your system would be in a state of coherence, where various bodily systems are working more harmoniously together. This helps you to think more clearly and puts your body into a more synchronised state.

Heartmath provide sensing devices that actually give your current coherence a score, and they also offer tools and techniques to help you to deepen and expand your capacity for coherence. I was lucky enough to be sent one of their Inner Balance review devices after my previous post about their Syntropy States relaxation aids, and I’ve been experimenting with it for the last couple of months. I hope to write an in-depth piece about my experiences with the Inner Balance device soon.

You don’t need Heartmath’s gadgets to practise their coherence techniques however, you just need to adopt a slightly deeper and even breathing pattern, focus on your heart area, and if you can, generate a heartfelt emotion, maybe by thinking of something you’re grateful for, or about someone you love. These new Coherence Breath Pacers take away the burden of making sure that you’re breathing in a suitable rhythm, and help you to focus in a slightly easier way.

Audio Visual Coherence Breath Pacers Syntropy States

There are seven videos in the collection, each coming in a light and a dark variety, and each makes use of a different geometric shape in the pattern that it presents to you: Cube, Sphere, Dodecahedron, Isohedron, Merkaba, Octahedron and Tetrahedron. When you begin playing a video, you’ll see an expanding and contracting pattern that makes use of whichever shape is at its base. You will also hear a soothing soundscape to help you to focus and relax into the process.

The videos are available in three breathing paces, 8/10/12 seconds, and as you watch the shape ebb and flow, you time your inhale and exhale to begin and to finish when the direction changes. If you’ve opted for the 10 second pace videos, it means that you will be inhaling for 5 seconds, and then exhaling for the next 5. There are sample videos of each breath cycle duration on the store page, so you can try each one to see which feels most comfortable before your purchase.

I found myself gravitating towards certain of the videos more than others. I think that Sphere was my favourite. The soundtrack had trickling water and a nice vocal too, but what I really enjoyed was the dark mode version. Watching it felt like looking down a tunnel, and also gave me the impression, of what a black-hole might look like if it was “liquid”, if that makes sense. In general, the light mode videos all had a really pleasing “sunny” light source in the middle, with the Merkaba video giving me an impression of said sunlight shining through blinds on a quiet afternoon.

Audio Visual Coherence Breath Pacers Syntropy States

The dark modes of each video had a kind of neon feel for me. The colours of the Merkaba video in its dark form, made me think of desert sand and a glowing evening warmth. Another thing that I found quite fun was to reverse my breathing pattern on subsequent viewings. If I watched a video by inhaling at the start of the pattern, the next time, I would exhale first or wait one cycle to begin with the exhale. Inhaling when the outer edges of a pattern are expanding towards you feels a certain way, but inhaling when you see the opposite happening feels a bit different. That gave me two ways to approach each video and in a way, gave each video four variations.

I had hoped to use some of my Inner Balance device readings as a way to gauge how effective these Coherence Breath Pacer videos are, but it doesn’t seem that I can, right now at least. My average coherence rating for my daily sessions has gradually increased, barring the odd exception, so any benefit that the videos might have given me could well be masked by this general increase. What I can say however, is that my highest average coherence ratings often seem to go hand-in-hand with using the videos, so at the very least, they are helping rather than hindering me.

Something else that I really appreciate, is using the videos to help with my breath pacing. On my low-end smartphone, the Heartmath app is a little bit laggy at times, which makes using the on-screen animations and pacers a little off-putting as they can chug at times. Using one of these videos and being able to watch along, being less concerned with my breathing pattern, brings a different feeling to doing my Heartmath exercises. It also had the unlooked for benefit, of helping me to feel a heartfelt emotion when I was struggling to find one, because if nothing else, I could reflect on how pleasing the patterns on screen are to watch. If you are feeling down or numb, that feels a lot more doable and immediate than using your memory or imagination to coax a feeling to the surface.

I think that the Coherence Breath Pacers are a great way to experiment with coherence practices, and whether you own a snazzy biofeedback device or not, the breathing is such an important element. Once I get my breathing settled, coherence often occurs moments later, so having these videos did free me up to lean more into the heart-focussed emotion aspect of entering coherence. They are something that I intend to use regularly, at least once per day, and I think that they would make a nice addition to anyone’s meditation or focussed-practice toolbox.

The Audio Visual Coherence Breath Pacers are available from Heartmath UK+IR. They’re also currently on sale at £12 from their regular price of £15. You might also be interested to know that the Relaxation Aids from Syntropy States are also currently on offer at £15 instead of £19.

I was given review access to this product.

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Dark Ambient Review: DIM (Reissue)

Dark Ambient Review: DIM (Reissue)

Review by Casey Douglass

DIM (Reissue)

I’m a big fan of the dark ambient creations of Xerxes The Dark. However, almost two years ago, I had the chance to review the DIM (Reissue) and I didn’t really feel it was to my taste. Fate had other ideas though, and in my recent review of Xerxe’s mammoth X-Theory collection, I was exposed to one of DIM (Reissues)’s tracks: Dimmer. I really enjoyed it, and decided that I really should take a closer listen to the album. So here I am, after having taken a closer listen.

As the album description explains, DIM was the first Xerxes The Dark album that Morego Dimmer released. The original had more tracks, but as I hadn’t heard the original, I came fresh into the reissue with nothing to really compare it to. This version has a few less tracks but was remastered to increase the quality. I can appreciate that the album a high-school age Morego produced back in the day might stand to have some deft tweaks and edits here and there, much like my writing from only a few years ago. So fair play to Morego for going back to squeeze some extra goodness from the raw material that he had already produced.

As I mentioned in the X-Theory review, Dimmer is still my favourite track. I thought that I described it quite well there, so I’ll simply quote myself (yuk) so that I can move on to some of the others. “Dimmer is a fast-paced, retro-feeling, somewhat jaunty track that I found got stuck in my mind. It opens with an electronic melody that gets loud enough to feel almost uncomfortable, but then fades a little when lower tones join in. This track has a feeling of massive momentum, and the grainy distortion of the tones just gives it even more charm. Maybe it’s a radio broadcast from another universe, or maybe it’s a dimension jumper’s soundtrack of choice before they engage their mini-black hole-fuelled jump device. It’s a track that feels bright and vigorous, with a retro aesthetic that wouldn’t be amiss as the theme to a Netflix nostalgia-fuelled sci-fi series.”

The opening track, Dim Curse, is another that I had fun with. It starts with bursts of static, a drone and a warbly echo, and it put me in mind of the white static hiss you get on an old TV with no signal. As the track continues, I felt like the ghost of a picture or pattern was starting to form, a feeling of something trying to break through. With the tones that sweep up and down and the general fuzzy feeling, it left me with more of that retro sci-fi feeling mentioned above, like something scary and fun was about to play out on screen, or even come through it.

Dim Land, the next track, is a less fuzzy one, but still with a playful aspect. Electronic tones ping off like laser beams into a colourful horizon, like the kind seen in an old video-game, where colour steals the awareness more than shape at times. Things feel like they hang in the air, which is something I noted down as “like flotsam in the wake of a starship in a purple universe.” Later in Dim Land, I heard agitated electronic tones, spirals, and an airy sound that just might be the sharp intake of breath through razor-blade lips. This is a pretty trippy album for me, and I enjoyed the variety of images that the tones and soundscapes inspired in my mind.

DIM (Reissue) was an album I flicked through previously, but on returning to it, I found a lot to enjoy. I don’t know if my tastes have changed in the few years since I first sampled it, or if I just decided too quickly that it wasn’t for me at the time, but sitting here, in present day 2021, I’m glad X-Theory gave me another chance to return to it and to give it a decent chance. What I found was a fun, trippy, lo-fi electronic album, with some catchy melodies and a time-warping feeling of nostalgia. Most of the tracks seem to echo or incorporate the sounds that you hear in previous ones, and this helps build a real feeling of continuity and cohesion. If you like your dark ambient a bit more electronic, a bit more frenetic, and a lot more fuzzy, check out DIM (Reissue).

Visit the DIM (Reissue) page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: DIM (Reissue)

Album Artist: Xerxes The Dark

Label: Zāl Records

Released: 12 May 2019