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.

Added Nov 2022: These breath pacers now only seem to be available as part of the Syntropy app. You can read more in my review.

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

Monday 11 January 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Oracle Of The Throne Ov Fire

Dark Ambient Review: Oracle Of The Throne Ov Fire

Review by Casey Douglass

Oracle Of The Throne Ov Fire

Oracle Of The Throne Ov Fire is a dark ambient project from two occult-minded music projects: Emme Ya and Occult Odyssey. Both use their music as a way to expand their understanding of the systems that they embrace, and to also deepen their explorations into the energies that they deal with. It has been a long time since I’ve read anything related to the occult or to magickal systems, so I have to admit to a head-scratching rustiness when it comes to some of the entities or systems referenced. As always, I’ll fall back on my usual approach to writing a review, that of describing the music and the images that it created in my mind.

The first thing to address is that this is a chant and ritual drumbeat-fuelled album. From the very first track: Miccacuicatl - Mictlantecuhtli (Funeral Chant to Miclantecuhtli), the listener is treated to dark, echoing spaces and semi-distant chanting. For me, I had the impression of some earthen-walled grotto, someone deep inside throat-chanting around a bend that I couldn’t see. A blown pipe-type note pierces the soundscape, a deeper tone hanging in the air. The chanting turns to whispers, the space pulses with a bass throb, and the feeling of things manifesting or responding to the chanter intensifies. I particularly enjoyed how the whispers or chanting “clicked” or “grated” at times, setting up their own rhythm that carries the listener along.

I think my favourite track has to be Descending Into The Temple of Pestilence. It opens with a vibrating rumbling and a hiss, with higher tones sitting above everything. A short time in, a piercing ringing sound starts, sharp and defined in the right ear, a shadowy, rustling version in the left. A chant begins, crackles and rumblings tickling at its edges. The voices and chants seem to come from both male and female throats, and when combined with the perpetual chiming and rumbles, creates a lovely feeling of energies shifting. Some of the spoken words are even reversed at times, which gives them a lovely, strange quality. I think, for me, this track could be the soundtrack to a procession making its way down into a forbidden temple, the rocky pathways falling away into massive drops on either side, the temple in the distance casting a strange glow against the rock walls that surround it.

Another track that I greatly enjoyed was Chants of Putrescence. In part, this was because it’s a bit of a departure from the deeper sounds of the others. Chants of Putrescence opens with chiming notes and a growing high-pitched shimmering sound. These build and build, cracking a little as they flood the track. A reverb-like effect vibrates and quietens things. As the high-pitched tones return to build again, a low chant accompanies them, a fast drumbeat its companion. I enjoyed the semi-ear splitting sounds of this track. The high tones, the low chant, the drumbeat and other vocals create a chiming space that manages to feel both golden and shining, while at the same time corrupt and warped.

Oracle Of The Throne Ov Fire is very much an album for people who enjoy the power of the human voice, the tones and drones that we can emit, and the words that we can drive with strange energies or hidden intents. If you have any awareness of the occult, you’ll likely get a good deal from this album, but even if you just approach it as another prospective dark ambient album for your collection, it can create some wonderful spaces for you to enjoy.

Visit the Oracle Of The Throne Ov Fire page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also listen to Funeral Chant to Miclantecuhtli below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Oracle Of The Throne Ov Fire

Album Artist: Emme Ya & Occult Odyssey

Label: Noctivagant

Released: 23 Nov 2020

Saturday 9 January 2021

Dark Fiction: Good Luck!

Dark Fiction: Good Luck!

By Casey Douglass

Good Luck
Image from Oliver Hale @ Unsplash

Mr “Lucky”: 8:27pm:

The bass throbbed through the walls. He half wondered if it actually made the air in the toilet smell worse, somehow massaging the particles and releasing their full stinking potential. He wasn’t surprised by the smell, or that some other enterprising souls had got into the toilet before the main act started. The support band were decent, but worth missing the end for some bladder comfort.

His trainers squeaked on the sticky floor. The urinals were all occupied, the two cubicles were too. A guy was waiting outside the first stall, the other had no queue. He sidled over and waited near the latter.

A toilet flushed. Another followed. The door in-front of him swung open. He exchanged a brief nod with the man who emerged. As he entered the cubicle, the door of the other one swung open as well. He heard a voice chuckle and exclaim: ‘Good luck!’ to the waiting man.

He shut the door behind himself, and heard the companion door close on the other side. He then heard an ‘Ughhhh!’

He grinned at the stained wall as his mind conjured up several images of what the unfortunate occupant next door was confronted with. The ‘Uggghhh’ had sounded quite nuanced. It was half “I’ve caught my scrotum in my zip” and half “Help me I’m dying!”

By the time he had pissed, flushed and left the toilet, the other stall was still occupied. He heard no sound coming from inside. He chuckled as he exited the room, merging with the darkness of the dance floor. He was eager to tell his mate about the poor soul who had clearly had a messy surprise, and how, if things had gone the other way, it might well have been him!

Mr “Poor Sod”: 8:25pm:

The guy in the toilet stall ahead of him was taking an eternity. He looked down at the gap underneath the door, wondering if he could see in which direction the denizen’s feet were facing. If they were facing the toilet... Shit, now he had mental images of the guy inside wanking over the porcelain bowl. The door that led back to the club swung open and another guy walked in. His nose wrinkled as he entered flavour country. The watcher tried not to smirk, and then realised that he’d been waiting for so long that he couldn’t even smell the noxious aromas any more. Damn it!

The newcomer appraised the occupied urinals and then settled a few paces to his right, in front of the other cubicle. No chance of switching queues now! The other guy had been in his a good while too, but he just knew that it would be the one to open first. This evening just gets better and better.

The other cubicle door flew open. He sighed. He half hoped the other guy would beckon him to go in, seeing as he had been waiting already. The guy just waltzed in, the thought probably didn't even cross his mind. Selfish prick!

The door in-front of him opened moments later, a grinning man gliding out, his eyes a bit wild, his movements jerky and uncoordinated. Great, it wasn’t wanking but drugs... He hoped there wasn’t a fucking needle left in there!

‘Good luck!’ the departing stranger chuckled.

The guy watched him open the exit and flounce out into the booming music. Must be a full moon, he thought, as he bit back an acidic reply. He tentatively entered the cubicle, his eyes scanning the walls, floor and the toilet itself. Everything looked very clean, surprisingly so. In fact, it all looked pretty damn good! Maybe his night was going to improve from here on out. Stranger things have happened!

He closed the door, turned, unzipped his jeans and began to urinate.

His head throbbed.

He looked down to make sure he was hitting the target.

He yelled.

Mr “Pissed Off”: 7:59pm:

The journey to get to the club was a long, expensive one. Not only did he have to grease official palms in two liminal zones, but the etheric passport renewal and body rental had cost an absolutely colossal chunk of karma. As was always the case, the body barely responded to orders from a seventh dimensional brain. It was this that caused most of the trouble.

The bouncer at the door had thought that he was drunk already, so he’d had to shimmy a trans-dimensional shortcut open and flop into the bar area. As was just his luck, he solidified on a big skinhead’s foot. The hand that had latched onto his throat felt like it was trying to squeeze his innards out through his ears. A different bouncer saw the altercation and a brawl began, giving him the chance to slip away.

His eyes hadn't adjusted to the dark just yet. He accidentally brushed against a woman as he picked his way through the crowd. He earned himself a stinging slap on the cheek for that one.

A hot fiery feeling began to bloom in his chest, the urge to incinerate the whole fucking club with a bit of spiritual flame. But no... he was better than that. He had to be, especially if he wanted to be let back home again.

Someone jabbed him in the side, darting fingers reaching for his wallet. He sent a crackle of electricity into the thief. A splash of hot urine christened his shoes.

He began to pant. He just wanted to see the band. Was that too much to fucking ask?

The support band was up on the stage, wailing and hammering and doing a fine job of making everyone look forward to the main act.

Just wait, he told himself, the night will be worth it. Just, just, a little mischief first, something to ease the pressure.

He angled himself through the crowd and jostled his way to the restroom.The air was thick. That was the only way to describe it. He switched his nostrils to plane of existence six and breathed in a nice meadow dew fragrance. Who needs air freshener when you have etheric senses!

The restroom was empty, so he made his way to the first cubicle, locking the door behind him. He looked down at the white toilet and rubbed his chin. Maybe a little infinitude? Or a bog monster? Or an etheric leech? So many choices, so many options. He heard footsteps entering the room. He opted for the infinitude, it was quieter.

His fingers danced, his third eye opened and the slightest flash of purple light fuzzed the air above the toilet rim. He clicked his fingers and the haze blurred into a vertigo-inducing drop. Even though he was expecting it, he still had to throw out a hand to catch himself on the paper dispenser. Toilets, all the way down, is the best way to describe the view. Some relatively normal, others gross and overflowing, others not made for backsides that any human might imagine. Toilet after toilet falling away and sweeping down, making the viewer’s mind think that it was about to tumble out of the world. He felt his rental body’s gorge rising, but closed his eyes just in time.

He became more aware of the noises all around the cubicle now, activity in the one next door, urine hitting urinals on the far side of the room. He saw the cubicle shake as the the stall next door was opened. He turned and opened his own, his eyes falling on a twenty something guy who looked about ready to punch someone.

‘Good luck!’ he smiled, a small chuckle escaping at the same time. He left the restroom and headed back into the throng, hoping that the rest of the evening would flow that little bit more sweetly.



This story was inspired by something that genuinely happened to me at a music concert. I was Mr Lucky above. I walked into the toilets and heard "Good luck" said to the guy next to me. I then heard the "Uggh!" and had to bite my lip to stop myself laughing out loud. I wanted to create something a little bit strange and a little bit funny around what might have happened to the guy in the next stall. This story is the result. Thanks for reading :).

Friday 8 January 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Progression Of The Wolf

Dark Ambient Review: Progression Of The Wolf

Review by Casey Douglass

Progression Of The Wolf

When I was little, I used to be deathly afraid of wolves. I used to dream about them every night, werewolves and the more regular variety, and they always used to eat me. Now, I think they are amazing, and would love to be one of those brave people who care for a pack and can just walk in and tussle with them. The title of Dev-I-Ant’s dark ambient album Progression Of The Wolf got my attention for this very reason.

I don’t know which kind of wolf is progressing in this album. I suspect it’s one of the werewolf variety, for a couple of reasons. The first is that, you might think an album themed around wolves would be heavy on wolf-howls, but it isn’t. In fact, a lot of the sounds are a guttural, rasping snarl at most. The other reason that I suspect a transformation into a werewolf, is that many of the tracks feature a kind of “pounding on metal” sound, like someone kicking a sheet of corrugated metal, or slamming things around. That doesn’t really fit with a four-legged wolf’s activity, but it just might someone who is succumbing to the power of the Moon. I'll take my detective hat off for now. The butler did it though, have no doubt.

Another element of Progression Of The Wolf that I enjoyed, was the appearance of spoken words on many of the tracks. Lines such as: “Hell is home, the fire warms my bones, and the screams drown out my own” and “Flesh like canvas, blood as paint”. I thought these added an excellent extra focus to the rumbling, clanging soundscapes, and they also added a little extra flavour to the images that might be forming in the listener’s mind. A curious addition to the first track though, are sound-bites from The Predator film, the clicking mandibles, its attempts to copy human speech. I liked the track, and I love The Predator, but I’m not entirely sure how it sits with the other tracks. There are chain-like rattles and other sounds, so maybe the subject of the album is watching the film on TV before things go south?

The Path I No Longer Follow is probably my favourite track. It opens with a warbly, pulsing drone. It feels like a prolonged exhalation caught up in a rising wind. The muted sound of thunder cracks, bell chiming notes ring out, and the wind seems to blow with harder gusts. For me, this track brought to mind an exposed grassy hilltop, maybe overlooking the slate grey of the sea as storm-clouds come in. Later, there are the sounds of footsteps on leaves, someone literally walking a path. This led me to feel that someone was walking away from that hill, maybe into a nearby woodland, the kind where a fork looms in the path. One branch looks fair, and the other looks foul. I’d bet the walker takes the darker path.

The next track, Where Flesh and Soul Depart is also another favourite. This opens with the sound of a thunder storm too, and the chiming of a bell. The chiming lasts longer than it would take to signal the hour, making me think it’s a warning or alarm. A deep chant-like drone sits below everything, and then things fall silent. What is left is a rumbling, echoing soundscape, one pregnant with clanging metal, creaking, small knockings and other smaller sounds. The track pulses with malevolence and gives us a voice saying things like “The blade creates hurt” and the “Flesh like canvas, blood as paint” line mentioned above. Maybe the would-be wolf has holed up somewhere to wait out the storm.

The final track, Progression Of The Wolf, is the culmination of the wolf’s journey. It opens with a hollow, boiler-room drone and a lone wolf howling. There is a banging metal door rhythm and guttural, fleshy, eating sounds. It made me think that the change has happened, and that the new werewolf has found their way into the basement of a building, to get used to their new body in peace. There are more words in this track, words that tell of the wolf learning to survive and being set free. I really loved the howls and the wet sounds. Classic horror and power all rolled into one.

Progression Of The Wolf seems to be an album that describes an uncomfortable transformation, one that rubs up against the world and one in which the world is pushing back. It has the feeling of a furtive evolution, one that takes place in the shadows, with the howling wind and rumbling thunder battering the walls of sanity, as a being tries to fully realize their new nature. I can’t remember other dark ambient that felt this way for me, so it had a kind of novelty for me in this respect as well. Head over to the Bandcamp page below to check it out, if what I’ve said above sounds intriguing.

Visit the Progression Of The Wolf page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Progression Of The Wolf

Album Artist: Dev-I-Ant

Label: Kalpamantra

Released: 2 Jan 2021

Tuesday 5 January 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Yig

Dark Ambient Review: Yig

Review by Casey Douglass


One of the really nice things about the recent Lovecraft-inspired Cryo Chamber Collaborations is that they are branching out into areas of his writings that I’m not that familiar with. I didn’t really remember much about Hastur when last year’s entry landed, and Yig, the newest release, is another that has sent me off, browsing the internet for more information. Yig is some sort of snake god, and as the album description details, this sets the scene for notions of strange cults, dusty temples and people hallucinating as snake venom flows through their veins.

With this notion in mind, I guess it’s not unreasonable that I thought that I heard the hissing of snakes in so many moments of listening to Yig. I dare say that if I was listening to an album with a different theme, I would have noted some of these sounds down as “static” or “whispers” or something else. But this time, it’s snakes, snakes everywhere. And why not. I’m not phobic about snakes, and I don’t love them either. I think my mind just enjoyed looking for signs of them, therefore finding plenty. There was also at least one instance where I thought I heard a rattlesnake rattling too, and I don’t think that was just wishful thinking.

As with previous Cryo Chamber Collaborations, a number of artists came together to create Yig. Their efforts formed into two, hour long tracks, that take the listener through a variety of experiences and soundscapes, melding and merging into different takes on the theme. For me, the sounds and tones created images of the shimmering sun, grainy desert winds and stone passageways that echoed with the hiss of snakes. There are sounds that I didn’t expect to hear either, ones with a more sci-fi feel. An example occurs around the five minute mark in track two. A dark brooding space seems to be lit by a whirring, spinning effect, the whole soundscape stuttering and distorting before finally smoothing out again. I really enjoyed this, as it confounded my expectations a little.

Around the twenty-third minute of the same track, the soundscape that the listener enters feels like it is full of gelatinous bubbling bubbles. You might even describe it as swampy and wet. There are deep tones that sound like the distant mumblings of a great creature, with insect-like scurrying sounds plucking at the dense atmosphere. Three minutes later, a crisp electronic tone seems to roam the soundscape, the effect it has on the bubbles one of agitation and annoyance. It’s a truly interesting soundscape to experience. As a whole, I felt that most of Yig gave me impressions of being underground, maybe in a sprawling city, or in strange cavernous landscapes. Besides this swamp-like space, at other moments I felt like I was in an underground garden, and of course, in various temples and ritual chambers. In track one, there was even a moment where some of the more gentle tones made me feel like I’d entered an area where sunlight from the surface just about managed to reach down to me, a tiny opening shining with blue sky, offering the prospect of escape, but only if you could somehow fly.

Another fun and unexpected moment, again in track two, happens at around the nineteenth minute. The soundscape is injected with jaunty bursts of tone, warping piano-like notes and the rumbling of a water or sand-fall. I wrote in my notes that it felt a bit “jazzy”, but only the kind of jazz you’d encounter in a bar at the end of the world. Even though I’ve drawn most of my examples from track two, both tracks have plenty to admire and enjoy. There is a variety of chant-like tones, drum beats, voices and plucked notes, alongside breathy tones, drones, rumbles and ghostly sounds. And as I said at the very start: hissing. Think of Yig as a journey from the desert into the depths of the Earth, seeing all kinds of biomes and structures as you travel. That’s how it appeared to me at least.

Yig is another fantastic Cryo Chamber Collaboration, an eldritch dark ambient creation that captures the bleak fatalism of Lovecraft’s horror. It swaddles the listener in darkness, guiding them into dark places and ominous vistas. It lifts up their spirit for brief periods, with hints of light and beauty, and then plunges them back down into the recesses of the Earth once again. If you like your dark ambient eldritch, sandy... and slithering, you’d do well to check out Yig.

Visit the Yig page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also check out the track Yig 2 below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Yig

Album Artist: Cryo Chamber Collaboration : Neizvestija, ProtoU, Dronny Darko, RNGMNN, In Quantum, Dead Melodies, Atrium Carceri, Keosz, Northumbria, Beyond the Ghost, Wordclock, God Body Disconnect, Randal Collier-Ford, Hilyard, Council of Nine, Dahlia's Tear, Lesa Listvy, Creation VI, Aegri Somnia, Ager Sonus, Ruptured World, Alphaxone.

Label: Cryo Chamber

Released: 29 Dec 2020

Sunday 3 January 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Daemon

Dark Ambient Review: Daemon

Review by Casey Douglass


I think that I first came across the word “Daemon” when listening to the audiobook of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. In those books, it was an animal manifestation of someone’s inner-self, but the word has a number of other meanings, from the background processes on a computer, to Greek notions of deity. Mindspawn’s dark ambient album Daemon, is a contemplation of a number of these notions, and it tells the story of one daemon in particular.

One of the sounds that I most enjoyed on this album, occurs on a number of the tracks. It’s a strange, stifled voice, like someone trying to talk with no tongue, or an echo from a long way away in a dark tunnel. Supplicate is a track strong in this. It begins with a low drone and a chant-like quality entering the soundscape. A high tone stabs through the air, making the atmosphere warble. Then the strange voices begin, like something trying to communicate with you, but that you can’t really understand. The soundscape seems to boil and trundle along, and after the midpoint, some of the sounds made me wonder if some kind of debate was going on, but one that has moved further away from the listener. A dense, heady track.

Axon Terminus is another track that I really enjoyed. It opens with a whirring, resonating tone. A pulsing buzzing joins shortly after, a lower tone also blaring out like a horn. It’s not long after this that some of the tones clip and cut out mid pulse, like someone stifling them in the air with their fingers. It’s an interesting sensation and conveys a great quirky feeling of strangeness. As in most of the tracks on Daemon, this one is a low, brooding soundscape. Around the midpoint, it becomes a more chimey, resonant space. There is even the sound of what might a strange creature jabbering at one point. Maybe the daemon has passed through, from the darkness to light, like some kind of etheric stargate?

Another track that had a great texture was Margin of Error. For me, the soundscape felt like it was describing something fantastical, rubbing up against the more normal world. It felt like being in a deep underground car park, hearing the rumbling of traffic high above but far away. It felt like seeing strange lights and shadows, and feeling alone and far from help. The deep swells of tone even made it feel like hearing the breathing of some great leviathan, maybe even being inside it. I don’t know whose error is alluded to in the track title. It could easily be the wanderer in that dark place, or rumbling things that were aiming for somewhere else, but found themselves in the wrong location. It’s a very cool track.

Unbound is the last track that I’ll mention. It’s a deep, brooding space, vast but dense. There are sounds that might be distant cries, but they sound like a chainsaw revving up and down. A little later, there are wolf-like howls, shimmering echoes and a feeling of chittering. For me, this whole track brought to mind some kind of mental turmoil, taking the form of a vast underground cave system, rumbling with strange static and abyssal rumblings. Maybe the daemon has been severed from its linked-host and is wandering the mental projections of their mind, trying to find a way back to being remembered again. Whatever is going on, it’s fun to listen to.

Daemon is a rumbling, brooding album, the snatches of voice-like exclamations and the chant-like feel to the soundscapes make it a great album for contemplation. It’s smooth, echoing and wraith-like, and I thought it did a really nice job of creating the “alone, but not alone” feeling that any thought about daemons might bring up in us. It’s definitely an album that you should check out.

Visit the Daemon page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Daemon

Album Artist: Mindspawn

Released: 18 Dec 2020

Friday 1 January 2021

Book Review: The Mind Workout

Book Review: The Mind Workout

Review By Casey Douglass

The Mind Workout

My Obsessive Compulsive Disorder really came to a head when I was about ten years old. Thirty years later, it’s still my constant companion. Like most people tend to do, I’ve tried all manner of approaches to deal with it, from perspectives that tackle it head on, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to others that try to lessen the symptoms in various ways. Mark Freeman’s The Mind Workout: Twenty steps to improve your mental health and take charge of your life combines a variety of approaches to improve the reader’s mental health. None were wholly new to me, but Mark’s way of knitting them together seemed to come at just the right time.

A month before I purchased Mark’s book, I picked up Jonas Salzgeber’s The Little Book of Stoicism. It must be about the fifth book I’ve read on Stoicism, a philosophy that I find compelling in many ways. The aspect that really sank into my mind on reading this particular book, was the concept of treating everything that happens each day as training. The idea behind this is that it lowers the stakes of things, making them easier to accept and to deal with. Pretty much the opposite to how OCD feels, treating so many things as life and death. That really resonated with me at that moment, even though it’s something I already “knew”. I recommend The Little Book of Stoicism.

Okay, you’re probably wondering why the second paragraph of this review talks about a wholly different book to the one mentioned in the first. Am I some kind of maverick reviewer who likes wasting your time? Not at all. I mention the “everything is training” idea, as it was shortly after I read that book that I discovered Mark’s The Mind Workout. The Stoic training idea so neatly went hand in hand with what Mark writes and teaches, it was a pleasing coincidence. Here were two books telling me the same thing in slightly different ways, one in Stoic terms, the other written by someone who used to be bedevilled by his OCD too! Many years ago, I came across Mark’s Acceptance Field Guide, so his writing wasn’t unknown to me. The Mind Workout expands on the topics he raises in that book wonderfully.

One of the core elements of The Mind Workout is revealed in the very first line of the introduction: “If you don’t run, it’s not weird if you can’t run”. I also enjoy a later quote: “If you avoid sweating, eventually everything makes you sweat. If you avoid anxiety, eventually everything makes you anxious.” One of the ways that Mark teaches the reader about mental health is to draw comparisons with how we build physical fitness and strength. We wouldn’t expect to be able to walk into a gym and pick up the heaviest weights from day one. He points out that, when it comes to our mental health, we need to have this kind of mindset too. He cements this idea by pointing out that how we use our minds during the day, the normal, “inconsequential” things that we do, all build up to get us into the mental difficulties that we might struggle with down the line.

One of the first exercises Mark gives the reader is to practise not checking their smartphone. Now this is by comparison to other things, a low stakes, low grade checking behaviour. Sure, urges are involved, habit, and uncertainty, but unless you are waiting for a ransom call linked to the kidnap of a loved one, it’s not likely to be fraught with super-strong emotions. Mark teaches that how we deal with uncertainty is the key to so much of our problem, and that by dealing with tiny uncertainties well, we can train our brain so that it might handle larger uncertainties more skilfully. Even not checking your phone when the urge arises begins this training, and after all, if you can’t handle the uncertainty of what you might be missing with a phone check, how are you going to live with some of the really “charged” uncertainties that life inevitably throws your way? This is us picking up the small weights at the gym, to start our journey towards those bigger ones at the edge of our vision.

I’ve known for a long time that once I give into an obsession and do some kind of controlling behaviour to make the anxiety go away, I’d be beset by further obsessions later. These might be related to the initial fear, or even in some wholly unrelated area, but it would still be like poking a hole in your tent in the rain, it just lets more misery through. What I didn’t do though, was to look at how the most mundane, boring actions of my day, all contributed to how I got to my current state of tizzy. Another of Mark’s exercises is something he calls “Taking a Compulsion Journey”. You sit with a bit of paper, draw a sweeping line, and write the compulsion you are struggling with at the far end. This might be endlessly scrolling down social media, wanting to keep checking the door is locked, that kind of thing. You then work your way backwards from performing the compulsion, writing down the events of the day, how you felt about them at the time, working backwards in time, maybe even all the way back to getting up in the morning.

I felt besieged by some mild compulsions one evening. I sat down and completed this exercise to see what might have fuelled my state of mind during the day. Wouldn’t you know it, I found three or four instances earlier in the day that seemed to get me to that point, moments where I checked something boring and unnecessary, moments where I was uncertain about something I’d written... Seeing the compulsion journey laid bare, I could acknowledge that it was little wonder that my mind was giving me new uncertainties to solve and battle with at the end of the day. I really appreciated the view it gave me, and it helped me to see that on the days that I managed to live with the small uncertainties, by evening, I wasn’t so frazzled.

Mark has a whole host of exercises in his book and they are all useful for peeling back the veil of how your mental health works. Another of the key points he makes is the importance of finding out which Values are most important to you and being guided by them in your life. Values are like a constant direction that you decide to move in, like saying that you want to head East with a compass and setting out in that direction. You never reach “East”, you just keep going in that direction. They are not goals, although they can be used to help form healthy, meaningful goals too. One of my guiding Values is Creativity, so I always try to ask myself if a certain action will be aligned with that Value. Mark says that it’s important to move towards the things we want in life, rather than only taking action to simply move away from the unpleasant things we don’t want, such as anxiety. He says that Values help us to deal with the tougher times, because we already know where we want to be heading, and they stop us from sliding back to what we already know, the behaviours that keep us in the cycle of struggling. This is what Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is all about, and even though I’d read a few books on it, once again, Mark’s presentation really helped me.

Wow, this review is getting seriously long! I will round things off by saying that Mark’s honest descriptions of how his own mental health affected him were incredibly relatable. In the chapter Stop Checking, he describes the daily battle he had with leaving his apartment, his fears of carelessly leaving something in a dangerous state that would burn the building down. He describes his stove, the way the knobs could pop off and then you wouldn't know, when you put them on again, if it was actually set to high or low... Even to how, when trying to check if it was off, he would look at the top and assess if he could see the hob was glowing (it was electric). If it wasn’t he’d worry there might be a fault, that it might just be broken, and that something is going badly wrong inside... This goes on for a number of pages, and I felt I could have written something similar about some of the ways my own mind throws up fears, uncertainties, and the things it wants me to do to try to resolve them. You really can start out by worrying that the light is turned off, and end up thinking that you're living in a house that will burn down the moment your back is turned.

The Mind Workout is a book that I highly recommend to anyone suffering with their mental health. It isn’t just aimed at one condition, beyond the human condition and how our brains work that is. Mark also does plenty of videos on YouTube and Twitch streams, where he continues to elaborate and to explain the ways that we can start to head in the direction that we’d most like to in life. It’s also a great chance to see a wall of post-it notes that aren’t being used by an exhausted detective trying to track down a serial killer. I swear that’s how most post-its I see on screen are used these days. Mark’s have interesting mental health tidbits on them. He also loves tea, cookies and doughnuts, which always seems to lighten the tone when they are mentioned.

I’m still struggling, but I feel that more has fallen into place by reading Mark’s book and listening to his online chats. One day at a time...

Book Title: The Mind Workout: Twenty steps to improve your mental health and take charge of your life. (Released as You Are Not A Rock in the U.S/Canada).

Book Author: Mark Freeman

Publisher: Piatkus

Released: June 2017

ISBN: 978-0349414539

RRP: £13.99 Paperback / £5.99 Kindle.