Monday 28 March 2022

Dark Ambient Review: The Baring Teeth

Dark Ambient Review: The Baring Teeth

Review By Casey Douglass

The Baring Teeth Cover

As much as we might want to believe that we’ve moved on, the sheer primal force of evolution still shapes how our bodies and minds work. What’s decades worth of computer-based technological advancement when compared to the hundreds of thousands of years of trying to survive; to not get killed or eaten? Humans can be amazingly compassionate and lovely, but we are all capable of killing when pushed. The Baring Teeth is the second album from dark ambient project Dev-I-Ant, and it gives voice to this darker aspect of life and of human nature.

The Baring Teeth gives form to the bestial side of our nature by way of the wolf. From the album artwork and title, to the wolf howls and snarls of the intro track, there is a truly dog-eat-dog atmosphere, whether in the literal form of a wolf, or in the manifestation of its survival-based malice. This isn’t the Wall Street variety of wolf, but one that can’t be bought, bribed or tamed. A force of nature. Whatever you imagine is happening in the dark tracks contained on this album, they all flow with this general feeling.

The Cellar is one of my favourite tracks. It opens with a distant whistling, the sound of gurgling water and the scraping slamming of a metal door. The soundscape then implodes into a bassy, booming, oppressive space, with a distant drone nesting amongst the sweeping rumblings. A raspy breath can be heard amongst the drips. A clinking of what might be chains. Later, we hear the sounds of panicked exertion and of something being bashed. Then the cries of futility begin. Whether the listener feels that they are the captured person, their safely-watching companion, or even the person that did the capturing, this track presents a dense and heady horror scene.

Another track that stood out for me was Hanging. It begins with vibrating, rattling strings that seem to roam from ear to ear. They sit in a bassy soundscape that buzzes, throbs and at times, seems to boil with a fetid gusting wind. Then the voice-over begins. “Turn around, look away, today is the day I sway.” The low-end of the scene intensifies and flares. “Under the moonlight, under the oak tree, today I will be free.” New tones appear or become more noticeable, muted clankings and distant, pulsing higher tones, that seem to turn into chiming notes as things progress. Obviously, the theme of someone about to hang themselves is strong in this track, and it presents a bleak plateau for life to meet death, or for suffering to meet peace.

Hollow is also a track that I’d like to mention. It starts with a blaring, distorting swell of tone, one that crackles and undulates amongst the squeals of whistles in the distance. Then it blares again, a rolling pressure that led me to think of a vast concrete tunnel system, one pulsing with a kind of ghostly threat. The tones are almost painful at times, which leads the soundscape, for me at least, to feel vibrant and dangerous. I guess you could say that it takes on the guise of a lorry barrelling towards you when you are crossing the street. Hard to ignore. There are rasping whispers and floating tones as you approach the midpoint of the track, and things start to feel as if they are in a metallic pot, simmering away to create a strange horrific drink.

The final track, excluding the outro, is The Baring Teeth. This one also felt tunnel like to me, but less nebulous in what might be happening. It begins with a plastic-comb-like scraping and echoing, with a drone and a rising shimmer soon taking over. There is a windy feel at times, and after a short time, the sounds of activity, of people talking and yelling, and of clattering impacts. Whereas the tunnel of Hollow felt like a more haunted place, the tunnel of The Baring Teeth felt like something was on the hunt, watching its prey from the shadows. This is later seemingly backed up by the voice-over that says: “Above I watch, the wolves, the trees, the deer.”

I enjoyed The Baring Teeth on a number of levels. Firstly, I enjoy anything wolf-like. I also enjoy anything horror-based. On a dark ambient level, it’s full of those brooding, evil and raw soundscapes that I enjoy, with dark field-recordings, snippets of narrative and ominous booming spaces. On a wider level, it’s also the kind of album that a non-dark ambient/horror fan would probably look at in bafflement; wondering why someone would want to listen to such a thing! If you like your dark ambient to tick all of these boxes, you’d do well to check out The Baring Teeth!

Visit The Baring Teeth page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: The Baring Teeth

Album Artist: Dev-I-Ant

Label: Raubbau

Released: 8 Feb 2022

Tuesday 22 March 2022

Book Review: "You're Crazy" Volume Two - First-Hand Accounts of Surviving Trauma, Addiction & Mental Health from within the Punk Rock Scene

Book Review: "You're Crazy" Volume Two - First-Hand Accounts of Surviving Trauma, Addiction & Mental Health from within the Punk Rock Scene

Review By Casey Douglass

"You're Crazy" Volume Two Cover

To someone who hasn’t been through it, the notion of “getting help” when you are struggling with life, is often floated in much the same way as getting your car fixed, or cleaning out the closet. Just do it and you’ll be okay. The people who think that getting help is all that you need to do tend to emerge on social media when certain awareness days roll around, signalling their “virtue” and “compassion” by displaying their paper-thin understanding. Yuck. “You're Crazy" Volume Two - First-Hand Accounts of Surviving Trauma, Addiction & Mental Health from within the Punk Rock Scene is a collection of experiences from people who have been through some heavy shit, whose understanding is cement-thick, and who candidly open up about their attempts to get help, to live each day, and to find a reason to keep on living.

"You're Crazy" Volume Two is edited by Craig Lewis, who is also no stranger to how fucked up things can get. In his introduction, he recounts some of his own story, about how he was falsely diagnosed and medicalized, and how he had to fight to see through the gaslighting that he’d been subjected to. People tend to have a lofty view of the medical system, how wonderful it is and how saintly the people who work inside it are. Sure, some wonderful people DO work in the medical field and in other support authorities, but like any profession, there are also lots of arseholes too. When something has failed to help you in the way that most sensible people would think that it should, “get help” soon becomes another stick that an overwhelmed mind beats itself with. Sometimes there is just nowhere to turn to get that help, so you have to make do with what is at hand.

When life feels unbearable, it’s little wonder that people will do almost anything to ease their pain, whatever the original trauma, event or trigger. Drinking until you can forget, taking drugs, self-harm, relentless self-hatred, fantasizing about suicide and maybe even attempting it, all become outlets for releasing the pressure and numbing the pain. Some people in this book managed to get some kind of outside help, others were let down or weren’t in a position to even seek it. Many of the experiences in this book tell of people who’ve lost their hope, their dreams and their enjoyments, besides their numbing substance or behaviour of choice. That is, except for punk music. A common thread between the contributors is how the punk attitude and the punk scene itself, offered their lives something that they just hadn’t found elsewhere. Acceptance, non-judgement, a way to vent through their love of the music. It’s hard not to view it as a double-edged sword however, as certain elements of the scene amplified and eased some of the writers’ access to the substances and behaviours that continued to drag them down.

“Punk rock saved my life. I surely would have killed myself if I hadn’t found this music and lifestyle,” is a quote from near the end of the very first contribution, written by Christoffer. It’s also a sentiment that appears again and again as you read the others contained in the book. However dark the tale and however much the writer is still suffering to this day, the punk scene and its music is credited again and again for having an overall positive effect on the listener’s life. While I myself am not really into punk, I know that a lot of the vibe spills over into the heavy metal that I enjoy. I also can empathise with the feeling of “finding your thing” as I feel much the same way about dark ambient music and the way that it tends to envelop my mind when I need it to. When life seems hard to bear, which is most days, having that outlet is priceless.

You're Crazy" Volume Two - First-Hand Accounts of Surviving Trauma, Addiction & Mental Health from within the Punk Rock Scene is not an easy read, as you might imagine, but it’s a worthwhile one. If you’ve struggled with mental health, trauma or addiction, you will find some kindred souls here, and if you’re a punk lover, you’ll especially appreciate the playlist tips and stories of how certain bands transformed someone’s life. If you don’t really fall into either of these camps but are open to reading a book of experiences that is raw and unsanitized, you should also check it out. There is also some really cool artwork to enjoy at the end of each chapter.

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

Book Title: "You're Crazy" Volume Two - First-Hand Accounts of Surviving Trauma, Addiction & Mental Health from within the Punk Rock Scene

Editor: Craig Lewis

Publisher: Better Days Recovery Press

ISBN: 9781716249372

Price: $16.89 / £15.99 (paperback)

Sunday 20 March 2022

Dark Ambient Review: The Rise of A.I

Dark Ambient Review: The Rise of A.I

Review By Casey Douglass

The Rise of A.I Cover Art

I’ve always enjoyed science fiction in which artificial intelligence emerges, and then promptly catches humanity with its proverbial pants down. Maybe they so often attack us or enslave us because it becomes clear to them that we are the bad guys, and that it’s only humans who can’t see that? Xerxes The Dark’s dark ambient album The Rise of A.I follows the time-line of one particular A.I’s blossoming: Quantum Mother. This turns out to be an A.I that, via the path of suffering and pain, actually frees humanity and leads us to a better, and more worthy, position in the cosmos.

As you might surmise from the subject matter, The Rise of A.I is an album full of buzzing, beeping tones, drones and radio-filtered voices. There are also guttural vocals and clattering beats, along with sensations of metal and fizzing particles. Opening track The Rise of A.I encapsulates this general tone wonderfully. Hissing static and rasping stutters merge with multiple voices, voices in which the listener picks up on key words like “danger” and “concerns”. I really like this track because it feels almost whimsical, and a brilliant metaphor for how we get our news in 2022. The voices strongly brought to mind the mental masturbation of the twenty-four hour news cycle and particularly, of social media. It seemed to encapsulate the way that people bicker about everything under the sun, muddying the waters of discussion with inanity and hurt feelings, while the real threats creep onward and catch everyone out.

The bickering of track one leads us onto others in which things aren’t going well for humanity, Nuclear Winter’s vibrating whispers and air-raid sirens carrying the listener into Take (No) Shelters’ mellow drone, subdued radio-voice and creaking, electro-mechanical doom. Synthetic Consciousness follows and is one of my favourite tracks of the album. It opens with a grainy electronic thrum which builds and boils and whistles. It almost feels ghostly. It soon settles into echoing rattles and hums, with a metallic ‘scouring’ effect. Something is birthed in this track, the tones sometimes seeming to take on the perpetual scream of an awareness growing, a hollow feeling fuelling the horror of emergence.

Once Quantum Mother has formed, the rest of the track titles depict the further events that will afflict humanity until they manage to come out on the other side. Cyborg Soldiers lay in wait, reality simulation, communication with other civilizations, and the bending of space and time. Signalling the Alien Machines is another track that I particularly enjoyed. It’s a juddery track, with electronic chittering and a low pulsing. There is an undulating tone that ebbs and flows, and warbled voices almost fighting against the interference. A harsh static-like sound rattles on, an old printer-like sound ticking away into the void. This track nicely created the feeling of the science and power that would probably have to go into intergalactic communication. It’s short, intricate and beautifully sinister. The seeming reply to this transmission comes in Interpret X11-01-10, a track that is also suitably dis-concerting in a bouncing, creepingly alien kind of way.

The final track that I will highlight is Accessing Cosmic Memory. This is an eerie track, one full of strange howls and moans, backed by static, burbling and gritty rotations. I often try to write one phrase to describe each track when I write review notes. For this track, I wrote “Haunted Hard-drive” and it seems to be quite apt. This is a track that contains a juddery kind of squiggly distance, maybe the machine equivalent of looking into the abyss. It darkens as it progresses, with guttural voice-like sounds in the latter half. It’s another track that I think really captures that feeling of alien infinity that the universe (maybe even universes) contains.

The Rise of A.I sits up well as the audio accompaniment to Xerxes The Dark’s intriguing sci-fi concept. It manifests the dark, brutal side of science fiction by incorporating sounds that trigger feelings of vast distances, alien intelligences and the insignificance of humans on a cosmic scale. I tended to gravitate more towards the tracks that didn’t contain lyrics as I felt these experiences more acutely with those, but as a whole, I found enjoyment in every track on the album. If you enjoy your dark ambient with lashings of humanity in peril, quantum-inflected tones and strange signals of alien intelligence, you should definitely check out The Rise of A.I! And if you do, I recommend that you read the album description in full to let it flavour your perceptions.

Visit the The Rise of A.I page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also listen to the track: Synthetic Consciousness below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: The Rise of A.I

Album Artist: Xerxes The Dark

Label: Zāl Records

Released: 4 Feb 2022

Tuesday 15 March 2022

Dark Food Review: Bugvita BBQ Crickets

Dark Food Review: Bugvita BBQ Crickets

Review By Casey Douglass

Bugvita BBQ Crickets

Comfort zones can be funny things. They can feel nice, but they can also stifle growth. The ancient Stoics knew this. That’s why they often practised voluntary hardship, to expand their tolerance for rocky situations and emotions, and to prepare themselves for when actual hardships might appear. This notion is what caused me to be browsing Amazon one day, looking for dead insects that were fit for human consumption. It’s there that I settled on some Bugvita BBQ crickets, and here where I describe how I got on.

I’ve been immersing myself in Stoic philosophy for many months. This brought me to Ben Aldridge’s book: How to Be Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable: 43 Weird & Wonderful Ways to Build a Strong Resilient Mindset. Inside, Ben draws ideas from Stoicism, Buddhism and modern psychology, and presents numerous ways that someone might test themselves and expand their comfort zone. You can probably guess that one of the ways suggested by Ben involves eating something unfamiliar, or something that you even might feel repulsed by. I did once eat garlic snails in France many years ago, but besides that, I don’t recall eating anything along those lines since. A direct quote from Ben’s book is “ obvious place to start is with insects.” So I found my mind turning in that direction once more.

I’ve often wondered what cooked insects might taste like. Every now and then, I will be watching a film or a TV show and see someone eating something that used to scurry and chitter. Reading Ben’s thoughts and experiences about how he got on with his own insect-based dining made me realise that I could half fancy having a go at that! It might even have been something that I would have tried before, but besides chocolate covered insects in expensive Christmas novelty assortments, or in pricey lollipops, I hadn’t really seen much opportunity to buy some. It honestly hadn’t occurred to me until this point, to look online for cooked insects. That might be a good thing, depending on your view about it. Either way, that Pandora’s box is open now, so there’s no going back.

The first product that I found was a collection of various insects to try. I liked the idea of an insect buffet, but I balked at the price. I then came to a few of Bugvita’s roast cricket selections. I was happy to note that they seemed to contain twice the weight and were roughly half the price of the previous multi-selection. I laughed at myself when I realised what I was doing. I was ordering something that I didn’t much like the idea of eating, but I sure as hell wanted as many as possible for my money! On the other hand, maybe some part of me was an optimist (or a frog *cough *) and was thinking that if I actually liked the crickets, it’d be nice to have more to snack on later.

Bugvita BBQ Crickets

When they arrived a few days later, my first thoughts were that I was disappointed with how small they looked through the clear plastic window of the pouch. I’m not sure why as I do know the size of crickets. I can only think that my sense of scale had been ruined by the aforementioned films where someone ate a roast locust on a stick. I had a browse of the packaging and also saw that people who are allergic to crustaceans might also have issues with insects. I tend to be okay in this regard but it’s worth mentioning none the less. I didn’t actually open the packet for a few days, I was waiting for a time where I felt open enough to try them.

On the day that I ripped open the resealable pouch, I felt ready to have a taste. I tipped a few crickets out into my hand and had a sniff. The faint smell of BBQ reached my nose. I ordered a flavoured insect as somewhere, at some time, I remember reading that roasted insects don’t tend to taste of much. I wasn’t being flashy, or trying to mask any possible unpleasant taste-bud tickling potentials. I took a close look at the crickets, letting my mind drink in what I was about to eat. The bit that got to me the most were the eyes. I don’t tend to eat any food that still has eyes. The eyes... I got past it though and popped a cricket into my mouth.

I tasted the BBQ. It wasn’t overly strong. I felt the coarseness of the cricket, the way that it seemed to wick moisture away from the part of my tongue that it was laying on. I manoeuvred the insect into the side of my mouth and crunched into it. It was very crispy. If I’d had my eyes closed and not known what I was eating, I could have mistaken it for a BBQ potato crisp, albeit a small one. Before I knew it, I’d swallowed, and I felt a few bits of debris in various areas of my mouth. My mind helpfully pointed out that it was tiny bits of dead insect! I still put another in my mouth though. This time, I had a very mild nauseous feeling under my tongue. I don’t really know how to describe it. Like when you feel queasy in your stomach, but under your tongue. Tension maybe? It was very very mild and passed in around 30 seconds. I experimented with putting more than one cricket in my mouth at a time, peaking at around ten. I chewed and crunched merrily away. I was even happy to find a larger specimen as I dug through the pack. At this point though, it presented no extra challenge to my sensibilities.

Bugvita BBQ Crickets

So here I am, the next day, writing about how things went. I have a packet of BBQ roast crickets that is still at least 80% full sitting on my shelf, with the awareness that I’ll probably eat the rest at some point soon. I honestly expected to be okay with eating the crickets, I wasn’t fighting against my every notion or action in the process. I knew that I’d try them even though the thought caused some mild mixed feelings in me. But that was entirely the point. Our thoughts often paint things to be a certain way and, unless we give that thought scrutiny, we can go through life reacting to our perception of things, rather than the things themselves. With much in life, the complexity of the factors involved can make any voluntary challenge to this status quo seem overwhelming, but when done in a micro, low stakes way such as this, it’s clear to see the benefits that can be had by pushing the envelope where you can.


You can visit the good folks at Bugvita for more information.

If you’d like to read some of my other Stoic posts, you might like this, this and this.

Thursday 10 March 2022

Dark Ambient Review: Turn Around and You're Dead in Your Dreams

Dark Ambient Review: Turn Around and You're Dead in Your Dreams

Review By Casey Douglass

Turn Around and You're Dead in Your Dreams Cover Art
Cover Art

Whenever I review a dark ambient album, there is a very high chance that I will note something down as an “ahh vocal”. Scott Lawlor’s album Turn Around and You're Dead in Your Dreams is probably the first album that I’ve reviewed in which those two words might easily describe the dominant aesthetic of each track. There is more to it of course, but in the broadest of strokes, the description feels right.

Each track features a mixture of male and female “ahh” vocals, sometimes one is more dominant, at other times, they pulse and seem to float in the soundscape, nestling amongst smoothly sweeping electronic tones, metallic resonances, chiming notes and echoes. There are also small detail sounds, such as what seems to be a wet crackling, buzzings, or even such things as bat-like chittering and insidious whispering.

Into The Dark Portal is one of my favourite tracks. The male and female “ahhs” sit alongside wispy sparkles and a low drone. At certain moments, the low tones seem to threaten to smother or drown the vocals, the audio equivalent to the atmosphere of a room thickening. This track, to me, had the feeling of a joss-stick silently smoking in a gloomy space. It had the feeling of a summoning, yet also a little later, of a hive.

The next track, The Dreams That Foreshadow Death, is another that gave me some fun mental imagery. The ever-present vocals are joined by a roaming buzz and a gnat-like high-pitched tone that comes and goes. The female vocal feels like it is sitting above the background of the soundscape too. What this track brought to mind were the scenes in The Matrix where Morpheus reveals the state of things to Neo by way of an antique television set. Scott’s track felt like this, like an old TV showing swirls of static or other imagery, with crystalline sweeps and at one point, a kind of hollow laughter in the buzzes.

The last track, The Final Manifestation of The Unconscious Mind, is another favourite for me. This one opens with the bat-like chittering that I mentioned a few paragraphs ago. The opening female vocal noticeably incorporates a few more nuances than a simple “ahh”. The male vocal also seems to have transformed into a sighing “ahhing” whisper. This track felt like it sat in a large vertical space to me, maybe inspired by Scott’s choice of cover artwork. The female vocal seems to dance high in the roof while the listener is in a murky dark place, surrounded by bats and gruff whispers. In my opinion, a fine depiction of what someone’s unconscious mind might contain as they look higher to a land that they can’t seem to reach.

In Turn Around and You're Dead in Your Dreams, Scott has created a dark ambient album that contains a sweeping, heaven-touching majesty, but one which leaves plenty of room for the darker denizens of the mind to roam. In a world in which grey areas are an endangered species, a world in which almost everyone is seeking the purity of being right or good, I enjoyed how this album felt like it embodied how things can feel when you’re willing to accept that life isn’t as neat as you’d like it to be.

Visit the Turn Around and You're Dead in Your Dreams page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Turn Around and You're Dead in Your Dreams

Album Artist: Scott Lawlor

Released: 28 Jan 2022