Sunday 19 November 2023

Dark Ambient: BlackWeald Interview

BlackWeald Interview

Interview by Casey Douglass

BlackWeald Interview

BlackWeald is a dark ambient and experimental music creator that has produced some truly monumental albums for fans to enjoy. His latest release: The Fermi Exhibit, is themed around the Fermi paradox, which in the broadest of terms, is the question of why we haven’t detected alien life. In this interview, we talk about how he became interested in the Fermi paradox, and what his thoughts are about some of the “solutions”. We also delve into the role that Lovecraft’s fiction has played in his creative life, the value of ambiguity in creating, and what kind of equipment he uses to create his dark marvels. Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy.

(Photos used throughout provided by BlackWeald. They depict some of the views from his local surroundings).


Casey: As we begin this interview, you are just over one week away from releasing your latest music creation: The Fermi Exhibit. It’s a dark ambient album themed around the Fermi paradox, the mental itch in scientists’ brains about why the sheer size of the universe lends itself to the idea that advanced extraterrestrial life should be commonplace, but that we seem to catch no sight nor sound of them. How and when did you first become interested in the Fermi paradox and what is your favourite potential solution?

BlackWeald: I was always interested in anything dark, morbid or mysterious. The nature of life, consciousness, and the insane scale of the universe are of course the oldest of these enigmas, also the toughest to get your head around.

I must state that I do not believe in intelligent design. Sure, it seems like the universe is fabricated in a way to facilitate human needs. You know the argument, if you’d change any universal constant (speed of light, Planck constant, ratio of matter-antimatter, etc.), the universe would be so different, that e.g. planets would not form, and no life would be possible. But I believe the answer for this isn’t intelligent design, rather it’s science’s most beautiful theory, the Anthropic principle. If the universe would NOT suit us, we wouldn't be here to observe it. There might be a crap-load of universes with different values of these constants, but there would be no life in them, and no observer in them to say “Hey, it seems to be 100% designed for us!”. So it’s the other way around. It’s not that the universe is designed to our needs, but we are like we are, because the universe is the way it is.

Back to the Fermi Paradox, although there are fascinating esoteric answers (which the album mostly deals with), the truth is probably much more mundane. And most likely the truth does not lie within ONE of these “solutions”, but a combination of the few. Perhaps interstellar travel simply cannot be solved, and you cannot bypass the speed of light anyhow. Combine this with the vastness of the universe and how specific a planet needs to be, to be able to develop and sustain even the most primitive life. These together would mean that although there are/were intelligent species, they are so far away from each other, that we would never ever be able to witness their existence, let alone communicate with them. It’s like an ant and a penguin inhabiting Earth alone, one in Europe, one in Antarctica. What are the chances they’d ever meet? The ant barely lives a year, they could not travel that far on land, there is the impassable ocean between them, and even if they met, they would not even recognize each other as another living being (despite these two examples descending from the very same tree of life).

In short, sure, there must be similarly intelligent life out there, but I doubt two of these species would ever come in contact with each other.

BlackWeald Lakebed

Casey: In an interview you gave to DarkUndergroundMusicZine, you touched upon your love of H.P Lovecraft. Do you enjoy contemplating the Fermi paradox because it in some ways touches the notion of cosmic horror that Lovecraft so adeptly describes, that sense of awe at the momentous forces and vast distances involved?

BlackWeald: I adore his work, he is my favourite writer. Anything Lovecraftian you can throw at me and I’ll probably like it. But I have to agree with the general consensus that he isn’t technically the best writer, rather it’s the “universe” he created and the way he tells his stories, that’s what really resonates with me. It’s very much like what Hidetaka Miyazaki does with his games. You have to piece the puzzle yourself, and even then, many things are left ambiguous. Which is great, because you can put your own thoughts, fears, feelings into these stories, making them personal. Anything that’s too straightforward, without any room for imagination, well, those are just stories. Unlike these ambiguous works, which create a framework, then it’s up to you to fit yourself into that.

I think this is what Lovecraft gets right. Instead of spoon-feeding you something tangible that he finds scary, he rather makes you think about a concept that might kick your existential dread in. “The universe is incomprehensibly large, and compared to that, you are incomprehensibly small. What do you think about it?” or “Have you ever thought of ancient civilizations that were once thriving but now are buried underneath the soil?” These are more inspirational thoughts than anything.

BlackWeald Church Ruin

I mean, one could say that Lovecraft himself made specific monsters, but I think even though we have a quite universally agreed representation of Cthulhu, it’s more about “What might lie beneath” than an actual monster.

Next to ambiguity, it’s important for me (either as a story-teller, or as a consumer) to actually take part in putting the story together, as opposed to just being told about the story. There is a very thin line between the two. Like, in a movie, when two dots should be connected, do you leave it up to the viewer to make that connection? You can give the viewer a flashback scene, or make a character say it out loud, but then the viewer does not actually participate in solving the mystery. But if you give them less, and let them figure it out, they will be like “Aha!” and it’s immediately more engaging.

Regarding how it’s tied to BlackWeald, I usually try to make my musical output ambiguous enough that there is always some room where the listeners can project themselves into. Some riddles to be solved, some connections to make yourself, something hidden, stuff that is not so obvious. This is why the song titles on The Fermi Exhibit are a bit shady. “Civilizations might be too far away from each other” not only sounds shit, but leaves no room to figure out what the song represents.

Of course it does not apply to all BlackWeald releases, e.g. Leonov and She and the Devil’s Sons follow a specific narrative, but I think it applies well for most of the others. Maybe on the “From Dust..” album the ambiguity went a bit too far and without the additional text, the framework of the album might not get through (the analogy between the timeline of a day and the timeline of a life). But e.g. with Sedna I tried to approach it in a Lovecraftian way. You know what happened, you know what it is capable of, but it’s up to you to imagine what it actually might be.

BlackWeald City Skyline

Casey: Why did you decide to form The Fermi Exhibit in the style of a museum exhibit, and what do the different sections represent?

BlackWeald: In short, if someone would have put a pistol to my head saying “You have to cut the album down to 2 hours!”, I would have chosen the first 13 tracks of the album. Fortunately I don’t have to tailor my output to any restrictions.

As a longer story, I started working on this album almost 3 years ago, right after 666 Minutes in Hell. As it happens often to me, a seemingly quick project turned into a huge monster. In a few weeks I found myself having 2000+ sound fragments and about 30 song concepts. Shaping it into finished songs seemed impossible and the weight of the project felt unbearable. So first I thought I’d slice the work up and have it released in a series of EPs. Then I got caught in the flow and during months of never-ending sessions, I finished everything at once.

When I saw that it turned out to be 8 hours long, I started cutting the fat off several songs and even threw away complete songs. I narrowed it down to 2 hours, having like a “best of” version of all the composed material, but I started missing many of the leftover material. I found myself listening to the “B-sides” more than the rest, so I just said “fuck it” and decided to keep quite a few of them. Today, I still have my own favourites in the more experimental, longer, less “traditional ambient” tracks. All that remains of this back-and-forth hassle is those two lines regarding the first 13 tracks being the “main hall” and the rest existing on the “gallery annex” of the exhibition.

Oh, and why an exhibition? Most of the stuff I release has some kind of narrative going through the whole album, but this one is among the few that is “just a bunch of tracks without any connection between them”, except for, of course, the overarching theme of the Fermi Paradox. My brain felt that I still needed to give the album a frame, which is this virtual exhibition, where each track is like a painting hanging on the wall, representing one solution to the Fermi Paradox.

Casey: When talking to The Dungeon in Deep Space, you explained that your music is created in a no budget, lo-fi kind of way, using an old PC, only using the integrated sound-card etc. Is this still the case, and what do you think that this minimalistic style of creation does for your creativity? I do a similar thing myself but it’s mainly to avoid overwhelm, perfectionism, and my OCD kicking my backside up and down all day long.

BlackWeald: Yeah, it’s still pretty much the case, although my PC aged 2 additional years, so it’s now 12 years old. Makes video rendering take ages. Although I bought the cheapest Behringer soundcard, so guitars and vocals can be recorded slightly more easily, but there are neither of them on The Fermi Exhibit.

BlackWeald Equipment Setup

The “no budget” nature is by my circumstances, not by my will. I’d love to have a dedicated room full of instruments and synths, having a top tier computer, etc, but that’s not my reality. Still, if you want to, you actually can compose and release with minimal gear and finances. Anyone saying otherwise is fooling themselves. My first few releases were made without a DAW, using only Audacity. Of course the methods used limit what the outcome can become. But, it is what it is.

Most of my favourite artists made music this way anyways. Sure, Swans has top tier gear, experience and several human talents behind them, but Dylan Carlson makes music almost all by himself, often with a single guitar only. Similarly, Hate Forest is practically one guy writing the best riffs ever and uses a drum machine. If my own favourites are often just “a dude with a guitar”, why would I fool myself thinking that gear matters the most.

I myself tend to overthink stuff by nature, so I have to keep pushing myself to accept “It’s good enough, move on!”. But also, restrictions can spark up creativity, whether they are artificial or not. So anyone planning a compilation work, feel free to ping me, as I love these kinds of works!


Thanks so much to BlackWeald for his time spent answering my questions. If you would like to check out The Fermi Exhibit, you can find it on Bandcamp at this link

The Fermi Exhibit Album Art

Saturday 11 November 2023

Dark Ambient: Shadowlands 4 Is Out Now!


Shadowlands 4 Art

Owl Ripper Recordings has just released a big slice of dark ambient and dungeon synth goodness: Shadowlands 4. I'm honoured to say that one of my own Reality Scruncher tracks, Breaching The Threshold, is nestling amongst the 19 other tracks it contains. Head over to Bandcamp to check it out. It's set to Name Your Price, which means you can even get it for free if you like.

Breaching The Threshold is from my Ennui and Terror in the Void album, and if you like the track, you might like to know that you can pick up any of my albums (or all of them) for 25% off until Sunday 12th Nov. Just enter "realityscrunched" at the Bandcamp checkout :).

Wednesday 27 September 2023

Dark Ambient Review: Mørketsland

Dark Ambient Review: Mørketsland

Review By Casey Douglass

Mørketsland Album Art

The technological progress of the modern world is amazing, but it can also feel oh so feeble. Our days are filled with the tedious “Marimba” of iPhones and the steady beep-beep of drip-fed pseudo approval from strangers. When held up against the heady, tangible world that the Vikings lived in, the present day appears to be little more than the cellophane wrapper on some tasty roasted boar meat that’s about to be offered to the Nordic gods. Mørketsland is a dark ambient album from ProtoU & Oljus, one that tears through the cellophane with its teeth.

Mørketsland contains echoing ritual drum beats, deep drones and eerie spirit-laced echoes that seem to bounce around a harsh, weather-swept landscape. Wind howls and swells, rain patters and drips, and distant thunder rumbles ominously in a pleasing, distant way. Every track of Mørketsland is a darkness-bathed, drum-fuelled homage to the Vikings, with the rites and chants being enacted by the voices almost certainly finding their way to the gods that they hope are listening.

I think that Spirits of the Water is probably my favourite of the seven tracks on the album. It begins with a low, slightly vibrating drone. A bell-like chime agitates the soundscape and a low chant begins. A slow echoing drumbeat is there also, and some strange little bird-like tweets. What sounds like distant thunder cracks in the distance, a ghostly vocal insinuating itself shortly after. Later, there are impressions of wind and waves, strange intonations, and as the drumbeat intensifies, a very deep vibrating tone. For me, this track felt like it was depicting a longboat out on open water, a moonlit fog enshrouding everything except the immediate blackness of the waves.

Wall of Thorns (ft Ager Sonus) is another track that really got my attention. It opens with low echoing drumbeats in a howling airy soundscape, the scratchy pattering of rain filling the ears with threat. There are rustles and creaks, and these are soon joined by a plucked melody and morose pipe notes. The soundscape slowly ratchets up into increasingly booming drum beats and ever busier howls, cries and swells of wind. The plucked melody, taken with the other elements of the track, gave me Witcher 3 or Game of Thrones flashbacks, which is a fun thing to return to.

All of the tracks of Mørketsland transport the listener into dark primal soundscapes, the kind of space in which the ritual drumbeats lend a trance-like energy to the swirling chaos and hardness of the landscapes hinted at. If you like your dark ambient to give you the impression of sitting in the firelight while the ever darkening shadows beyond its limits press every inwards, you might want to check out this album.

Visit the Mørketsland page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also check out the Spirits of the Water video below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Mørketsland

Album Artist: ProtoU & Oljus

Label: Cryo Chamber

Released: May 2, 2023

Wednesday 20 September 2023

Dark Ambient Review: Anima Mundi

Dark Ambient Review: Anima Mundi

Review By Casey Douglass

Anima Mundi Album Art

Interconnectedness is a concept that can provide a great sense of spiritual peace. On the flip side, it can also lead to thoughts about how the worst or most undesirable elements of life are also closer than you might think. BRTHRM’s Anima Mundi is a three track dark ambient EP (among other styles) that brings the mystery of life and nature into energetic, musical form.

I think that the first track, Enchanted Grove, is probably my favourite. It opens with the sounds of dripping water and a low drone, with wooden knockings and breathy sighs soon joining. There are creaks and scrapes that give the impression of movement, and high swelling notes and shimmers that float over everything. There is also a peaceful “ahh” like vocal that seems to wrap everything in wonder.

What I really enjoyed about the first track however, is around the midpoint, there are beeps, radio squeals, and electronic melodies that I feel turn things a little “technology meets nature”. For me, this track felt like a deactivated android lying dormant in a rainforest glade, but something triggers its booting routine and it stands and stares in wonder at the life flooding around it.

The second track, Immortal Legacy, felt more like watching a tiny creature emerging from mud. It begins with a low shuddering beat and a rattling vibration. There is a roaming hissing static and a tone that sharpens into a razor edge. The sound of a ticking clock nestles against this high tone, before an 8-bit video-game buzz and melody joins proceedings. A great whirring begins, taking on the aspect of an air-raid siren punctuated with distant machine-gun fire. Before you know it, a warm melody begins, giving everything a “day out in Candy Land” feel.

The soundscape then buzzes like an insect-hive, and it was at about this point that I had the mental image of evolution, and some struggling organism trying to survive and overcome the obstacles of life. Why my mind went to something emerging from mud I don’t really know, but for me, this track would sit well with the images that are frequently used when talking about the evolution of man, from an ape walking on all fours, to standing upright, to walking along wearing a hat and carrying a briefcase. There is a sadness and a quirkiness to the sense of overcoming, but it’s a fun track overall.

The final track is Divine Offering, and this one features a chant-filled dark space that brings to mind some secluded temple hidden in the mountains, with monks sending their prayers up to whatever force they think is listening. It’s a deep, restive track, with a variety of tones and rhythms that come to play in its droning soundscape.

Anima Mundi is an album that takes the listener on a tour that includes both big picture feelings, such as thousands of years passing, and also the smaller concerns of one individual organism struggling in the mud. The darkness that it sometimes contains is more than balanced out by the uplifting nature of the melodies around it. If you enjoy your ambient/dark ambient music when it’s nearer this balancing point of light and dark, I think that you might want to check out Anima Mundi.

Visit the Anima Mundi page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Anima Mundi

Album Artist: BRTHRM

Released: May 5, 2023

Friday 8 September 2023

Dark Ambient Review: Internal Winter

Dark Ambient Review: Internal Winter

Review By Casey Douglass

Internal Winter Artwork

There’s a pleasing irony in listening to music titled Internal Winter when the sun is shining brightly outside and the air is humid and heavy. Not only does it contrast in the most obvious of ways, but the meaning deepens when you consider how our internal landscapes can be so at odds with the external world. Examples of this might be someone contemplating suicide while smiling in the midst of their own birthday party, or someone else sitting alone on an isolated bench at the coast, happier than they’ve been for months as they watch the grey storm roll in.

G. M. Slater and Rojinski’s Internal Winter is a dark ambient album themed around “five journeys through inner demons, conflict, and turmoil” and is the perfect accompaniment for those moods when the difference between the internal and external is so great that you just want to laugh or cry in astonishment. It’s a dark and ominous album that’s full of thick, brooding soundscapes, with a wind-blasted droning and chiming aesthetic.

I think that the first track, A Blanket of Shadows, is my favourite. It opens with the sound of a gale and what sounds like echoing footsteps. There are wooden creakings and rustlings, punctuated by the occasional shrill whistle of the wind finding small cracks to howl through. Low tones and drones begin to sound at intervals amidst the crackling static of what might be snow on frosted windows. A faint chiming drone sparkles higher in the air, lending a notion of some light to what feels like a dark and decaying scene. The track grows more aggressive as time passes, with various of the tones and wind noises ramping up to create the precarious feeling of a tipping point being flirted with. I would say that the album artwork of the decrepit snow-covered house was designed for this track.

Tunnel of Disillusions is another track that stood out to me, as when I listened to it, I noted down that it felt like a hellish trip to Narnia. It begins with a reverberating chime and soft choral feeling, but soon deepens to create the sensation of being enveloped by a cacophony of whispers and voices. It feels claustrophobic and dark, with sharp-edged tones cutting the air. The insect-like vibrations sit alongside bell-like tolling, and things just seem to go down and down and down. Around the midpoint, things open out again, and I felt like I’d emerged from the tunnel mentioned in the track title. It feels a little like emerging into the farm of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre family, in tone at least. The heartbeat like rhythm and door slamming beat certainly rub nicely against the ahh-like drone floating above them.

Internal Winter is a fun journey into the shifting miseries of the human psyche. All of the tracks felt atmospheric and gritty, with enough elements of softness to prevent them from feeling a little too unrelenting. I felt that the higher drones and chimes lend a notion of looking for help from some higher power, while the lower elements do well to keep the listener mired in the mud and the murk. If you like your dark ambient heavy and questing, you’d do well to check out Internal Winter.

Visit the Internal Winter page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Internal Winter

Album Artist: Slater & Rojinski

Released: March 24, 2023

Friday 1 September 2023

Dark Ambient Album: The Abyss Hunts The Noisiest Prey

 Dark Ambient Album: The Abyss Hunts The Noisiest Prey

The Abyss Hunts The Noisiest Prey Artwork

I just released another album under my Reality Scruncher music project. It's called The Abyss Hunts The Noisiest Prey and is themed around a ritual that destroys the realities in which it is performed. I aimed for the music to reflect that notion, so each track is the audio impression of the event.

Tuesday 1 August 2023

Dark Ambient Review: Lost Loops Collection

Dark Ambient Review: Lost Loops Collection

Review By Casey Douglass

Lost Loops Collection Art

Mount Shrine was a dark ambient artist who was known for his soothing rainy dreamy droning creations. Sadly, Cesar passed away from Covid in the Spring of 2021, a fact that still makes me feel sad. Lost Loops Collection is a compilation of all of his currently known underground albums, EPs and singles, and was put out by the Cryo Chamber label earlier this year.

If you’ve yet to listen to Mount Shrine, I’ve always felt that the best way to describe his music is as a cosy “sitting by a rain speckled window, hearing the muted sounds of the surrounding environment” type experience. The sounds of the raindrops hits the ear like soft static, and the distant sounds of thunder, nature or civilization, are far enough away to feel safe yet interesting. Lulling might be another word that could aptly be thrown into the mix. Lost Loops Collection is FULL of this sentiment, with four hours of relaxing cosiness.

That being said, I'll be a bit perverse and say that my favourite track is something a little bit different: Grey Witch. This track is a dark, brooding track, one that feels ripe with occult energies and malignant presences. It opens with howling wind and low, smooth swells of drone. A vibratory edge swells and roams, with juddering pulses creating a kind of pressure wave feeling. There is a crumping, rasping atmosphere, and a general feeling of awakened evil seeping through a woodland at night. This is probably the darkest that I’ve heard Mount Shrine delve, and I love it.

Ghostly is another ominous track, but one that is lighter than Grey Witch. It opens with popping crackling static and swells of drone. What sounds like cars passing on a rain-drenched street splashes by as the pattering of rain on a glass window pane crystallises. Higher tones seem to roam from ear to ear as the track continues, with odd scraping sounds grabbing the attention at times. For me, this track brought to mind a haunted room overlooking a normal busy street, the objects being nudged by the poltergeist moving around unobserved by the modern world.

Staying with the theme of the otherworldly nestling against the normal world, the final track that I wanted to mention also fits this mould. The After Glow begins with a soothing downpour accompanied by thunder and an ethereal drone. As the track progresses, the drips and drops of rain begin to sound like they are hitting something metallic, and there is the sound of distant cars passing, wrapped up or muffled in the wind and rain. What this track suggested to me was a landed UFO squatting near a fairly busy road, but masked from view by a thin woodland. I don’t know why my mind went to this imagery but there is something in the music that hinted at the fortean again with me.

The tracks contained on Lost Loops Collection are all well worth listening to, and they all embody Mount Shrine’s way of creating beautiful soundscapes. If you enjoy relaxing rain and soothing atmospheres, you really can’t go wrong with four hours of Mount Shrine. Visit the link to Bandcamp below for more info. You might also like to read my interview with Cesar if you’d like to learn a little more about him. 

Visit the Lost Loops Collection page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also check out the Ghostly track below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Lost Loops Collection

Album Artist: Mount Shrine

Label: Cryo Chamber

Released: May 30, 2023

Tuesday 18 July 2023

Dark Ambient Album: Ennui And Terror In The Void

 Dark Ambient Album: Ennui And Terror In The Void

Ennui And Terror In The Void Album Art

I just released my fifth dark ambient album under my Reality Scruncher music project: Ennui And Terror In The Void. It's a dark ambient / space ambient album that sees a return to the horrors of deepest space. The album is also set in a suitably bleak future, which is par for the course with me lol.

If you like your dark ambient droning, minimalistic and sinister, you can check it out on Bandcamp. You can also currently pick up free Bandcamp codes for my album on

Saturday 15 July 2023

Dark Ambient Review: HORS

Dark Ambient Review: HORS

Review By Casey Douglass

HORS Album Art

How we see the world has a profound impact on our view of life, so when photography and dark ambient music come together to create a new or a different way of seeing, it’s something to take a closer look at. An album that does just this is HORS, an experimental ambient project inspired by the photos of photographer David Siodos.

Browsing David Siodos’ website, and perusing the photos used for the HORS album artwork, it’s easy to see why the interplay between the photographer and the musician is a tasty one. David’s photos have a kind of graininess, for lack of a better word, a darkness and dreaminess that falls across certain of the images like snow, the way that some of the elements become silhouettes amidst a Silent Hill style fog, lending the photos a dreamy, yet realistic quality.

The music of HORS strikes up a pleasing parallel with the moods evoked by the photographer. The tracks have a droning, industrial texture, creating some lovely fuzzy walls that the small, detail sounds struggle to pierce. There is a warmth to be found in the soundscapes though, alongside some darker impressions of things shifting or encroaching on the reality presented.

Wasteland is my favourite track, as I felt it to be the audio-equivalent of a tiny flower managing to grow in the middle of an abandoned factory’s floor. A throbbing bassy drone emerges with muffled snatches of fuzz. An undulating tone screeches forlornly and is soon joined by warm piano notes. Things burst through into a soft summery haze of lighter melody and texture, with flute-like notes playing at the high end of the soundscape. A pleasing harshness persists however. This track also feels like sunlight piercing the gloom, and the hints of what seem to be bird tweets in the second half lend weight to this feeling.

Industrial Things is another track that gave me some fun mental images, but certainly veers towards the darker end of the spectrum. The track opens with a pulsing, throbbing mixture of static and bass, with a strange almost vocal-like mewling, stretched out into a tasty slab of reverb. Twisting high pitched tones accompany it, with a low pulsing below. A rhythmic collection of vibrating tones kicks off, giving the impression of a mechanical heartbeat. Expansive swells of guitar-like tones wail along with proceedings too, lending a sharpness to things at times, which I particularly liked. This track, for me, was part train journey through a neglected industrial area, part demonic printing press stamping out receipts for the souls yet to be purchased. Dark and rhythmic.

The first track, Incoming, is also a track that I wanted to mention. This one also features a guitar-like fuzz and hum, droning into existence alongside wailing high tones and scratchy notes. These notes seem to take on an alarm-like feel, and the static-filled space led me to feeling like a tiny particle in the midst of a fuzzy storm. This track felt part electron-mating call, part digital-ghosts infesting the TV signal. It felt warm and peaceful, although it was probably the kind of warm and peaceful that only a dark ambient or experimental music fan would appreciate.

HORS is a dark ambient album that is both noisy and muted in different, but interesting ways. The interplay between the elements of each track strike up some pleasing friction and textures, and on the whole, it felt very “switching the foreground and the background around”, which I think gels well with the photography that it’s based on. Definitely an album to check out if you like your dark ambient industrial, drone-heavy, and interplaying with another art form.

Visit the HORS page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also see some of the photography that it is inspired by on the David Siodos website.

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: HORS

Album Artist: HORS

Released: Nov 25, 2022

Wednesday 28 June 2023

Dark Ambient Review: The Curse of Spring-Heeled Jack

Dark Ambient Review: The Curse of Spring-Heeled Jack

Review By Casey Douglass

The Curse of Spring-Heeled Jack Art

It’s funny how the ghouls and spectres from the non-digital past seem to be all that much more mysterious and sinister for it. The fog of hand-me-down memories and the way that we always think that we know better than our more “simple” or less “enlightened” ancestors creates a strange kind of grittiness to the topic, an almost feral air of interest. For The Curse of Spring-Heeled Jack, criptid corraller and myth master Mombi Yuleman has turned his attention to the bouncy and sinister Victorian folklore of Spring-Heeled Jack.

Spring-Heeled Jack was the name that society bestowed on the perpetrator of a number of mysterious attacks in Victorian Britain, his most popularised characteristic being his ability to jump to great heights. He was also apparently of a sinister aspect, and at the time, set imaginations and hearts racing. Mombi’s musical style of bouncy electronic notes and rhythms lends itself so well to this subject matter, and from the very first track, this smoke-laden, industrial slab of British history jiggles and jounces into the listener’s lugs.

The opening track, Hammersmith 1837, does a great job of setting the scene and feel of the album. A bubbling, clock-ticking, bell-like opening produces bouncy notes and melodies, backed by choral swells, organ tones and guitar chugging. For me, this track had “chase music” written all over it, and I had a pleasing mental impression of Victorian London at midnight, pale moonlight illuminating chimney smoke, and the fleeting shadow that happens to be bounding from rooftop to rooftop. The latter half of the track features a kind of whirling, helicopter “whup-ping” sound which greatly aids in this mental image. A fun but also sinister track.

Another track that really stood out for me is Jack be Nimble, Jack be Quick. Sitting at just under three minutes long, it opens with a mechanical, hissing, factory-like environment. Twisting plucked notes and a bulbous deep tone sit in the soundscape alongside a knocking beat and sounds of activity. A ghostly chorus emerges with a squelchy melody, and then, manic laugher backed by what sounds like a hammer hitting an anvil. This is another track that suggested the notion of being chased to me. Maybe Spring-Heeled Jack is trying to evade capture by bounding through an active foundry?

The Devil’s Footprints follows, and begins with a warped clockwork knocking rhythm. It’s a fuzzy track, but one that features a gnat-like melody that really buzzes into your mind. This track had a melancholy or at the least, a more peaceful feel. Maybe this track is depicting the carnage left in Jack’s wake, the common city-dwelling folk waking up and finding bloodstains outside of their homes. A really enjoyable track and a different kind of mood, although that mood does shift slightly as the track approaches its conclusion.

I briefly wanted to mention two more tracks that grabbed me. I enjoyed Exploits at the Astronomical Clock for its “heist movie” feel, particularly when the string-like notes emerge in the latter half. Terrorizing the SS also really comes to mind as a great track that would sit well behind a newspaper headline montage in a movie, the escalating headlines backed by its blend of stabby notes and darting strings. They both have the urgent feeling of “things happening”, which is something that I enjoyed.

The Curse of Spring-Heeled Jack struck me in a very “filmic” way, the visual impressions and movie angles that I seem to have pondered only something that I noticed when writing this review. This is to Mombi’s credit of course, and shows why he chose “soundtrack” as one of the tags for this album on Bandcamp. The album is full of fast, bouncy, and often jaunty melodies, but all backed with that twisting, creeping weirdness that Mombi is so good at injecting. As in his previous album Witch-Works, and others, Mombi has brought the Halloween-type spirit to a dark piece of British folklore. If you enjoy forteana with a light-hearted yet sinister aspect, you’d do well to check out The Curse of Spring-Heeled Jack.

P.S You might also like to check out Mark Hodder’s Burton and Swinburne series of books, the first of which is called The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, an excellent steampunk alternate history saga that I read some years ago.

Visit the The Curse of Spring-Heeled Jack page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: The Curse of Spring-Heeled Jack

Album Artist: Mombi Yuleman

Released: Feb 3, 2023

Friday 23 June 2023

Stoicism: Stoa App Review

Stoicism: Stoa App Review

Review by Casey Douglass

Stoa App

The philosophy of Stoicism gained its name by being taught on the “painted porch”, or stoa, in ancient Greece. It was a philosophy very much of the people, and its street-side nature was as open a way as any for passers-by to have their interest piqued. Stoa is a smartphone app that aims to bring Stoicism to our modern “digital streets”, in the hope that many more people might experience the benefits of the mindful Stoic outlook on life.

I won’t go too in-depth about what Stoicism is, save to say that the Stoic philosophy is very different to being small “s” stoic. The first is aware of the role that our value judgements play in everyday life, those things that we label as good or bad, and the way that these judgements affect our emotions. A Stoic wants to develop their character and to live well in the world. The latter tries to hide all external expression of certain emotions, and more than likely tries to repress them so that they don’t even feel them. The first is wise. The latter is a breakdown (or a meltdown) waiting to happen.

Stoa App Courses
A brief look at some of the courses

Stoa gives the user access to a whole host of meditations and teachings from the ancient Stoics, and it does this by letting the user digest concepts in small, manageable routines. Each day, the main page of Stoa will present your current lesson, broken down into a number of sections: A quote, the theory behind it, a meditation practice incorporating this idea, an invitation to make a commitment to practise, and a chance to note if you followed through. I really appreciated this layout, as often, any internal resistance towards starting the daily lesson was soon banished by even just reading the quote, a micro-action that takes all of a few seconds.

When I first started to explore the Stoa app, I also happened to slip into a severe period of depression (unrelated to using the app). Even though I’ve read about, and attempted to practise, Stoic philosophy for a decent number of years now, I still found myself struggling to muster the motivation to even look inside the app. This is where each lesson being broken down into tiny steps really helped, as I just tried to read the quote each day. Some days, once I’d read the quote, I saw that the theory audio was so short (often only a few minutes) that I thought I’d listen to that too. After this, I was almost half way through the lesson, although I often stopped when I got to the meditation section, as at the time, I couldn’t cope with some of those.

Stoa App Main Page
The Stoa App main page

The meditations are really well done and helpfully give the listener some guidance with how to reflect on and digest the notions of the day. I did enjoy the more mindfulness-based ones but during my dip into depression, I found a good number of the meditations included elements that required me to think about a problem and to visualise it in a new way, such as how I’d most like to respond. This is valuable advice and direction but I just couldn’t do it while depressed; my mind couldn’t even grasp some of the concepts that I already knew at that point. I was just content to read my quote and listen to my lesson of the day.

When using Stoa, you aren’t restricted to the lesson of the day, there are all manner of other audio and written resources in the app. You can delve into various elements of Stoic theory, learn about the lives of the most well-known Stoics, such as Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus, and even listen to some brilliant conversations about Stoic topics, conducted between the Stoa team, or with other experts in the field. You can access some of these conversations at Stoa Conversations. I really valued listening to these conversations as they often branched out into other areas of life, such as creativity, how to deal with bullying, and with fake news. A good chunk of my “minutes” shown below came from listening to the podcasts.

Stoa App Streak
My best month regarding my "streak"

Stoa was created by Caleb Ontiveros and Michael Tremblay, two philosophy lovers who have come together to spread a little more Stoic wisdom in the world. While there are already some excellent books that break Stoic ideas down into day-sized chunks, Stoa really benefits from its digital form and the way that we nearly always have our smartphones close at hand. The mild gamification (streak counting) and the low-effort positive psychological principles in the app design (such as pressing a button to commit to your practice) all create a feeling of progressing, without hitting you over the head with too much. Stoicism is, after all, a life-long process, where repeated visits to a topic, with many periods of reflection, is usually needed to get said topic to travel from “head to heart” so to speak. From mere thought to knowing. Stoa makes this a pleasing, interesting experience and, even if I don’t keep those streaks going, I know it’s an app that I will return to again and again.

You can find out more information about Stoa on the website. Pricing details are below, and also links to the Apple and Google app stores. If you are interested in the app and genuinely can't afford it, you can also get in touch with Stoa who will give you a free account. You can find details about this on their website.

I was given free access to this app for review purposes

App Name: Stoa

Developer: Zeno Apps LLC

Platforms: Apple App Store & Google Play Store

Price: Free 7 day trial, then £8.99 / $9.99 per month or £46.99 / $69.99 per year.

Saturday 17 June 2023

Dark Ambient Review: Tsathoggua

Dark Ambient Review: Tsathoggua

Review By Casey Douglass

Tsathoggua Artwork

Any H.P Lovecraft fan will likely have marked the annual Cryo Chamber collaboration, released in his honour, on the calender. Or maybe on a piece of ancient paper, one that gives off sinister crackles of green light when it feels a pen’s embrace. Tsathoggua is the newest entry to the Cryo Chamber Lovecraftian catalogue, paying its dues to the toad-like Old One.

As in previous Cryo Chamber Lovecraftian collabs, Tsathoggua consists of two tracks, each just under an hour long. In the broadest of strokes, I’d describe the soundscapes as made up of buzzing, vibrating tones, with lots of little scuffling echoes and insect-like ululations. The drones are supported by a variety of ritual drumbeats, juddery string notes, and shrill pipings, with occasional deep crumping impacts that rumble through the environment. With the toad-like god in mind, Tsathoggua tends to feel wet, close, swampy and at times, cavernous.

One of the highlights for me was around the 34 minute mark of track one. There is something about the five minutes or so that comes next, that I felt pleasantly dragged my mind out from the misty subterranean mire and that hinted at Lovecraft’s world rubbing up against our own, much like Randolph Carter and his dream wanderings in search of Kadath. Where Carter might have heard hoof-beats and anvils (if he heard anything at all), our world seems to impinge at this moment with a number of technological beeps, squeals and tones. This sequence begins with some clattering swells and what I noted as “corrupt organ music” so if you check out the album, listen out for it.

Tsathoggua isn’t all unrelenting gloom however, there are some sequences where things lighten a little, with high tones and drones shining like a pure crystal in the darkness. There are impressions of wind, rain and a static that serves as a kind of balm to the listener’s mind. I was really struck by this at the end of track one when the soundscape had a feeling of “the ordeal is over”. I’d like to add that I mean this with regards to an imaginary protagonist who has traipsed through the strange twisted world hinted at by the music, not that listening to the music is an ordeal! This feeling also made the commencement of the second track a “lets go back in” kind of notion, with unfinished business threatening the delicate tranquillity just recently found.

Highlights of the second track were, around the 7 minute mark, a segment that felt like a small nod to Lovecraft’s The Beast in the Cave. An ape-like hoo-haa-haa sound signals a stretch of track that is a veritable storm-swell of sound. There is a drumbeat, bouncing elastic swells and a windy creaking feeling. The synth, when it appears, gave me that Silent Hill, “sunlight through mist” feeling, the distant cries and candyfloss crackles hinting at a funfair that you might not ever want to visit. At around the 30 minute mark, there is also a section that I noted down as “The Prowling Abyss”, which is a lovely, hollow, dripping environment to let seep into your mind.

Tsathoggua is a remarkable Lovecraftian slab of audio-meat to feast your dark ambient chops upon. Even though I very much enjoyed the previous Cryo Chamber collabs, for me, Tsathoggua is up there with Azathoth and Cthulhu, which are my two absolute favourites. If you follow Cryo Chamber’s dark ambient music output, the chances are that you already have this album and none of this is news to you. Good on you! If you aren’t this person however, let my words kindle a spark of interest in your soul and go and check out Tsathoggua.

Visit the Tsathoggua page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Tsathoggua

Album Artist: Cryo Chamber Collaboration

Label: Cryo Chamber

Released: 27 Dec, 2022

Sunday 11 June 2023

Dark Ambient: The First Year of Reality Scruncher

Dark Ambient: The First Year of Reality Scruncher

Reality Scruncher

Things often exist without a name, even if that label is created a little later. Before the notion of Reality Scruncher came along, I found myself attempting to create music similar to the artists that I most enjoy, trying to capture that glorious, awe inspiring quality that the dark ambient genre holds.

I enjoyed creating sinister drones. I enjoyed wandering the house with my Zoom H1 in hand, creating my own field recordings to toy with. I enjoyed how a track coalesced into something, that even with my own lack of music creation chops, nevertheless, sounded like what I was hoping for.

My initial tracks ended up on my Soundcloud page and as a handful of videos on my YouTube channel, but not for long. I don’t really rate Soundcloud as a platform, it mainly seemed like “bot-city” to me, and so I deleted my years old account. My YouTube offerings got culled when I left social media in the Summer of 2022, although I did ultimately return to YouTube as it’s the most convenient place to post videos, in my opinion anyway.

A few months later, I got the itch to attempt to merge some of my previously created tracks into an entire dark ambient album and put it up for free on Bandcamp. This turned out to be Deep Space Impingement, a rumbling, droning space-infused album in a minimalist horror style. This is also when I had to create my music project name, concocting Reality Scruncher as a reference to the other realities that I hoped to create and destroy with my music.

I gave out a lot of free Bandcamp codes for Deep Space Impingement, and it also got a good number of free downloads through the “free” button on its Bandcamp page. Dave over at The Dungeon in Deep Space gave it a very kind review, as did some other kind people, and all in all I was very pleased with how it turned out.

Since then, I’ve released four more albums:

The Miasmic Bridge, themed around occult spirit communication and unnerving, looming drones.

Nature Abhors A Personality Vacuum, a brief three track album about a depressed man being swallowed by nature. Yes, I was deeply depressed at the time.

Hell Isn’t Physical, It’s Digital! a collaboration with musician Scott Lawlor, playing with notions of Hell and technology.

Bootleg Virtue Injection, an album with a concept set in the tech-infused future, where a lone hacker finds a way to make the ancient philosophy of Stoicism more accessible to the people who want it.

Very recently, I decided to set my albums to “£1 or more” on Bandcamp, and was pleasantly surprised to make my first couple of sales. I didn’t think it would happen to be honest and still found myself amazed that people even wanted my music for free.

Making dark ambient music has become an enjoyable hobby for me, but as is the case with anything that I start to get into, my mental and physical health slaps it down and makes it hellish for me to move forward.

My OCD picks away at things, my chronic fatigue sees me struggling to sit at the PC for more than 30 minutes, and my depression rolls in with stuff like “What’s the point?” and “The people who listen to your stuff are only being nice”.

Even so, I didn’t expect to be sitting here a year on, with a few albums to my name, a collab and a few pennies from real money sales. So thank you to everyone who has ever listened to my music, even just once. Even if it wasn’t your kind of thing. And if it was and you enjoyed it, even better!

I hope to create more, and I hope to make more progress with the technical side of things too. Time will tell.

Thanks for reading :)

Wednesday 17 May 2023

YouTube Review: Detroit: Become Human (PS4)

If you like story-heavy games that make you think about deeper questions, you might like to check out my review of Detroit: Become Human over on YouTube:

Friday 28 April 2023

Dark Ambient Album: Bootleg Virtue Injection

 Dark Ambient Album: Bootleg Virtue Injection

Bootleg Virtue Injection Art

I've released another album under my Reality Scruncher music persona: Bootleg Virtue Injection. It's a droning, synthy, stormy dark ambient album in which I wanted to pay homage to the ancient Greek philosophy of Stoicism. It’s the most compelling philosophy that I’ve ever studied or practised, and it is also one about which we only really know a tiny fraction of what they taught. I wanted to echo this in the way that I framed the album, sitting it in a future where even more has been lost. This is an “eyes closed, headphones on, comfy bed” type album, one in which the tones dance in murkiness and obfuscation, slowly edging towards a clarity and strength as the track progresses.

Description: The year is 2314. Life has devolved into a quantum-tech-infused dictatorship. Knowledge is lost daily, and even though the world appears to sparkle, it’s rotting from the inside out. 

A lone hacker decides not to stand for it. 

Trawling the most illegal avenues of the online world, they comb through the meagre bones of the Stoic philosophy and manage to create a dirty injection patch for their own black-market implants. A hack that aids the mind in uncovering the owner’s buried Virtues, hot-wiring synapses into behavioural inclinations that bring forth the innate Wisdom, Courage, Temperance and Justice that reside deep inside. It works. 

Months later, the hacker creates an audio file that stealthily injects the Stoic code into the most common of hearing-boosting implants, one that more than ninety percent of the world uses. The layers of tone shift and obfuscate, creating twirling cascades that bedazzle the monitoring technology and seduce the listener’s mind. 

For now at least, the security protocols can’t detect the hidden instructions. 

For now at least, willing people have a way to jump-start their path into becoming what they were meant to be. 

Just look for the owl. 

It might be nesting in a hidden frame of your favourite show. It might be an after-image that you can see if a certain dazzling pattern flashes from an advert. It might even be a lone “hoot” whispering in your favourite audiocast. 

Wisdom is watching.

Bootleg Virtue Injection is currently free on Bandcamp, with plenty of codes for people to add it to their library if they like it enough to do so. Thanks for checking it out :).

Wednesday 12 April 2023

Dark Ambient Album: Hell Isn't Physical, It's Digital!

 Dark Ambient Album: Hell Isn't Physical, It's Digital!

Hell Isn't Physical, It's Digital! Art

A few months ago, ambient artist Scott Lawlor kindly asked if I fancied collaborating with him on a dark ambient album. Hell Isn't Physical, It's Digital! is the result, an ominous album full of looming threat and dark impulses. The album description:

"A depressed programmer, the Internet, and the whims of Chance ignite a spark of dark genius that would be better left unlit. 

A new way of seeing reality is birthed, the sticky tendrils of corruption and sin eschewing the physical and instead, embracing the ones and zeroes that flood our world. 

A brooding and sinister dark ambient collaboration from the minds of Reality Scruncher and Scott Lawlor, an album that shows where you must not tread, and then forces you to go there regardless."

You can find it on Bandcamp and it is currently set to Name Your Price.

Saturday 11 March 2023

Dark Ambient Album: Nature Abhors A Personality Vacuum

I've released a new dark ambient album called Nature Abhors A Personality Vacuum. It's currently free on Bandcamp.

Friday 10 February 2023

Dark Ambient Review: Rastakhiz

Dark Ambient Review: Rastakhiz

Review By Casey Douglass

Rastakhiz Album Art

We live in a world of judgement, a world in which our actions and motives are evaluated by those nearest to us, or even strangers who might hear about them. It’s not that surprising that judgement is a big element of many religious faiths, whether the judging we do ourselves, or the judgement we might receive when we die. Rastakhiz is a dark ambient album from Dodenskald, the title meaning Judgement Day in the Persian language.

Dark ambient is a fantastic genre for portraying enormous ideas, especially those that seem larger than life or more mystical in nature. I have very little understanding of Islam so I won’t be able to draw on the deeper meanings behind the track titles, although Google did helpfully tell me that Israfil is the trumpet-blowing angel who starts the Day of Judgement. I simply tried to go into this album open to any imagery that the music created, aware of my ignorance as to what might also be implied.

Rastakhiz, for me, was a peaceful album. Any moments that gave me a gentle jolt came from the way that a number of the tracks play with the timing of the music, an audio element pausing suddenly and then resuming a few moments later. I really liked this and it’s a tremendous way of rousing a drone-lulled listener enough to refocus on the track in question.

Opening track, Israfil’s Horn, is a great opening track. It begins with low, string-like notes and a shimmering melody. It’s smooth and lulling, and once you are used to the general pattern, it pauses for an instant and then resumes, in one of those ways I mentioned above. Horn-like notes begin to sound, backed by the metaphysical shimmer, a deep throb and a high whistle responding. This is a track that embodies the summoning of something, a bringing forth that is beautiful and also ominous.

At The Gates of Oblivion is one of my favourite tracks, as for me, it was one of the darkest. It proceeds with a slowly growing drone, one that’s soon accompanied by a warm reverberation and echoing windy scufflings. The “scufflings” almost sound like creatures hissing and sighing in a dark cavern. There are brief periods of low notes that start and stop, build and crest and fall. For me, these low notes add a note of mischievousness to the soundscape, of powerful entities watching across the breadth of the abyss, plotting how to entice people inside.

Another track that I really enjoyed was To Heaven And Hell, the last track on the album. This is a low, languid track that seems part funeral procession, part infinite hike into the afterlife. The deep tones are backed by a metallic pulsing shimmer, and once more, they stop and start at times. Near the midpoint, they’re also joined by melancholy piano-like notes, which adds an extra layer of delicacy to things. I wrote in my notes that I found this track to be peaceful yet provoking, and also desolate, yet warm and embracing, which is quite a range of emotion I know. A great track.

Rastakhiz isn’t like any other dark ambient album that I’ve ever listened to, as far as my memory allows at least. It offers a graceful experience of a looming end, and does it in such a way that the mind can appreciate the beauty and the horror, and maintain some kind of stability, even in the face of some of the biggest ideas and themes. If my review has piqued your interest, you can visit the Rastakhiz page on Bandcamp below. You might also like to check out my review of one of Dodenskald’s previous albums: The Book.

Visit the Rastakhiz page on Bandcamp for more information.

Album reviewed by streaming via its Bandcamp page.

Album Title: Rastakhiz

Album Artist: Dodenskald

Released: 22 Nov 2022

Saturday 4 February 2023

Dark Film Review: Apocryphal

Dark Film Review: Apocryphal

Review by Casey Douglass

Apocryphal Poster

The way that a message is delivered is crucial to whether we believe it or not. We live in a time when ideas and perspectives are rejected not on the basis of their worth, but on the basis of who said them or dared put them forward. Apocryphal is a new short horror film from Josh Armstrong, one that deals with issues of mental health, drug addiction and marginalisation, depicting what happens when they rub up against extraordinary circumstances and consensus reality.

Apocryphal Still

Apocryphal centres around three friends living on the fringes of society whilst trying to score their next drug fix. The film shifts through time between Oliver (Michael Southgate) trying to convince two detectives about a strange event that he witnessed, and the viewer being shown how said events unfolded. Oliver tries to plot a course through his life, attempting to get a job and to find a way to pay the rent, but the spectre of his addiction looms large. Oliver sometimes sees things that aren’t there, and the only friends who understand him or make time for him seem to be the two people that will keep him mired in the life that he is living.

Apocryphal Still

The “event” in Apocryphal, the thing that causes Oliver to end up being interviewed by the police, is portrayed very well. I won’t spoil it, but it’s creepy, sci-fi and believably filmed. I particularly appreciated the lighting effects. The element that I most enjoyed however, was the questions that the film insinuates in the viewer’s mind, especially with regards to what is real and what Oliver thinks is real. My favourite moment is when the realities seem to bleed into each other, with Oliver seemingly saved by something that I believe was only “real” to him, if that makes sense. I didn’t expect such a lovely blend of reality twisting, and it was a nice surprise.

Apocryphal Still

Apocryphal deals with themes of suffering, addiction, escape and loss, in a way that I felt was layered and nuanced, which was a fantastic thing to see. The opening voice-over says that the thing we all have in common is that we suffer, and that is definitely true. When it comes to my own mental and physical health problems and my urge to escape, I’ve never tried illegal drugs, but I’ve never had access to them either, so who can say how my life might have turned out if I had. When the world turns its back on you, when all the places that you can go to for “help” say that they can’t do anything for you, or worse, mistreat or disbelieve you, I can totally understand why drugs as a way to cope or escape becomes so alluring. Yet even knowing this, I can honestly say that if I knew someone was on drugs, and they told me that they’d seen something similar to what Oliver witnesses, I’d more than likely not believe them either, which is a prickly thought, but one worth being aware of.

Apocryphal Still

Apocryphal was the subject of a successful Kickstarter project, so it’s great to see how a project can go from tentative beginnings to emerging into the world. The film is now being submitted to the film festival circuit, so I can’t give any idea about when and where you can see it just yet. I will embed the trailer below however. Apocryphal is dedicated to the memory of a friend of the director who passed away due to drug addiction, with any profits that the director personally makes going to the mental health charity Mind UK.


Film Title: Apocryphal

Themes: Mental Health, Drugs, Addiction, Horror

Director: Josh Armstrong

Main Cast: Michael Southgate, Emily Tucker, Alex Arnold, Kaysha Woollery, Sam Terry.

Music: Reg Length

Distributor: Last Dog Films