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