Tag: Lovecraftian

A Cryo Chamber Collaboration – Yog-Sothoth – Review

Artist: A Cryo Chamber Collaboration
Album: Yog-Sothoth
Release date: 7 November 2017
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. Yog-Sothoth 1 – 1:01:08
02. Yog-Sothoth 2 – 56:49

Full roster of contributing artists:
ProtoU
Sjellos
Alphaxone
Gydja
Kristoffer Oustad
Aegri Somnia
Kammarheit
Darkrad
Atrium Carceri
Randal Collier-Ford
Neizvestija
Council of Nine
Dronny Darko
Flowers for Bodysnatchers
God Body Disconnect
Keosz
Kolhoosi 13
Northumbria
Sij
Ugasanie

Cryo Chamber are continuing to push the limits of what fans can expect from them. The label has been incredibly successful over the last few years in bringing a new generation of listeners to the genre of dark ambient. Through a heavy presence on Youtube and Spotify, Cryo Chamber prove that the use of these free channels of listening can and will result in increased overall exposure and the slow but steady recruitment of die-hard followers that will ultimately support the label for years to come. We have recently seen the first vinyl release from Cryo Chamber on Black Corner Den by Atrium Carceri and Cities Last Broadcast. Now we see another first for the label in this beautiful digibook physical edition, which houses some incredibly unique artwork. The music, as we’ve grown to expect over the last three Lovecraftian releases by the label, is also of top-notch quality, and provides the perfect soundscapes for extended reading sessions of H.P. Lovecraft‘s weird fiction.

Yog-Sothoth, as with the previous Lovecraft inspired albums from Cryo Chamber, focuses on one specific deity in the mythos H.P. Lovecraft created almost a century ago. Yog-Sothoth, while maybe not the most recognized in pop-culture, is probably the most frequently referred to of Lovecraft’s gods within his own tales. Yog-Sothoth, albeit indirectly, played a huge part in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward as well as The Dunwich Horror. In The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, written in early 1927, Yog-Sothoth is mentioned for the first time. His name is part of an incantation which Ward finds in writings of his ancestor Joseph Curwen.

Y’AI ‘NG’NGAH,
YOG-SOTHOTH
H’EE–L’GEB
F’AI THRODOG
UAAAH

As Ward reads more of these texts he begins to learn many of the ancient secrets which Curwen discovered and manipulated for his own purposes. Through the storyline of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, Lovecraft gives readers a rare glimpse into some of the real mechanics behind this particular god. So often in his stories, we are left to imagine most of the specifics. I will not go into these specifics here, as uncovering the details is a huge part of the suspense of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and it’s my personal favorite of Lovecraft’s works. So I highly recommend anyone that hasn’t already read the story to give it a try! You will find this Cryo Chamber release to be the perfect background music for reading that particular novella.

While The Case of Charles Dexter Ward referred to Yog-Sothoth in the context of ancient knowledge, The Dunwich Horror gives the deity a more central role. Through a ritual performed by Old Man Whateley, Yog-Sothoth is able to father Whateley’s grandson, Wilbur Whateley. As the story progresses Lovecraft reveals the secrets kept in the Whateley household, and the tale ends in a brilliant climax which directly relates to Yog-Sothoth. Again, revealing much more of the plot would take all the fun out of it for readers that haven’t yet read The Dunwich Horror, so I will recommend that you also give this one a read!

Yog-Sothoth is the first Cryo Chamber album to be presented in a digibook format. This particular format gives Simon Heath (Atrium Carceri, Sabled Sun), who is responsible for the layout and artwork included, the opportunity to make a sort of recreation of an old tome like the one Ward discovers in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Heath has included in the booklet some excellent passages pulled directly from various works of H.P. Lovecraft, most prominently The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and the short but brilliant tale “The Other Gods”. The booklet is all the more impressive for Heath’s use of his own imagination in creating various diagrams, symbolic charts, and other tidbits of data which would likely have been found in Joseph Curwen’s ancient tomes.

From my first encounter with the latest Lovecraftian mega-collaboration, Yog-Sothoth, I felt a sense that things were a bit different this time around. I’ve had several shifts in my overall opinion of the album over the last few weeks as I’ve played and replayed Yog-Sothoth upwards of twenty times. The first thing that stands out is its seeming to lean in a lighter direction than the previous installments. There are ritual elements here, and nature driven field recordings which both add to the darker atmospheres of the release, but there are also a number of sections where the dronework seems to have a light-hearted, hopeful sort of feel to it. How these various elements are interpreted will likely be different for everyone, and others may find the same sense of discovery and rediscovery that I’ve found over many deep-listening sessions.

There are subtle clues throughout the two hours of soundscapes that point toward instances of Yog-Sothoth appearing in various Lovecraft tales. These subtle uses could easily be overlooked, which gives a tangible purpose for listening to the album multiple times before casting any definitive judgments. As a die-hard fan of dark ambient music, I’ve found over the years that my favorite releases tend to be the ones that take a little extra time to fully appreciate. Those that boldly present their full depth in the first listen, often give little reward for going back and re-listening time and time again.

Yog-Sothoth was created in a similar fashion to its predecessors: Cthulhu, Azathoth and Nyarlathotep. It is a collaboration of incredible depth. The process is done by each of the twenty artists presenting layers of sound, which are then used by other artists which edit and manipulate these original layers. In this way, it becomes basically impossible to say that any particular part of the album was done by a specific artist. One might hear an element which seems to clearly be sourced from Ugasanie, but the element in question would likely be one of many layers, sourced from a number of different artists, which are all then used by another artist before returning to Simon Heath where there would potentially be even more editing. Nevertheless, it can be fun to try and pinpoint various elements provided by specific artists and seeing how they fit into the grander scheme of the release. With all that said, this seems to be a very unique production process which I would say has likely not been used before by another set of artists. These Lovecraftian albums by Cryo Chamber really do fit into a category of their own.

As I stated earlier, this album has a bit of a different feel to it than the previous three releases in the Lovecraft series. Many of its deeper characteristics will take multiple listens before any concrete judgment could be made about the album. That in itself is a positive to me. The digibook adds another new element to the series. I highly recommend picking up the physical version of this release to have a hands-on experience of browsing through these selected passages from Lovecraft’s texts as well as admiring the brilliant artwork created by Simon Heath. Cryo Chamber continues, with Yog-Sothoth, to push the boundaries of their genre and the industry standards of dark ambient. The music is incredibly thought-provoking and the visuals are in a class of their own. I, for one, will be pleased to see this series continuing for years to come, Lovecraft’s mythos and the pool of talent at Cryo Chamber are both fertile for many more iterations of this sort of release.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Conarium – Lovecraftian Videogame Review

Developer: Zoetrope Interactive
Publisher: Iceberg Interactive
Release date: 6 June 2017
Platforms: PC (Steam) / XboxOne / PS4

Conarium is a first person puzzle horror adventure game created by Zoetrope and Iceberg Interactive. Zoetrope previously known for their Darkness Within series have returned to the same genre with a much more ambitious title in Conarium. Conarium builds its background upon a framework of elements straight from the stories of H.P. Lovecraft. Incorporating much of his lore from use of settings to stories of the origins of our planet, Conarium becomes the perfect game for even the most dedicated of Lovecraft readers.

The game takes the perspective of Frank Gilman, one of a crew of scientists working to uncover some ancient hidden knowledge. The team has gone to Antarctica to follow in the footsteps of the ill-fated expedition that featured in the H.P. Lovecraft novella, At The Mountains Of Madness. Gilman and crew are searching for clues to unlock the secrets of an ancient device called the conarium. As the story progresses and the history of the device begins to unfold, Gilman finds himself in an elaborate and maddening set of circumstances.

Quite a few games throughout the years have been marketed as “Lovecraftian”, yet rarely do they go much deeper into the lore than calling some squid creature Cthulhu or imagining some world filled with other varieties of tentacled creatures. Zoetrope have proven that their understanding of Lovecraft’s lore goes much deeper than the usual fare. At every turn in Conarium there are numerous references to Lovecraft’s work. From something as simple as a fleeting mention of the Necronomicon to much more elaborate constructs. The story behind Conarium brilliantly builds itself around the concepts originally mapped out in At The Mountains Of Madness. We find ourselves in an era accurate depiction of an Antarctic scientific base. The developments that took place during Lovecraft’s novella have direct influence on the story of Conarium.

While the game clearly focuses most heavily on its relation to At The Mountains Of Madness, avid Lovecraft readers will find a plethora of references to other Lovecraft stories. Early in the game, we experience elements taken straight from The Whisperer In Darkness. Not just allusions to the story, but actual concepts that were laid out by Lovecraft directly influence Gilman’s adventure to uncover the ancient lost knowledge of the conarium devices. In other instances smaller details like statues of creatures which had been described by Lovecraft are brought to life by the game’s artists. Ancient civilizations from all over the planet are woven into the story, pulling lore from Lovecraft’s many settings all the while.

The game-play is almost entirely puzzle and story driven, a highly interactive walking-simulator. There are quite a few puzzles throughout the game to be solved. While I am utterly terrible at these sorts of things, Conarium manages to find a very nice balance, being challenging while not making the player want to scream in frustration. When the puzzles are completed it makes for a highly rewarding experience and certainly gives a feeling of accomplishment. I did look to walk-throughs on Youtube several times throughout the game. I probably could have figured each of these things out had I given it enough time and thought a little harder, but for me the story is much more important than the puzzle challenges.

As the story unfolds, Gilman crosses quite an impressive number of settings. Don’t expect to be constantly wandering around the same location throughout the entire game. Each new “chapter” of the game leads the player into a wholly different place, some indoors, where display cases are filled with replicas of weird creatures and libraries offer ample opportunity to read further into the story. Phonograph machines, strewn letters and journals, visions and other mechanics deliver an in depth back-story to Conarium. While other parts of the narrative take place outdoors, whether in the frigid Antarctic environment or in some lush otherworldly landscape. Many interesting tidbits will only be uncovered by searching deeper into each of the locations.

I completed the game, in about ten hours. It could likely have been done in 6-8 hours, maybe even less by more experienced puzzle gamers. But, as a fan of games like The Elder Scrolls series, I prefer to take my time, fully absorbing the locations and reading all the provided back-story at my leisure. Then there is the aforementioned fact that I am really slow at figuring out most puzzles, though they never truly drove me insane as has been the case with many of my other experiences in games with similar mechanics. There are several endings, only one of which I’ve seen so far. Uncovering roughly 75% of the content by my first completion, there are still many more secret items to uncover, and about 1/3 of the story left to read as I only found about 2/3 of the journal entries and other story elements. So there is still quite a lot of reason for me to go back through the game again in the future and dig deeper into these mysteries.

While the game was released in June of 2017, the graphics have enough flexibility to run on relatively low-end machines, where many current game developers are opting to push the limits of gaming technology, usually alienating those of us without a high-end PC. Yet, their use of the Unreal Engine 4 will still allow avid gamers to really push the graphics for a beautiful and immersive experience in this world that truly comes alive throughout the story. The ambient sounds are relatively well prepared, though on this front I did notice a few areas that could have been improved, such as the transitions from walking on dry stone or wood floors then across puddles or other forms of debris. But this was only a minor gripe and ultimately the sounds were quite immersive. I played 50/50 between using the mouse and keyboard or an Xbox 360 controller. Both forms of input were totally viable options, though I ended up preferring the Xbox 360 controller as it generally seemed to be a little more immersive for my slower play style.

Conarium doesn’t rely so heavily on the Lovecraft lore that players unfamiliar with his work would feel lost. The developers did a good job of building relevant Lovecraft references into the story in a way that felt natural. However, as a huge fan of H.P. Lovecraft and having read just about every story he’s written or revised at this point, I found the more subtle references to his works really added to my enjoyment of and immersion in the game. With this in mind, I would highly recommend Conarium to any gamers that enjoy reasonably complicated puzzle games and have a true passion for the works of H.P. Lovecraft. There are enough adventure elements and varied locations to hold the interest of those of us whom grow bored reasonably quickly without constantly stimulating content. It really seems that Zoetrope took all their experience with their previous games and built upon it, bringing their work closer to perfection. Instead of diving into some unknown game style, a habit of many companies, which often leaves their inexperience obvious for all to see, and can ultimately destroy the immersion and render the game-play lacking in depth, cohesion and/or playability. I hope to see more similarly styled games from Zoetrope in the future. They are certainly on the right track.

Written by: Michael Barnett

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