An end, a beginning

November 21, 2018 § Leave a comment

I’m starting to wind this blog down now, in favour of a new and combined presence at Some content will still stay here but a lot will be moved to the new blog so, if you enjoy what’s on this blog, please do start following the new one!


Bong, interview 2008

October 9, 2018 § Leave a comment

After watching Bong live at the weekend, it struck me to dig out this old interview I did with Dave Terry for Zero Tolerance many years ago. Bong’s album ‘Beyond Ancient Space’ is embedded below as an accompaniment.


On the edge of a white-sand desert, in a city made of onyx, black-eyed priests sit in their temples and whisper fearfully of a time when men will come from the burning wastes with unearthly songs on their lips and wild looks in their eyes. That time is now. The time of Bong!

Taking musical cues from the mantric doom of Jerusalem era Sleep and lyrical inspiration from the cosmic worlds of Jules Verne and Lord Dunsany, Bong have travelled from the far North to sing of eerie worlds where strange perfumes hang in the air. “Aah…the waft of Stygian black lotus on the breeze,” sighs Dave Terry, Bong’s bassist and vocalist. “We are far from those lands now but wish to take our audiences back there once more, if only for a fleeting glimpse.” Yet those initiates willing to listen will find more than just a fleeting glimpse. The title-track of ‘Bethmoora’, Bong’s online EP, is twenty minutes of skirling, droning doom whilst live performances are notorious for stretching out beyond the allotted time – a recent gig in Leeds featured three tracks over two hours – and becoming strange rituals where elongated riffs are supplemented by the band’s use of that much-overlooked of metal instruments, the sitar. “The feel of our music lends itself well to the sitar,” explains Dave, “but it was not something we sought, rather stumbled upon on our travels.” Strange as the presence of a sitar may sound, it works perfectly and sits as another esoteric element within Bong’s influences of drone, doom and off-kilter krautrock.

For such an organic outfit, it’s surprising that all of Bong’s music to date has been released freely onto the internet but there is a method behind this approach. “I have always supported freedom of media, and will continue to do so,” asserts Dave. “I encourage people to copy and distribute as they wish.” This approach is a refreshing change from the often business-focussed concerns about digital distribution and the so-called death of the music industry but it’s tempered by a worldly appreciation for physical artefacts. “We have a 12” release of ‘Wizards of Krull’ on Heidenwut Productions in the near future, and,” he adds, temptingly, “several other tracks ready to release. We hope to see you on our travels for we have many more tales to tell.”

Watch and wait, brethren, for you will know their coming by the aspects of their name: the heady smoke that clouds the brain and the long, low tolling of the ritual bell.


The Painted Skulls of Hallstatt

June 30, 2018 § Leave a comment

HallstatterseeThe Austrian town of Hallstatt is beautiful. Slightly touristy, but still beautiful. It sits on the edge of the Hallstattersee, where pleasure cruisers entertain the holiday-makers who haven’t ridden the funicular up to the salt mines that pock-mark the looming mountains.

As evening falls the tourists leave, their coaches heading onwards to Salzburg or Vienna. A few of them, perhaps, will have walked to the edge of town, to the Chapel of St Michael and the small building that sits beside it with the word ‘beinhaus’ written in stark, black-letter text above the entrance.

I arrive in Hallstatt later than expected so have to rush along the single main street, against the flow of tourists heading back from the closing shops, to get to the church grounds before it is closed to visitors. The church itself is an angular building but I have time to do little more than glance up at its white-washed walls and black slate roof as I crunch along the gravel path to the beinhaus, the ossuary. The door is guarded by a stern-faced, middle-aged man who glares out from above an impressively Teutonic moustache. The clock hasn’t yet struck six so I chance my luck. “Fünf minuten, vielleicht?” I ask him. “Nur zwei,” he replies. It seems unwise to haggle further so I nod and duck into the small, stone building.

I’ve been to ossuaries before, many of them in many parts of the world. They all have their own impact; some stern and cold, simply collections of bones rendered meaningless by quantity, while others, like the Sedlec ossuary near Kutná Hora in the Czech Republic, have a humanity to them that is almost comforting. The ossuary of the Chapel of St Michael, small as it may be, is beyond any of this. I gasp as my eyes adjust to the candle-haunted gloom.

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A Visit to the Sime Gallery, Worplesdon

June 12, 2018 § Leave a comment

I’ve been a fan of Sidney Sime’s art for a long time, since having first seen his fantastical illustrations for Lord Dunsany’s ‘The Gods of Pegāna‘, but it wasn’t until I started research for my essay on three of Sime’s paintings, an article which was eventually published in Dead Reckonings 22, that I realised how hard it was to find any information on him beyond the scant biographical details on his Wikipedia page and the single easily-acquirable book about his life, Simon Heneage and Henry Ford’s ‘Sidney Sime, Master of the Mysterious‘.

What I did find, however, is that a small band of devotees keep Sime’s memory alive at the Sidney Sime Gallery in Worplesdon, Surrey. Worplesdon has a great connection to Sime – he lived there after buying the still-extant Crown Cottage in 1904 and, after his death in 1941, his remains were interred in the graveyard of Worplesdon’s St Mary’s church – so it is a more than fitting place for his memory to linger.

Still, Surrey is a long way from my own home in Edinburgh…

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‘Undead, Forever’ – Ravenloft and the Gothic in D&D

April 15, 2018 § 1 Comment

This paper was initially presented at the Gaming the Gothic conference, held at the University of Sheffield on April 13th 2018. The intial CFP is available here.

This is a transcript of the presented paper, edited with some last-minute changes made during the presentation itself and, where appropriate, links to external material.

Ravenloft - Presentation.001

So begins our journey into the Dungeons & Dragons adventure of ‘Ravenloft’ where Strahd von Zarovich, a centuries old vampire-prince, rules his terror-haunted realm without pity or remorse. ‘Ravenloft’ is riddled with deeply gothic imagery from the flying buttresses of the eponymous Castle Ravenloft to the tortured, endless nature of Strahd’s vampirism. Yet, like all gothic fiction, there is more to ‘Ravenloft’ than simple theatrics. There is a deep sense of horror that comes not just from the story but from how the story is told and, crucially, how it is not told.

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The Myth Of The Sunken City

April 5, 2018 § Leave a comment

There is something about the myth of a sunken city that seems to call out, siren-like, to our collected subconsciousness. They come in many shapes; the hubris of Atlantis, the horrors R’lyeh and the decadence of Ys. Even Tolkien subsumes the idea into his own mythic cycle of The Silmarillion when he has Beleriand flooded after the War of Wrath. We can see quite clearly the dappled columns, kelp-wrapped and silent, and the shoals of darting fish that move between them. Abyssal canyons are populated with immense spires, outlined dimly by glimmering bioluminescence and haunted by vast, lumbering shapes. Those of us who have lived by the sea will have heard tales of forlorn church bells that ring out from under the night-time sea, pulled into life by the ebbing Spring tide or turbulent storm-waters. Perhaps we have even heard the bells ourselves…


Woodcut representation of the Bristol Channel Floods of 1607.

What is it that makes this myth so forceful and we so ready to believe it? There are two strands to this answer.

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Are You Lena? – Self and individuality in Annihilation

April 4, 2018 § 1 Comment

This isn’t a review of Alex Garland’s Annihilation, based on the 2014 novel by Jeff VanderMeer, mainly because, to a large degree, I didn’t think it was particularly good as a film. The characters felt inconsequential and poorly portrayed, particularly Jennifer Jason Leigh’s unhinged leader Dr Ventress, as opposed to the specifically blank canvases in the original book. It also delved overly-long into needless flashbacks, long after any normal viewer had got the full point of those sojourns into the past, when the book made them part of a fluid and bewildering timeline.

I’m also, despite those two cross-media comparisons, not particularly interested in delineating the differences between book and film, something I think is often required in movie adaptations.

What I do what to talk about, however, are some of the concepts the film itself whispers about behind the scenes of the apparent narrative. Who we are and who we were. How we think of ourselves and others. What happens when those distinctions begin to break down.

Annihilation 1

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