Podcast Review: The Magnus Archives

The best horror isn’t jump scares or torture porn, it is the unease of the familiar shifted two degrees to the right.  It is the idea of one’s regular life interrupted by something unknowable and thus unstoppable.  It is the five seconds it takes to turn the lights off in the basement and then walk up the stairs, refusing to look behind you just in case.  It is the ‘bump in the night’ that knocks on the front door and invites itself in to visit – and never leaves.

I love horror but most of the modern stuff has me rolling my eyes and checking my watch.  That was until I started listening to ‘The Magnus Archives’.

The Magnus Archives is a recent discovery of mine but it has been around for about two years now and quickly gained a rabid and intensely loyal following.  It follows an Archivist – or librarian – for a London-based occult research agency called the Magnus Institute.  They have been around for a long time and they collect statements of people who have had unexplained encounters with the supernatural.  Each episode consists of the Archivist reading a statement from a past case with follow up commentary from the Institute’s investigation into the matter.

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It may sound boring but the nothing could be further from the truth because frankly, the stories contained within the statements is the absolute best horror stories I have heard in years.  The stories run the gamut of supernatural lore.  The stories aren’t garish or over-the-top with gore and obscenity screaming demons – most of the statements portray regular people giving matter of fact statements as they try to work out what just happened in their lives.  But the incidents themselves are unsettling – some of the standout episodes involved getting lost in a peculiar slaughterhouse, a statement of World War I soldier who may have encountered Death himself, and a guy who notices a horrible odor coming from the apartment above him.

The stories are aided by the minimalistic production values.  The audio is purposefully lo-fi and the music/effects are kept to a minimum – after all, these are statements being read in the basement of an academic institute.  But because they are sparingly used, they are more effective for it.  Additionally, the casting has been brilliant.  This is a show made in England, so the voices and the setting of a majority of the story are British with all the cultural nuances intact.  There hasn’t been a voice yet that was jarring or incongruous.

The best part of the Magnus Archives for me has been the progression of the story.  The initial setup was the new Archivist – replacing the previous one who had mysteriously disappeared – reading standalone statements. It quickly becomes apparent there is a common thread among the various statements and as the series has progressed, new players and questions about the panoply of threats facing the Archivist and the Institute.  To say even a word about it would spoil the surprise but the stakes rise with each new revelation.  In the beginning episodes, the Archivist was calm and collected in reading the statements.  By the end of the recent episodes, he is harried and desperate as he attempts to find answers in the pages he is reading.

The Magnus Archives has quickly become my favorite fiction podcast.  There are other horror podcasts out there but nothing this expansive, interesting, and well-done.  They’ve just completed season two and there are eighty episodes ready to explore with season three resuming in November/December.  The creators of the podcast have indicated they have a master plan for the plotline that will take the show through several more seasons.

If you are in a mood for REAL horror – you need to be listening to this podcast.

Best of 2016: Podcasts

Science Fiction/Fantasy books and films may have been disappointingly sparse this year but it was a banner year for Podcasts.  As I indicated in earlier articles, I have come to appreciate audio dramas on my long car-rides – the best of them really fire up the imagination and given the low production costs, there are some imaginative work being done which you would never be able to pull off on television.  Here are the best ones I listened to this year.

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Hadron Gospel Hour:  My life was a pointless and bleak existence – I prayed to all manner of Gods for release but they never answered.  That is when the mad scientist dressed in a lab coat and skull face makeup stepped out of a dimensional rift and told me I could save the multiverse.  I took his hand and stepped through the rift.  Now my life is filled with delightful things.  Last night the love child of Steve Reeves and Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, dressed up as Colonel Wilma Deering and gave me a lap dance in the front seat of an Oldsmobile Delta 88.  Dave Bowman, still dressed in his space suit and helmet told me to ‘Open the Pod Bay Doors’ from the front seat and the cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000 cheered me on from the back.  The Bee Gees ‘More than a Woman’ played on the radio while a shirtless Kirk fist-fought the goddamned Gorn Commander on the hood of the car.  Thank you, Hadron Gospel Hour – you are the only thing in the world I wish to remain the same.  The only thing I love that loves me back.

We’re Alive:  I will get fried for saying this but We’re Alive is a better and more believable zombie story than The Walking Dead.  It was 143 episodes long and ran from 2009-2014.  It was high production values and had a great cast of characters but I think the thing I appreciated most about it was no one was a superman in this show – they made stupid calls, paid for them, and it wasn’t afraid to paint large on its canvas.  It seemed more real to me than The Walking Dead and I was invested from start to finish.  If society collapsed, I think it would look closer to this than anything else.  Best of all, it is a complete story – something which doesn’t occur so much in the world of podcasting.

Hello from the Magic Tavern:  What would happen if a Chicago comedian was transported to a fantasy tavern and interviewed its guests while in the company of a pompous Wizard and a sex badger.  Remember when I said shit happens in podcasts that can’t happen on TV?  This podcast proves the point.  Completely improv but if you’re going to start, do so from episode one because after a year of doing this they have constructed an elaborate and entertaining world complete with its own rules.  I almost crashed my car laughing at Usidore’s reaction to being asked if the dark one’s secret villain name was Count Dooku?

Bright Sessions:  I love superhero stories, especially when they don’t know their superhero stories.  The Bright Sessions is about a therapist with an unconventional practice – young men and women with ‘abilities’ and all the associated issues which come with it.  As a guy who once did some time on a therapist couch, I find the interactions to have an authenticity to them which is gratifying.  I won’t spoil the surprise but it becomes apparent there is more going on here than just therapy and this series is poised to break out of the therapy room and into the larger world.

Tanis & The Black Files:  Both series are interrelated and come from the fictional Pacific Northwest Public Radio.  They are both telling different stories, one a gothic horror owing much to the Cthulhu mythos and the other a more bizarre mixture of surveillance, science fiction, and ancient evil.  They both possess high production values and tell compelling stories.  I think I like the gothic story in the Black Tapes a bit better mostly because I feed the lead narrator a bit more compelling and the creepiness factor is exceptionally well done.  However, the science fiction angle on Tanis is right up my alley and new episodes of both series are happy days for me.  Both are on season break and will be returning with their third seasons in the Spring so now is the time to catch up with the Black Tapes first and Tanis second.

Other ‘Best of…’ lists from 2016:

Books

Movies

Computer Games

Podcast Review: The Bright Sessions

I recently discovered The Bright Sessions, a newer podcast which has quickly gained a following and for good reason – it is excellent!  But, first a digression.  I loved the first season of Heroes – a 2006 television show which is kind of infamous.  It started strong but rapidly dropped in quality to the point where I felt the final season was nigh unwatchable.  But what a first season!  I think I liked it so much because it took this group of regular people and gave them superpowers.  Some of them saw their powers as liberating, some saw them as a curse – but best of all the reactions felt realistic as they attempted to grapple with their new realities in the face of threat. download

The Bright Sessions captures that same feeling from Heroes.  The podcast is about a rather ordinary therapist with a rather unconventional set of patients – young people who have manifested powers and are attempting to cope.  Their everyday lives have been impacted by their powers and often not for the best.  The podcasts are recordings of the therapy sessions as the therapist tries to help her patients cope with their newfound abilities.  As a person who has been on the receiving end before of one of these talks, the interplay is surprisingly accurate and real.

The podcast is less than a year old and getting ready to start its third season and I’m really looking forward to it.  I don’t want to spoil the story but it is clear early in the series that not everything is as it seems and the therapist isn’t completely altruistic – she has an agenda which quickly moves these sessions to a much larger story.  The end of the second season was outstanding and I have high hopes that this podcast gets even greater exposure.

Podcast Review: Tanis

One of my favorite new Podcasts is The Black Tapes, a radio drama I covered a few weeks ago.  The fictional producers, Pacific Northwest Stories Radio, came up with a second Podcast called Tanis and like its companion series, it is a pretty gripping story.images

Tanis, like the Black Tapes, is a horror show done in the style of the very popular Serial podcasts.  This time the main narrator is an engaging Nic Silver – don’t worry, the Black Tapes narrator Alex Reagan drops into the show from time to time.  However, where the Black Tapes is a dark horror story with gothic overtones and ancient evil, Tanis’s horror owes more to science fiction and the surveillance state.  One of the main characters is a bad-ass hacker named MeerKatnip.  MK adds the technical element in the show as she aids Nic in his search for the truth.

The show is almost done with its second season and unlike the Black Tapes where the nature of the horror is revealed well before the end of its second season, Tanis’s horror is still a bit up in the air – I think I know what it is but I am not certain.  Fortunately, I don’t really mind.  As I said in the earlier article I love a good slow burn conspiracy story and Tanis delivers.

Like the Black Tapes, Tanis is well worth your time.