The Sounds of Stellaris: Synths and Waves

Whether exploring the far reaches of the galaxy and finding monstrous leviathans, waging war against an awakened fallen empire, or fighting in an intergalactic war across multiple galactic nations, the music of Stellaris serves as the background of sound to every encounter you’ll find within each Stellaris galaxy you play. The music in Stellaris feels more like an open and ambient experience compared to other games that switch between combative, lulled, and segueing tracks.

From the sounds of discovery in the song “Faster Than Light” to the discovery of species and the emotions evoked from “In Search of Life” and “To the Ends of the Galaxy”, Stellaris’ music functions in a variety of capacities.

Take, for instance, the song “Gravitational Constant”. A song with string-like synths juxtaposed by a wave of a scratchy, computerized synth sound that waves back and forth from left to right, right to left, each wave different in variation but still the same in consistency. Shortly after, the track morphs to include both drums and the constant triplets of a scratchy bass line while still retaining its strings. The mystery of space travel and how we could traverse the galaxy, let alone still retain communication and the same depth of time.

“Pillars of Creation” evokes the same mystery under the advent of sounds, with mystical synthesizers spread throughout the track. Stellaris’ soundtrack takes heavy inspiration from the ambient composers of old. From Brian Eno to Michael Stearns, the music is reminiscent of a time when space exploration was in high fascination, when we weren’t constantly obsessed with the most immediate social media or TV moments in our lives, but rather the awe and fascination of the cosmos above us and the long pursuit to colonize the solar system and the galaxy.

The music places the game into those rare moments of history where space exploration came with a breakthrough that made us as people think about more than just ourselves and how small our own issues are. From the first humans landing on the moon to the photographs of the Pillars of Creation and the high resolution photos of each planet in the solar system (now all the way to Pluto), Stellaris is a game that takes you on a journey across hundreds of years, from the discovery of a galaxy not unlike our own, fraught with the struggles of a space civilization keen on spreading its benevolent or malevolent ideals upon other potential space civilizations.

Whether the galactic civilization of your creation is a murderous clan of space raiders or an empire of true divinity and/or free expression, Stellaris’ soundtrack has every musical mood for every mission, objective, and personal goal within the game itself. Similar to how Michael Stearns’ traverses a variety of galactic emotions on the album Encounters, Stellaris and its music suite is a journey across space in a controlled substance kind of way; no matter where you stand as a civilization, the games immersive sounds and exploration of an unknown and undiscovered galaxy in real-time make for a gaming experience quite unlike any other.

And next to the gameplay is a soundtrack breathing with the “Birth of a Star”, prompting players to explore a galaxy of equal parts beauty and lurking danger. No matter where Stellaris takes you, there’s always a piece of the galaxy unexplored. Due to the procedural generation of each galaxy, the game feels alive, and the music is one of the forces behind this liveliness.

Voyager – Colours in the Sun Review

While Voyager’s 2017 album Ghost Mile represented a stark and haunting record including bleak piano melodies throughout and having themes of darkness, the night, and a ghost mile journey, their 2019 album Colours in the Sun represents a brighter and more varied album.

Containing elements of 80s synthesizers, the chugging djentleness of progressive metal riffs and the tight grooves of a solid bass and drums funk foundation, Voyager finds themselves on a trajectory similar to a lot of heavy metal bands who, in more recent years, have resorted to adding an increasing number of electronic instrumentation and often completely doing away with the guitar on their records. The difference here, obviously, is that rather than doing away with the chugging riffs and opting for a solely throwback 80s electronic album, Voyager uses their increased synthesizers to enhance or color the tracks on the album, leading to an ideal album that is equal parts heavy and equal parts melodic.

The song “Colours” uses the interesting synthesizer sounds to great effect. As the synths are the opener to the first song on the album, as the band is introduced the song quickly turns into something entirely different. The chorus in particular is an interestingly melodic, haunting, and beautiful score, with the chorus having a gradual crescendo “Leave / Leave all / Leave now / Leave I.” It’s an altogether straightforward Voyager song with the extra seasoning of a ideal synth.

While “Colours” sounds like Voyager with an 80s synthesizer, “Brightstar” is the most direct sound Voyager gets on this album, and similarly to “Colours”, it contains the equal bits of melody and progressive riffage that Voyager is known for.

Probably the best new type of song on the album, “Saccharine Dream” is also a departure from their typical grooves, focusing instead on an entirely funkified rhythm that’s more of a creamy soup texture than a meat and potatoes kind. Yes, the song is akin to great food.

Alas, “Water over the Bridge” and “Sign of the Times” are the heaviest tracks on the album. While they sound similar to old Voyager, “Water over the Bridge” has darker and angrier riffs while “Sign of the Times” has a more subtle feel, similar to the lyrics and its themes revolving around the title. “Severomance, which actually comes after “Colours”, is a track in similar fashion, with eerie vocals during the verse laid over a harmonic, Arabic sounding, churned out riff.

Voyager’s brand of “pop progressive power metal” is an equally new and old beast, and as they progress, the band is taking steps to incorporate new sounds and create new sonic landscapes for their listeners. While “Colours” is the cream of the pop, “Water over the Bridge” is the hammer smashing the bowl, the album itself creating new sounds for Voyager while also leaving room for further and further experimentation and growth.

Score: 8.5/10

Ancient Empire’s Other World Album Review (2016)

Ancient Empire is a band I discovered late last year, yet it took me another six months to actually start listening to the band. When I did, however, I was not surprised that the epic space concept albums would pull me in like a black hole of our galaxy.

In this album’s story, unlike their most recent release, an alien civilization has invaded Earth. It’s not just humanity leaving Earth to survive a cataclysmic war or disaster of some type. Instead, humanity leaves the Earth to escape the onslaught of extraterrestrial invasion. Lines like “A blackened silence replaces everyday / Funeral shroud for the Mother we betray” incite a kind of emotional fear while what little of humanity can escape manages to go to space to find a new home. Eventually, after years of attempting to settle space and another planet (“No place for man among the star / No solace in the cold of space”), the Empire of Man returns to Earth and repels the alien invaders, eventually taking back the “ashes” of the old human civilization.

The concept definitely takes nods from Rush’s 21 minute epic “2112”. While not as poetic as the lyrics of Neil Peart, each song on Other World definitely carries a great deal of weight in terms of progressing the concept.

However, while the lyrics and the story is fun to follow along with and interpret, the real bread and butter of the album lies in the instrumentation. Guitars and vocals carry each song, with harmonized choruses, melodic guitar solos and harmonies, and an abundance of catchy guitar riffs slay each song into the next dimension. Imagine listening to an Iron Maiden record, a Rush record, and a Dio record all in one? Put them altogether and you have Ancient Empire.

With the always prevalent cheesiness of power metal, it’s difficult to create music that transcends that cheesiness on the way to grandiosity, with quality riffs, vocals, and lyrics to go along with it. However, Ancient Empire manages to achieve this with this 2016 album. Other World and Wings of the Fallen manages to deliver on the promise of epic power metal with a straightforward riffing edge to round out the lasers coming from the incoming return of the Human Empire.

Score: 9.5/10

2113 Book

I recently went to a Barnes and Noble and perused the science fiction and fantasy sections as I always do. Usually I walk away empty-handed, as I don’t always like buying books, but this particular one caught my eye because Rush is one of my favorite bands!

I haven’t read every story in here yet, but I have read the one that is a sequel to the song “2112” and the one based on the song “Subdivisions”.

“2113” is a more direct sequel to the song “2112” than “Subdivions” story is, but there are similarities between each of them. Themes of oppression, the eradication of free speech, and a sense of rebellion in a world of conformity comprise the primary themes in these two stories.

Rush: Hemispheres, Side One Review.

Rush is a thinking man’s band. Sure, they have some songs that are ridiculous and humorous in nature, such as “I Think I’m Going Bald” and “Trees” (which trees, off this album, is fantastic and about trees and how they somehow relate to oppression). In fact, they have so many songs that connect the dots between the words interesting, cool, and funny that it’s almost impossible to deny that Rush is intentionally trying to portray themselves as intellectuals bordering on obsessive comedians and expert hobbyists on their instruments.

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Claude Debussy: Claire De Lune

“Clair De Lune” might have a literal translation of “moonlight”, but I hear it as more of a reflection of the life cycle of the moon itself more than just the moonlight that emanates from the partial or full moons.

It’s a beautiful five minute piece with 3 main components. The beginning has a very slow feel, that almost sways with the stars and the sun. The middle picks up in speed, whereby the song shows us the moon as it is fully revealed. And the ending concludes with the same soft sway that the beginning had.

It’s a reflective and retrospective piece, and one that is so popular it likely goes unnoticed as even being a composition of any major significance beyond its popularity, similar to pieces like “Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven and “Prelude in E Minor” by Frederic Chopin. In fact, due to the way that I perceive the video game The Long Dark, “Clair De Lune” and said game would go incredibly well together as a music video/amalgamation of some type.

Boston Third Stage: Album Review

After an 8 year courtroom battle with Epic Records that Boston had won, The band, or Tom Scholz brainchild with the epic singing of Brad Delp, released the third Boston album Third Stage. While it wasn’t as massive of a financial success as the albums as Don’t Look Back (1978) and their hit-infused singles debut album (1976), Boston hit their highest music mark with Third Stage.

Comprised of ten stellar tracks, the album centers on the portion of a person’s life known as the “Third Stage” which, even though the exact age range is not given, is somewhere between 30 to 50 years old more than likely. As this album was written between 1980 and 1984, by the time of its release, The band was in their mid to late 30s (they released their debut album in their late 20s).

By the time of Third Stage’s release, Tom Scholz and Brad Delp were the only original members in the band by the time of the album’s release. Gary Pihl joined as lead guitarist for the song “I Think I Like It”, Sib Hashian provided drums, and Jim Masdea was credited with writing the short instrumental “A New World”.

The album is mostly made of ballads such as “Can’t Ya Say…”, “Amanda”, and “Hollyann”, with the former beginning with piano and the latter two beginning with 12-string acoustic parts. “Hollyann”, I feel, is a very overlooked Boston song, with the 12-string guitar portions of the song underlying the soft vocals of Brad Delp and creating a very calm and romantic atmosphere, similar to the lyrics themselves discussing the love of the 1960s during Woodstock. Then the song builds to a climactic chorus, and the singing becomes evermore romantic and powerful. During the buildup and the chorus thereafter, I usually imagine a thousand lights springing up into the air, with thousands of couples each holding the line of light while a ballad reaches thousands.

I would describe “Can’t Ya Say…” and “Amanda”, but those songs are already iconic ballads within the Boston discography.

On the flipside of the ballads, however, songs such as “We’re Ready”, “Cool the Engines”, “I Think I Like It”, and the instrumentals show off the greatest part about Boston; the ability to switch between soft ballads and happy rockers while still being able to switch comfortably between the two like in the song “To Be A Man”.

The intro song to “Cool the Engines” known as “The Launch”, in particular, has a hard rock and spacey feel to it. I especially love when songs try to evoke an atmosphere separate from love ballads, and while I love the ballads on Third Stage, I tend to listen to the harder rocking material more than the ballads.

All-in-all though, for me Third Stage remains Boston’s magnum opus. It’s with this album that all the years of analog innovation and the creative mind of Tom Scholz came together in an album of unending beauty, philosophy, and that classic, savory Boston guitar tone. Alongside the equally airy and massive vocals of Brad Delp, Third Stage takes to the skies and reaches its destination, or “My Destination”, if you wanted the pun there.

Score: 9/10

Voyager Releases Track from New Upcoming Album

Australian progressive metal band Voyager have once again bestowed us with a brand new track from their upcoming album Colours in the Sun. The song “Colours” showcases the usual breakdown riffs common in Voyager songs while also introducing heavy synth wave influences alongside the metal portions of the song.

I’ve been listening to Voyager only since their last release The Ghost Mile, however I’ve grown fond of their older albums since then. While The Ghost Mile had a very heavy and collected demeanor to it, this new album seems to be based more on a retro throwback similar to what bands such as Syd Arthur and Nektar are doing, only (of course) heavier.

This upcoming album will likely be relying heavily on this throwback style with metal as an experiment, and I’m hoping that it pays off in the form of a big tour and new proggy songs to sing in the shower.

Devin Townsend Premieres New Music Video for Song “Why?”

The music video for the song “Why?” shows a man escaping out of a spaceship that feeds and clothes him in a prison-cell sized room. Once he breaks out, he at some point in the video turns into a colorful human character, growing to a proportion of size that is near impossible, and begins sucking everything into the black hole that had sucked him in almost.

Here’s the thing; Devin Townsend’s newest album Empath was released earlier this year. And I never reviewed it.

If you’re wondering, it was a 10/10 fantastically spectacular album for me. From death screams and growls to Disney’s orchestral cascades, the album has a diverse array of influences, and lyrically is uplifting while also showing us the facades to force others to see us as great.

Across his entire discography, Devin Townsend’s done everything from death metal to progressive metal all the way to the soothing sounds of ambient music. And at this point, it seems as though he’ll never let up in writing a diverse array of music.

Empath encompasses nearly everything great about Devin Townsend, and it’s an amalgamation of various song styles put into one album. Not only that, but it molds together extremely well. There is no one theme on the album barring the lyrics; it simply goes where it needs to be.

What Is Real Music?

The band TOOL recently released Fear Inoculum, their fifth album, on August 30th of this year. At the end of their debut week, it ended up charting on the Billboard 200 at number 1. And of course, as is typical of most rock bands that chart on the Billboard (and, in general, sell a lot of copies of an album), people are quick to say that “Rock music isn’t dead” or “The Billboard finally has real music charting”.

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