​From ambient to progressive deathcore: Elements of science fiction in modern music

Horsehead Nebula by Hubble — From ambient to progressive deathcore: Elements of science fiction in modern music
Horsehead Nebula by Hubble

Science fiction and its elements have been a part and parcel of popular culture for a long time: movies and TV shows, books, video games, comics and manga... It penetrates even in seemingly unsuitable areas, but does it surprisingly naturally. Music is no exception.

Many artists are inspired by classic science fiction, using a relevant terminology in their lyrics and singing about space battles and dystopian worlds. In this article, you will find out about the most interesting representatives of various music genres whose releases are dedicated to fantastic themes, or have, indeed, a futuristic sound.


Let's start with ambient, the most suitable genre for our theme. It’s a purely instrumental style of electronic music based on timbre modulations. It has a soothing effect on the listener, thanks to its high atmospheric, measured and minimalistic sound which matches the futuristic style.

The ambient has the often-observed synthetic sounds and background noises; the last one play a key role here. They gradually develop through overlays of the new tracks or the addition of other instruments. All of this creates a powerful sense of immersion, which makes ambient a great soundtrack to space movies and video games. Alex Paterson from The Orb (one of the most famous bands performing ambient), commenting on the track below, noted that this is a "music to read Philip K. Dick to".

By the way, The Orb to make a total immersion in the atmosphere of interstellar travelling in their debut album "The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld" used the excerpts of the NASA archives, in particular taken from the documentary "For All Mankind".

There are many sub-genres of ambient, one of which is called "space ambient". It stands out by a slow tempo, a large number of synthetic and electronic sounds and focuses on a space theme. However, every subgenre of ambient music has the same common side an indispensable music for stargazing and philosophizing about the eternal.

Space Rock

This music genre is woven from heritage tangles of psychedelic rock and science fiction literature. Space rock is more refined subgenre of progressive rock, which pay much more attention to the electronics, especially to the synthesizer with its "cosmic" sound.

It took an epic songs length, complicated structure and conceptual album ideas from prog rock. Raised by the efforts of Pink Floyd, Hawkwind and David Bowie’s single "Space Oddity", space rock began to quickly gain popularity. Necessary impulse was given, the signal from space has been successfully received and soon dozens of bands started to sing about distant worlds and phantasmagoric creatures.

Space rock remains to be the genre for the old school fans. In contemporary music, it’s used in different styles, from art rock to modern metal. Many alternative bands have noticeable space rock elements, an excellent example of it is the epic three parts composition by the British group Muse. Lyrically, of course, these songs are on a fairly modest level, especially in comparison with the band’s next mastodons, but they sound really cosmically.


Another instrumental genre, which drew inspiration from a variety of directions, from classical music to techno and shoegaze. Over time, post-rock turned into an original and distinctive musical genre associated with the starry space no less than ambient.

Post-rock features a long compositions duration, almost complete absence of vocal parts, synthesis of different styles elements and using of rhythm section samples. It’s the perfect musical accompaniment to the works about science fiction worlds: for example, the well-known post-rockers 65daysofstatic’s album "Silent Running" was originally conceived as an alternative soundtrack to the eponymous sci-fi movie of 1972 (!) year. Their latest work is currently focused on the video game "No Man's Sky", the main fantastic game of the year.

Post-rock’s sense of immersion is achieved even with a simple acoustic guitar, without any background samples. Listening to the post metallers Old Man Gloom’s track, it’s like you become a witness of the universe birth and feel how the matter emerges from the void. Played with a few instruments, it takes you by the scruff of the neck and literally throws into another dimension.

Progressive Death Metal

Finally, we come to the genres with the most interesting way of adding fantasy elements into them. Progressive death metal is just one of them. It’s characterized by challenging to perfrom songs, great skill of musicians and mainly extreme vocals. An unprepared person, a listener of pop music for instance, will perceive all of it as the terrifying wall of sounds. The lyrics focus on a wide variety of futuristic themes: the human race evolution, extraterrestrial intelligence, research the far corners of the universe, mass control etc.

Unlike previous genres, the lyrics here are at the center and on a par with the music. The tradition of concept albums, left by prog-rock, was picked up by progressive death metal which also improved its skills of lyrics writing. A perfect example is an epic release by the real geniuses Between the Buried and Me. It’s a history with a truly cosmic scales impresses by its range: it began on the previous release "The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues" and continued on 72-minute LP. One music webzine devoted an article in five parts to review it. The story is told by Prospekt 2 — who or what it is you will learn during this musical journey. Let me just say that it’s worthy to be a work of many venerable science fiction writers: the story goes backwards, like in Nolan brothers’ movie "Memento", alos there are astral travels, destruction of entire planets, consciousness paradoxes and even a mind-blowing ending. Cliffhanger in a music album, can you believe that?

Progressive Deathcore

Deathcore is a vicious fetus of death metal and hardcore. Why it’s vicious? Because these two styles could not give rise anything good. The riffs and blast beats are inherited from death metal and breakdowns from hardcore. Progressive tag in deathcore allows the musicians to let off the leash and use symphonic and electronic instruments, experiment with vocals and, of course, to write texts about the most weird and crazy things.

Progressive deathcore usually has a diverse song’s structure: while listening to one composition it may seems a compilation of at least two or three tracks. Born of Osiris, one of the genre’s pioneers, the most deeply fulfilled their potential in "The Discovery" album. The outstanding instrumental release touched on the themes of manipulation of consciousness, called for "following the signs" and strive for transcendence.

The Contortionist, who began with deathcore recorded one of the best albums in the genre and smoothly gone into prog death, on the contrary, on the debut full-length album "Exoplanet", sang about the human race’s life in the distant future where technological development has put us closer to the gods stage. Forced modification of Earth, the first contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence, wandering through the universe in search of a new homeland... The musicians managed to create both musically and lyrically harmonic canvas, which allegorically develops the idea of the Tower of Babel myth in the scenery of the Battlestar Galactica.

Deathcore has even such sub-genre as "aliencore" — this how the members of the American band Rings of Saturn jokingly call themselves. The music of these guys combines skillful instrumental parts, elements of chaotics and ambient, and the lyric themes about alien invasion, experiments on living organisms and space battles. Dystopia, terrans ultra, extermination of entire planetary systems... easier to say what has no place in their texts!

Honorable mention

Scar Symmetry (Melodic Death Metal)

The Swedish band, playing melodic death metal, is worth a special mention. Their feature is including in a typical melodic death metal a large number of synthesizers and keyboards, which give their music an unprecedented futuristic sound. The picture is completed by lyric themes about science fiction, neo-philosophical texts about the evolution of consciousness and problems of interference with human nature in the spirit of the last Deus Ex.

Vektor (Progressive Thrash)

Imagine that Metallica suddenly begin to play a much more technical thrash metal with lyrics related to Stanislaw Lem’s books. Have you done it? There is necessary to imagine it, because the band like this is already exists and it’s a space thrash metal band Vektor from Arizona. Playing ultratechnically thrash metal, the guys already cement a place in the musical Olympus of the genre with their debut album "Black Future". Vektor’s lyrics are not the revelation, their songs tell in details about the dark future of civilization with indispensable destruction of the Universe, but its instrument parts are truly impressive. It is just necessary to listen to ‘cause as every Vektor’s fan know: "Sci-fi or die!"

TesseracT (Progressive Math Metal/Ambient/Experimental)

Inspired by the records of Meshuggah and The Mars Volta, five British guys create a soundtrack to swim in the ocean of space. The musicians play the mix of math metal, ambient music and progressive rock. Their djent guitar sound, associated with the chromized future, typical vocal technique and enveloping melodies present putting into the future time capsule, the way to leave which is only one — to remove headphones from the ears.

The Devils Wears Prada — "Space" EP (Metalcore)

It would have been an inappropriate band for this article, if it hadn’t released its last EP "Space", dedicated to the space theme. The Christian metalcore group has previously worked on conceptual records, for example EP "Zombie", and such releases is what the musicians do the best. The members’ worship is reflected in the lyrics, which with looking at the Bible eternal questions reveals the points of man's place in the universe, the human heritage and the meanings of end of the world. This EP lyrically has nothing in common with the above mentioned works because here behind the aliens and supernovas you’ll find just a metaphor and nothing else, which, however, does not spoil the impression from the record.

Science fiction is able to take possession of the minds not only through visual perception. Music not only accurately conveys the mood of traveling to the stars, but every year improves its narrative style: the listener picks up the sounds of the illimitable cosmos, hears to bravado of space inquisitors and the limit of the space odyssey is only his own imagination.

Text by Alexander Tverdokhleb
Translated from Russian by Anastezia


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