Hello and welcome to Mosh Lit, our monthly column on storytelling in the world of metal.
In yet another “glitch in the matrix” moment, the United States’ Navy officially released a report analyzing videos of unidentified flying objects, also known as UFOs. As tantalizing as video evidence of UFOs might be however, the report offered no other conclusions except that the objects were flying and yes, unidentifiable.
Though the report featured very little, or indeed, any new information about the existence of alien life, it managed to grab headlines on a national and international scale. No matter what else is happening in the world, aliens will always win the spotlight. The possibility of other life – especially another civilization – is simply too enormous to ignore. Any definitive proof would destroy the tiny calculations each of us do to reconcile our place in the vast, screaming void of the universe. Whether humanity is completely alone or one among millions of other societies, the result will be an extreme reckoning with what it means to be human.
Given the extreme of an unending empty void or technologically advanced hostile alien civilization, it’s no wonder that space-themed metal has a long and rich history. From the alien overlords of GWAR to the science fiction epic of Wormed, there’s no shortage of talented metal bands making music that explores space in creative ways.
Today, we ponder interplanetary meetups with melodic death metal quartet Deliver the Galaxy and black metal solo project Hyperborean Skies.
Deliver the Galaxy – The Journey
Self-described as “music for people who believe in aliens,” Deliver the Galaxy is a melodic death metal group based in Quedlinburg, Germany. Similarly to Wormed, Deliver the Galaxy creates an alternate universe through their music with each release representing a new chapter in a long-form narrative. Their second release, The Journey, dropped in 2020 to continue the story of Natham, the leader of a desperate expedition trying to find a new home for humanity before an alien invader destroys Earth.
Lyrically, the album is minimal, with most songs dominated by instrumentals. It’s reminiscent of Shudder series Blood Machines, another desperate chase through the galaxy that featured limited dialogue and a killer soundtrack. Rather than relying on narration to guide listeners through Natham’s journey, Deliver the Galaxy manages to build atmosphere with riffs and heart-pounding beats.
We open with an alien object crashing to Earth, breaking the fragile ignorance that protected humanity. The parasite immediately begins feeding off the planet, forcing humanity to launch a single mission in a desperate attempt to find a new home. Our protagonist Natham leads the mission. Voiced primarily by Deliver the Galaxy vocalist Matthias Mente, Natham prepares for their quest.
The second track kicks off with a chord that echoes emergency sirens, an effect compounded by the infamous “Houston, we have a problem” quote interspersed throughout the song. These small details are layered in the entire album and add a lot of richness to the overall narrative. Deliver the Galaxy really commits to storytelling in The Journey and it makes the music that much more interesting.
Most of the album centers around Natham and their internal monologue as the mission launches. The urgency of the cause is a driving force, but there’s also a deep sense that the quest to find a new home for the human race could well be a deadly one. In track five, “The Picture I Draw,” Natham reflects on the family left behind, turning their memory into a battle chant that pushes the mission forward. Tensions continue to build until their breaking point in track seven, which features guest vocalist Matt Turkington (Animus Complex) as an unlikely ally that emerges in humanity’s fight against the alien presence.
The battle on Earth is bloody, and many have perished in the struggle. The closing tracks on The Journey build intensity as the people of Earth rise from the ashes and begin planning vengeance. Guest vocals by Adrienne Cowan (Seven Spires, Avantasia, Masters of Ceremony, Winds of the Plague) on “I Declare War” add a blast of pure fury before humanity follows Natham to safe refuge. Will the fallen be avenged? Deliver the Galaxy leaves that for their next album.
As a genre, melodic death metal is extremely well-suited to the space opera/thriller hybrid that Deliver the Galaxy is creating with their music. The urgency and emotion that Natham feels for their mission comes through on every note, and the riffs simultaneously add cinematic effect while making the entire album incredibly catchy.
Hyperborean Skies – Empyrean Fracture
Empyrean Fracture is the debut full length album of Oklahoma-based atmospheric black metal solo project Hyperborean Skies. Composed, performed, and mastered by Ben Stire (Annihilating Eden, Black-Eyed Children), the release feels like the monologue of a dying person after an invasion from the skies wipes out the human race.
Beginning with “A Blight Upon the Sky,” Stire’s snarling vocals channel a different kind of intensity into the voice of a character angry at god and the world for inflicting the apocalypse on them. The overtly monotheistic lyrics make the nameless narrator feel removed from modern life, yet their apparent fury is all-too-human and timeless. The religious and mythological references throughout the album add to the ambience of the release: if The Journey is an action film, Empyrean Fracture is the Book of Revelation.
In true black metal fashion, most tracks top eight minutes. The ambient notes add an uncharacteristic lightness that contrasts beautifully with the more black metal elements, creating a feeling of a dark hymn . By the second track, the narrator is echoing the prophets in their call for the end times, slowly sinking into despair. They mourn how quickly the tide has turned for humanity as death emerges from the skies. Track five, “And the Night Was Still,” introduces a faster pace as the narrator accepts their fate and watches the land die around them.
Similarly to the stages of grief, Empyrean Skies moves through a range of emotions as the main character processes the sudden end of the world. They wonder how god could have betrayed them so deeply, become furious at a creator that made humanity the rulers of Earth, only to have an unstoppable enemy bring destruction. As the end creeps closer, the narrator is silent in the final song. The soft, ambient instrumental conclusion to Empyrean Skies seems fitting as a final tribute to a character that dedicated much of the album deliberating what happens when absolutely nothing remains of humanity.
It’s interesting to see how different subgenres of metal lend themselves to different styles of storytelling. Though both The Journey and Empyrean Fracture are apocalyptic scenarios brought on by the arrival of alien life, their narrative arcs and tone are very different. The brutal elements of death metal combine with moody guitar riffs to create an action-thriller vibe with Deliver the Galaxy, while Hyperborean Skies creates the dying gasp of humanity with synth-heavy black metal ambience and snarling vocals. Each listen reveals new details in the lyrics and the instrumentals to create not just great music, but tell complex stories in unique ways. Even if you’re not usually a black metal or melodic death metal fan, both releases are very much worth checking out.