We don’t really talk a lot about gaming at The Monolith, but most of us do enjoy mashing the occasional joypad. Few in the gaming community can have missed the recent, long-anticipated release of No Man’s Sky. Now, just for the sake of those people who have just gotten comfy under their rock, No Man’s Sky is a game that drops the player, alone and manifestly under-prepared, into an unutterably gigantic universe containing – so they say – 18 QUINTILLION planets. That’s a number so big and with so many zeroes that if you type it out you’ve created the tab for a new Emmure song.
We also really can’t let No Man’s Sky pass without any form of comment, just because monoliths feature so heavily in the game, and that pleases us deeply. We like monoliths; especially ones that tell you things you didn’t know. Can’t think why.
Now, I’m certainly not going to attempt to write a review of the game itself, because despite having had some form of gaming machine in my house since the days of the Atari ST, I’m still hopeless at the damn things. Nevertheless, I do still enjoy blundering around with a kind of contented incompetence – and what I CAN talk about is music.
Much has already been made of the soundtrack to the game itself. Provided by pioneering math titans 65daysofstatic, it contributes a very great deal to the overall vibe of the game. I have no bad things to say about it whatsoever. However, No Man’s Sky is a game that definitely draws you in for the long haul, and after thirty hours of spaced-out (pun most certainly intended) atmospherics providing the sonic accompaniment, you would be forgiven for wanting a little bit more variety.
So what we have here is a list of ten albums that I think work very well as alternative soundtracks to exploring the No Man’s Sky universe. Given the long-form nature of the game, I think that it’s much more suited to listening to entire albums than a random playlist of dozens (or hundreds) of individual songs. As well as the ten albums that I’ve written a little bit of an introduction for, there’s even more in the ‘honourable mentions’ category at the end. And we’ve even put them all into a Spotify playlist for you. Don’t say we don’t give you anything.
These are my choices, presented in nothing more than alphabetical order by artist. Pick out something that sounds interesting, hit play and settle in for a peaceful hour of Emiril mining, or whatever else you do in the NMS universe. I’ve been giving the playlist a test flight as I’ve been through the process of compiling it, and I’ve had some genuinely magical moments when there’s been what you might call serendipitous synchronicity between the tunes and what’s happening on screen.
David Maxim Micic – Eco
I’m sure I’ve written in the past about how I find listening to David Maxim Micic’s music to be like falling, down a rabbit hole or black hole, into a whole new fantastical world – so there’s no way that he would not be making an appearance here.
Eco is probably the most chilled-out of all of his releases so far, and possibly the shortest release on this list – but in just a little over half an hour we get some high quality, dreamy progressive metal, as well as the thoroughly excellent spaced-out trance vibes of “500 Seconds Before Sunset”. The evident mixture of the organic and the mechanical in the sounds David uses would make most of his back catalogue a worthy addition to this list, but Eco is definitely at the front of the queue.
Devin Townsend Project – Ghost
Whilst Devin’s really hardcore fans might want to pick out either Devlab or The Hummer here, I find them just a little bit too abstract – and certainly, the game’s original soundtrack kinda nails the whole ambient thing. Instead, I’ve picked out the last part of the original series of Devin Townsend Project albums, which only just pipped Unplugged into the main list, largely because the very first line sung by Devin on the album is “I’ll fly over the mountain”, which is something you do a tremendous amount in No Man’s Sky.
With Devin in full acoustic mode, and ably assisted by Kat Epple’s magical collection of woodwind instruments, it’s a great choice for those times when you are scouring a planet for that last remaining undiscovered species.
Dub Trio – Exploring The Dangers Of
Dub Trio are, probably unsurprisingly, three guys who play a hybrid of dub reggae and garage rock. As their career has progressed, their sonic mix has shifted more towards the latter than the former, but this is their debut album, and the dub is in full effect. If you’d like something a little heavier, then I can recommend working your way through their discography until you find the mixture you’re looking for.
There’s a somewhat portentous undercurrent to the music a lot of the time, especially in the thoroughly magnificent ‘Sick Im Kid’, which appears both as a studio and a live recording on this disc, making it one for when you might be feeling your way around a planet with a slightly less than hospitable atmosphere.
Heights – Phantasia On The High Processions Of Sun, Moon And Countless Stars Above
If I was going to put this list in order of suitability, then I’d probably have to put this one at the very top. Prog trio Heights‘ third album, and first for Basick Records, even has a name that screams suitability for this purpose, and it was the very first thing I reached for when I wanted a change from 65dos. And, I admit, it is kinda the inspiration for this article you’re reading now.
Regular readers will already know the drill, but for the uninitiated, Phantasia On The High Processions Of Sun, Moon And Countless Stars Above will give you just over an hour of delicately intricate, warm and soothing instrumental prog (or ‘prug’, as I described it in my review last year). With few sharp edges and barely a single distorted note, Phantasia is a great option for when your NMS session enters the wee small hours.
Long Distance Calling – Long Distance Calling
One of the more up-tempo selections on this list, German post-metal instrumentalists Long Distance Calling offer up spacious, grandiose songs with more of a riffy, sometimes even grungy, vibe than the previous choices. Opening song “Into The Black Wide Open” carries an appropriate name, a suitably ominous pulse and a great introductory sample. I’ll let you hear it for yourselves.
“Middleville”, towards the end of the album, comes complete with vocals provided by John Bush, best known for his time fronting Anthrax. It’s a more straightforward rock song, but still clocks in at eight and a half minutes long. The whole album is peppered with great grooves, and it’s a great choice to for spinning at the start of what could be a long night exploring the stars.