VAST – Video Audio Sensory Theater

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Album Review by Mark Bayross

A while ago there was a little-known band on the scene called The God Machine. They came over from sunny California to grimy Camden to record an album. They stayed here and wrote some of the most powerful, dynamic and beautiful music I have ever heard. I saw them turn a pokey pub in Cambridge into an almost religious gathering. Three days after they finished recording their second album (in Romania of all places), their bass player, Jimmy Fernandez, one third of the band, died of a brain tumour. After years of me waiting for them to re-appear, their singer/guitarist Robin Proper-Shepherd emerged from the nether with a new band, Sophia, but that’s another story for another time…

Why am I dredging this up? Because The God Machine were criminally ignored. Because one third of them died without ever seeing the success he deserved. Because I have never heard a band who could equal their majestic power. Until now.

VISUAL AUDIO SENSORY THEATER is the work of one man, another Californian, Jon Crosby. This, his debut, contains more originality and sheer power than most so-called songwriters could ever dream of. Each song is a haunting mélange of taut guitar chords, tribal drums and lush orchestration, with strings, gregorian chants and even eastern muezzin-style wailing.

The opening track, HERE and first single PRETTY WHEN YOU CRY have early Nine Inch Nails electronics underpinning them, although in the case of the former, the effect is of a swift kick in the face, while the latter serves more to creep the listener out (especially if you see the video). The second track, TOUCHED, (the new single) actually features the same sample from Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares as The God Machine’s “Home”, but combined with the chanting of Bhutanese Buddhist monks.

Jon Crosby’s voice varies almost as much as the music, shifting in tone from Bono-style warmth to Alice In Chains’ Layne Staley – wracked and desperate, but powerful. On DIRTY HOLE, he rocks out, accompanied this time by a sample of slave chanting from the Deep South along with a hammond organ and piano. And so it continues in much the same vein, each song building on the intensity of the last and adding new instruments: I’M DYING has three drum lines; FLAMES a solo cello; until the final triptych of songs, which thread together through a background of SALVE REGINA. The closing song, YOU, sounds similar to Peter Gabriel’s “We Do What We Are Told”.

True, there is a formula being employed here, but when the recipe is this good, there’s no need to change the menu. Not only is every song here stunning, incredibly Crosby played all the instruments on the album (although he drafted in some help for the string arrangements). Even more incredibly, he is only 21 years old. Makes our home-grown twenty-something indie bands look pretty shoddy in comparison.

6 stars