VAST – Visual Audio Sensory Theater (1998)

VAST album cover
VAST album cover

By the end of the ‘90s, grunge was all but a spent force. World music spurred on by the popularity of Enya was all the rage as it seemed like all of America’s independent bookstores used it for background music. It would seem odd if not funny to think that these two contrasting musical styles would converge somehow like peanut butter and chocolate. It would have been even funnier to imagine that in the future this music would be the soundtrack for spectacles featuring buff men in tights hitting each other over the heads with chairs.

Jon Crosby a Seattle-based singer/song writer/musician grew up around music and no doubt was exposed to more exotic musical styles than most would be suburban garage rockers in Seattle. As something of a prodigy, he was featured in Guitar Player magazine at the ripe age of 13. Crosby’s vast (no pun intended) influences would be reflected in the ambitious complexities of is music. For Cosby the post-grunge scene in Seattle would be the only starting point.

Like Dead Can Dance, Crosby would look backward for inspiration. The production process helmed by Crosby would include traveling the world to record choirs and Benedictine monks. Samples from their performances would pepper his new album, leading to a trademark gothic dramatic effect. The tone of most of the songs were dark but somehow uplifting thanks to the choirs that would be added to the mix. The charging rhythm section and heavy bass helped to create a dramatic sound stage that suggested a soundtrack to some unseen drama.

A successful pre-release EP tested the waters and gave big record company backing for a full LP. The self-titled album was called VAST (Visual Audio Sensory Theater). Besides sounding like a pretentious home theater system, VAST would incorporate Crosby’s ideals of fusing world, ambient and industrial elements with post grunge rock. Lead mostly by Crosby’s acoustic guitar playing, VAST featured former heavy metal guitarists Rowan Roberson and Dio.

The first single “Pretty When You Cry” got them noticed, but it would be the next single “Touched” that would truly capture the public’s imagination. Suddenly, there was a kind of music that was gruff and manly, while retaining delicate ethereal elements that would endear VAST to everything from Dungeons and Dragon playing to backyard fighting. That was exactly what happened to VAST’s music. In less than a year it would be the soundtrack to fantasy TV , angels, vampires and surfing films. The staying power of VAST’s influence was confirmed a decade later when “Touched” was used as the theme for WrestleMania XXIV in 2008.

The considerable hype that surrounded the album’s release was mostly justified as VAST got great reviews and was steadily climbing the charts in America and Europe.  Jon Crosby never intended the music to blow up as it did, leading to some tensions between him and his record label. After the next album Music for People disappointed Elektra, the band moved to an independent label where they experimented with self-distributed music via the internet.

Like many debut albums, VAST remains one of the best from the band and captures their ideal sound before reaching a juncture where their music became more acoustic rock and less worldly in nature.

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