The classic 1993 adventure game Myst maintained its position as the best-selling PC game of all time for an astounding nine years by immersing the shizz out of the player, placing him or her in a sprawling, interconnected universe with a mysterious island as its central hub. The designers did a hell of a lot with very little—its seemingly massive cosmos was in actuality just a series of static, pre-rendered polygons with some fancy textures layered on top. Despite that, the game’s scale seemed massive.
Seattle ambient/noise/metal group Noise-A-Tron manages the same feat with its appropriately named Vast Arcane (out now on Bleeding Light Records), an album that would make an amazing soundtrack for Myst. With cryptically titled tracks that sound like hints from one of the game’s puzzle challenges (“Six,” “Six Point Five,” “Seven,” “Eight”), the record oozes mystery, intrigue, and dense atmosphere—a pretty neat trick considering there are only two people in the band. Lea Bledsoe (eight-string bass, synth, samples) and husband Jason (drums) pull it off by knowing when to temper their structured, doomy dirges with menacing, eerie soundscapes straight from The X-Files.
Their yin/yang approach to songwriting (sick riff/spooky interlude/sick riff/spooky interlude) is masterfully done—especially given that legions of instrumental post-rock-tinged metal bands out there tend to overcompensate by going the complete opposite route, writing overcomplicated, mathy monstrosities that amount to little but Guitar Hero masturbation. Noise-A-Tron stands out because it embraces the very same negative space those bands seem to fear. The Bledsoes aren’t afraid to let you wander around aimlessly in their songs, and they are all the better for it. Case in point: Thirteen-minute album closer “Eight” opens with a great two-minute feedback riff before suddenly plopping you in a woozy, weird, ambient world for a solid seven minutes until any semblance of “song” returns. The listener is left guessing whether the windblown, shimmering landscape they’ve unexpectedly ventured into exists in a haunted sheet-metal factory, a crystal-encrusted cave, or an evil wizard’s mountaintop fortress. Suddenly, what was once a very simple song becomes a sprawling, enveloping vista.
But when Noise-A-Tron does toss aside its dronier tendencies and go straight for the gut, it’s just as effective. “Six Point Five” is a lean 1´42˝ of galactic space-bass riffing that lacks nothing for its straightforward structuring. It swoops in, punches you in the face, and then gets the hell out of there.
It’s a shame Noise-A-Tron doesn’t seem to have chiseled away as strong a local foothold as its two-piece doom peers in Bell Witch—they more than deserve it, and the audience for this kind of art is very clearly there. In all honesty, it might be due to the group’s gee-whiz name, which sounds like a dinky plastic children’s toy from the 1950s. Yes, I guess the band does conjure up some pretty cool noises, but a duo summoning epic tempests like this deserves a more fitting name. If Myst were named Walk-Around-A-Thon, I doubt it would’ve sat at the top of the bestseller list as long as it did, if at all. But hey—the Beatles is a pretty dorky name too, and they managed to figure it out.