Mastodon
Crack the Skye

Mastodon are one of the most lauded bands in modern metal, but at the same time, one of the most hated by “elitists” with an agenda against “mallcore” (such a stupid descriptor I might add). I still have no idea how music of such a progressive nature can be considered “mallcore”, or meant for mass consumption. I thought the backbone of that sort of stuff was in simplicity, easy to digest material? But I digress. I’ve given up trying to understand that rationale of said metal snobs, because frankly, I don’t think they use any.

Back on topic, Crack the Skye is the bands much anticipated fourth studio LP, and as much as I’d like to say what they’ve presented to us this time is surprising, they did tell us that this time out, they would be focusing on more of a rock sound, akin to the music that they grew up on, and that being the “timeless” rock records of the 60’s and 70’s. As far as I can tell, they’ve largely succeeded in this, and the final product is every bit as astounding as their prior efforts.

As much as I tried, I couldn’t quite write this up in a conventional sort of way, so I’ve basically left it in note form, track by track.

“Oblivion”. Most likely the albums second single, “Oblivion” is also probably the most straight forward song in a verse-chorus format with catchy riffing and all clean vocals. Some great prog rock styled soloing. Epic fucking chorus.

“Divinations”. The first single/video. Also very straight forward, verse-chorus structure, heavy verses with vocals as close to older Mastodon as you’ll find on the album, lighter, catchy chorus and of course, more excellent solo action. At this point, things haven’t traveled to far away from what we know and/or expect of Mastodon, except perhaps a shade or two lighter than previous outings.

“Quintessence”. Here, things begin to take a turn into much more adventurous prog territory and psychedelic realms. Bits and pieces of it have that “Bladecatcher” (Blood Mountain) kind of weirdness to it. The chorus is a bit more explosive than the rest of the track. Lots of excellent drum work and fills from Mr. Dailor.

“The Czar”. The albums first epic, and the psychedelia continues. In fact, it’s ever present in every track from here on out. Essentially split into four parts (“Usurper”, “Escape”, “Martyr” and “Spiral”), the beginnings are on the slow and mellow side, but just shy of four minutes, it burst out like a caged animal with a stout riff, flailing drums and confident clean vocals. Breaks at the seven minute mark to finish off with spacey guitar work. Solo towards the end has a strong 60’s/70’s-ish kind of vibe, bringing to mind the likes of a blues-y Hendrix or maybe Page.

“Ghost of Karelia”. More upbeat than the previous two, but no less tripped out and full of emotive vocals. Goes through a multitude of moods and tempos. Some tribal like drums in parts from Dailor. Overall, the track works as kind of a pivoting point for the album, preparing the listener for the last two epic tracks.

“Crack the Skye”. From what I’ve gathered, it’s a reference to Brann Dailor’s sister, Skye Dailor, who took her own life at the age of 14, and the lyrics are pretty reflective of this without outright saying so. Obviously deeply personal, this is a very dense and intense track, with some heavier riffing coupled with a subtle use of light keys (or perhaps thats the mellotron that is credited to Rich Morris in the album sleeve that I’m hearing?).

“The Last Baron”. The second epic of the album, it starts with more spacey, psychedelic guitar, but begins to build after the three minute mark into gradual crescendo that breaks around nine minutes to reintroduce elements from the beginning of the track, and closes out with some spectacular and tripped out solo work.

Crack the Skye is an album that will most likely split the Mastodon fanbase, because it doesn’t quite pack the sheer heft of it’s predecessors in terms of heaviness in a “brutal” sense. It is however, a very heavy album in terms of emotional weight and exceptional musicianship. They’ve explored some brave new avenues here, and I for one think the results are brilliant.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Larry "Staylow" Owens
March 31st, 2009

Comments

  1. Commented by: legumbre

    cant wait to have it in my hands!!!


  2. Commented by: stiffy

    Good review!


  3. Commented by: Nick A.

    Nice review and while I appreciate diversity in tastes from reviewers, I can’t help but notice the incongruency…This album was pretty much dogged and dismissed as ‘a venture in drug use’ by whomever reviewed Static Tensions. I guess my complaint isn’t really relevant. I love Static Tensions and have this on preorder for the vinyl. From what I’ve heard i think this is great.


  4. Commented by: immortal

    I’ve never heard the term “mallcore” applied to Mastodon before. Good review anyway. I like that Brann Dailor has mellowed a bit with each album. His work on Remission and Leviathan is off the wall, but here it’s restrained and refined. Both styles are impressive. Good shit.


  5. Commented by: Ryan

    bought it the day after it came out and haven’t stopped listening since. this is without a doubt one of the albums of the year (and this is coming from someone who was very so-so about the band until a couple years ago). The classic rock influence is perfect, but they never falter from the sound they set out to accomplish, ultimately leaving them with a sound all their own.


  6. Commented by: axiom

    I do a pretty good job at insulating myself from the mindset of “fans”. If 16 year old mallrats love Mastodon, good for them. Taken on its own merit, this is a great album. I’m glad they left the brutality behind, it was just getting in the way at this point. I’ve only heard a crappy mp3 leaker, so I’m hoping they also ditched the raw and gritty production of the past albums. Good review, and good job Mastodon.


  7. Commented by: gabaghoul

    fuck the haters, they’re being shits ’cause the band found major label success. it’s not like they dumbed down their sound in the process – quite the opposite.

    I’m really torn on this one. I applaud the ultra-progressive direction, and there’s no denying the skill and musicianship on display here. But the songs just don’t… rock, even if the band promised they would.

    Divinations is awesome, but too short, and The Czar is another high point, and enthralling from start to finish.
    But the last three tracks are just so dour, with very few kickass sections that make you sit up and really pay attention. I miss the shaggy groove and huge riffs from songs like Blood and Thunder, March of the Fire Ants and Iron Tusk, and there’s little of that to be had here, compositional pyrotechnics or not. I always loved that Mastodon could be both visceral and intellectual – go back and check out Remission and Leviathan again – but I think they’re starting to lose a big piece of that duality here.

    Shit maybe I should write my own review :)
    Nice one though Larry.


  8. Commented by: fightingmike

    I am digging this record more and more. It has taken a few listens and i do miss the heavier big riff tunes, but i definately still like this alot. It sounds like a weird mix of Ozzy and Mars Volta and the opening section of Ghost of Karelia sound an awful lot like Tool’s “Parabola” main riff. This record is a grower, but it’s not up there with Leviathan in my opinion.


  9. Commented by: jk666

    So nice to see bands that are not afraid to progress regardless of the consequences. Good for them, better for us.


  10. Commented by: ferg

    “Crack the Skye is an album that will most likely split the Mastodon fanbase, because it doesn’t quite pack the sheer heft of it’s predecessors in terms of heaviness in a “brutal” sense.”

    …I beg to differ. Quite the opposite. The release carries enough of their heaviness to satiate even the hardcore ‘Don fan…while opening their genius up to a whole new set of fans. It’s simply a brilliant piece of work.


  11. Commented by: Vance

    Well I always thought the weakest part of Mastodon was their metal vocals, especially on the first two albums, I mean the music and riffs and songwriting has always been badass, but it’s once they started dabbling with the clean vocals that I think they really started to take off and because unfettered as far as being able to showcase all of their talents, this album is by far one of the best in my collection, with so many great tunes and choruses and riffs and bridges and just everything. Brent Hinds vocals are just unreal, such character and soul, love it… and as usual GREAT REVIEW!!!!!


  12. Commented by: meathammer

    I think this album is amazing, it’s just too bad that their live vocals suck so much ass. It would be such a trip to see this stuff performed well in a live setting. I’ll stick with their albums and pretend they’re just a studio band. Good shit!


  13. Commented by: gabaghoul

    saw Mastodon at a tiny venue on the Leviathan tour – they sounded amazing, vocals and everything. asked Brann Dailor what we was reading and he said Dostoevsky – obviously he didn’t act on that inspiration right away


  14. Commented by: NworbYblehs

    I’ve be a fan of Mastodon since the Life’sBlood EP back in the day. They never cease to amaze me with their insights, and unrelenting drive to explore the unexplored. Kudos on Crack the Skye! Mr. Dailor sums it up at best on the DVD which accompanies the album. They as a band didn’t want to jog in place, as soooooo many bands do today. I anxiously await the next effort from the Georgian quartet. I am a fan for life!!


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