Review Summary: Crack the Skye is Mastodon's proggiest album to date, showing a vast maturity in the band since previous release Blood Mountain. Whilst not as heavy as any of their previous albums, Crack the Skye is still an exciting, unpredictable gem of an album.
Atlanta based band Mastodon have never been ones to do things the easy way. Known for their unique brand of technically stunning progressive/sludge metal the band made a name for themselves through breakthrough album Remission
, a vigorous and fierce album that was met with widespread critical acclaim. Refining their sound for follow up albums Leviathan
and Blood Mountain
the band expanded their ever-growing fan base whilst staying true to their musical roots. On the face of it latest release Crack The Skye
is a typical Mastodon album; energetically performed technical music executed brilliantly. Sure its ambitious but so was Leviathan
, and yes it contains an overly eccentric curvilinear concept, but Blood Mountain
had one too. What sets this album apart from previous releases then is not the musical ideologies of the band, but the evolution of how this music has been integrated into a concept which differs greatly to any the band have previously attempted.
The album gets off to a frantic start, with two of the faster paced songs, Oblivion
, opening the album. These two songs demonstrate the pure ruthless energy typical of the bands previous releases. As well as having some of the faster riffs on the album, both songs are also immediately catchy and contain some of the best guitar riffs on the album. After the furiously energetic one two punch of Oblivion
the more melodic riffs and slower tempo of third track Quintessence
feel out of place, and although the track individually is good, it disrupts the flow of the album. Thankfully this is the only case in which a song feels wrong in the context of the album as the rest of the songs are ordered well, and flow into each other nicely.
The multi-parted The Czar
is possibly the albums most interesting song. Although it starts slowly, it gradually speeds up and in doing so is a better track for it. The guitar interplay is particularly good throughout the track and the 10+ minute play time is justified by the large amount of variation shown throughout. Sadly the same cannot be said for the other ‘epic’ The Last Baron
. Although starting strongly the track is a whopping 13 minutes long and uses the same melody for most of those thirteen minutes. Whilst not a bad melody, the track does get repetitive, and although it too contains plenty of guitar solos and breakdowns it is not enough to stop the track growing old after a few listens.
had its Herman Melville inspired water based themes and Blood Mountain
had a concept devoted to mythical beasts, Crack The Skye
too immerses the listener in a conceptual theme. Delving into the realms of space and interstellar travel, the album continues the elemental premise fundamentally based around air, albeit with a little Tsarist Russian imagery thrown in for good measure. Where fire, earth and to a certain extent water can be seen as aggressive elemental principles, the element of air has no such attributes, making the concept radically different to anything the band has previously attempted. Nevertheless by creating a spacey feel to the music and complimenting this with clean vocals and tight song writing Mastodon once again have managed to create a top quality album that passes more than just a fleeting resemblance to the conceptual themes it represents.
Musically Crack The Skye
is vastly superior to previous release Blood Mountain
. Without ever becoming overwhelmed by the concept, the album has been affected by the calmer elemental hub. The music on offer is categorically not as heavy as on previous records in order to remain effective at displaying the required emotional nuances that the concept requires. Thankfully the stodginess that was an ever-present entity in Blood Mountain
is gone, replaced with a more free flowing feel that encapsulates the airy mood. The biggest change musically is the vocals, which have in general improved since Blood Mountain
. The fierce vocals that were so prominent in earlier releases are almost non-existent in Crack the Skye
, with cleaner passages now lasting for extended periods of time. However as with previous releases the fulcrum of the music is not the vocals but the guitar passages, which thankfully are as technically stunning and intricately woven as ever. Often both guitars play quite different melodies to add multiple layers to the music such as on the The Czar
and Ghost Of Karelia
With Crack The Skye
Mastodon have shown that they are maturing as a collective unit, revealing marked improvements in song writing and a more restrained performance whilst still keeping the raw passion and eccentricity that has got them to where they are today. Mastodon are slowly moving away from their sludge metal roots, evolving into a more defined progressive metal band with intricate guitar passages and unorthodox tempo changes undoubtedly playing a more prominent part than in previous releases. Whilst not as heavy as any of their previous albums, Crack the Skye
is still an exciting, unpredictable gem of an album and solidifies Mastodon's deserved reputation.
Overall 4 Excellent