Mastodon
Crack the Skye


4.0
excellent

Review

by Professor USER (5 Reviews)
April 30th, 2010 | 29 replies


Release Date: 2009 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Unlike many progressive metal bands, Mastodon just can't stop progressing.

Almost three years ago, we expected Mastodon to pull out all the stops on their hugely anticipated third album, and they didn’t disappoint, as the triumphant Blood Mountain had the Atlanta, Georgia band serving notice that they had every intention of being the standard bearers for American metal in the 2000s. What we didn’t expect was that the record’s overall sales numbers would be so middling. At approximately 150,000 units sold, that’s certainly no failure, but given the enthusiastic response to 2004’s Relapse-released Leviathan by both fans and critics, some outstanding tour exposure (supporting Slayer, playing Ozzfest, hitting the huge festivals in Europe, and even playing the hipster-friendly Bonnaroo and Pitchfork Music Festivals), and loads of label hype, their Warner Brothers debut, for all its boldness and ambition, seemed to stagnate after peaking at number 32 on the album chart. So when it was announced that Mastodon was going to record with producer Brendan O’Brien, who had brought his mainstream-friendly polish to Bruce Springsteen, AC/DC, and Velvet Revolver in the recent past, it was enough to have many wondering if the upcoming fourth album would be the band’s big stab at capturing an audience much wider than a bunch of extreme metal fans.

As it turns out, Crack the Skye couldn’t be farther from a mainstream-pandering effort a la the Black Album or Superunknown, and nor is it a continuation of the crushing yet intricate sound first established by 2001’s Lifesblood EP and 2002’s Remission. In its place, we have an album that’s all but ditched the crust/sludge heaviness in favor of exploring the sprawling sounds of 1970s progressive rock, with nary an obvious “single” to be found. With just seven songs on a 50-minute record, you know these guys have been getting their prog on.

The new album’s sleeker approach is the kind of surprising sonic shift that will remind many of the baffling, bass-less mix on Metallica’s …And Justice For All 21 years ago, only because Mastodon’s early material such as “Crusher Destroyer”, “March of the Fire Ants”, and “Blood and Thunder” all sounded so incredibly heavy on record, and even more so in a live setting. This time around, though, with O’Brien at the helm, Crack the Skye is clearly going for a cleaner, more melodic, more spacious sound devoid of the high compression that plagues many of today’s metal releases, and in turn, the four musicians have responded with their most disciplined performances on record to date.

Mastodon’s new direction is made apparent immediately, starting with the opening track. Compared to Blood Mountain‘s incendiary “The Wolf is Loose”, “Oblivion” is far more understated, its murky opening riff slowly gaining momentum, but when the chugging begins in earnest, the emphasis is placed not on the rhythm riff but the richly layered vocal melodies instead, with drummer Brann Dailor (in a shockingly good vocal turn) handling the verses, bassist Troy Sanders joining in the bridge, and guitarist Brent Hinds taking over during the choruses. The galloping “Divinations” comes closest to equaling the headbang-inducing fury of their previous material, but for all the ferocity of that central riff, our attention is drawn to the song’s other bells and whistles, like the plucked banjo notes in the intro, the lithe dual harmonies by Hinds and Bill Kelliher, Hinds’ powerhouse vocal turn in the verses, and the capper, an absolutely wicked surf guitar solo.

The spacey, synth-laden bridge and hardcore-inspired choruses of “Quintessence”, the slow-burning jam of “Ghost of Karelia”, and the elegiac title track are compelling examples of how Mastodon has broadened its sound, but it’s on the album’s two epic tracks where the album peaks. In fact, the 11-minute suite “The Czar” just might be the best song the band has ever written. Starting out as a murky ballad reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter”, the song gradually builds up to the moment at the 3:44 mark where the song takes an abrupt turn with a fabulous, Michael Schenker-style riff before launching into a funk-fueled jam. For a band that previously loved to make songs as complicated as possible, the restraint shown is remarkable, especially on the part of Dailor, whose paradiddling fills are nonexistent, sticking to a more thunderous, fluid groove which beautifully underscores the climactic, Jimmy Page-like solo during the last third of the song. The 13-minute “The Last Baron” is similarly arranged but more dexterous, Hinds and Kelliher pulling out riff after monstrous riff, channeling 1970s Rush (note the sly “YYZ” homage midway through), Red-era King Crimson, and Frank Zappa seemingly all at once, yet just like “The Czar’, there’s a definite cohesion to the track, and none of the tempo shifts feel arbitrarily tossed in.

As much as Mastodon loves to offer complicated explanations of they lyrical themes on each new album, it’s not as if each song begs to be analyzed as closely as on, say, 2112 or The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway; for all the rambling about Rasputin, the Khlysty, wormholes, and astral planes on Crack the Skye, Mastodon’s concepts tend to be a bit too muddled for their own good. Instead, much like the work of their peers High on Fire, their lyrics are best appreciated as fun examples of hesher bombast, and little more. As is the case with metal music in general, it’s best enjoyed as one gigantic, ostentatious package, and although Mastodon’s approach has been altered slightly on this album, they never fail to deliver that end of the bargain, record sales be damned.


user ratings (3250)
Chart.
4.1
excellent
other reviews of this album
1 of
  • ryallen (4)
    More prog than metal, but will be easily appreciated by fans of either....

    crackerjack (5)
    A stone throw away from oblivion....

    Idioteque (5)
    An album to drown in...

    Hernan M. Campbell STAFF (4.7)
    The Mystical, the Heavy, and the Prog....

  • Will Forest (4.5)
    This is the shooting star and the bright halo for all that Mastodon stands for....

    Will C. (4.5)
    Mastodon makes a humongous change in their style and takes the listener into a void of unc...

    sulkenigma (4.5)
    This is an album that can be described as epic with or without any irony......

    Darkvoid67 (3.5)
    Mastodon venture further into the land of prog, and discover their softer side...

  • therayder (4.5)
    A mysterious, haunting, and fantastic journey across the cosmos, courtesy of Mastodon...

    potsos (4.5)
    Crack the Skye finds Mastodon continuing to tip the scales toward prog-metal vision, clean...

    Edmund Blackadder (4)
    Mastodon create another great album with few flaws that appeals to both old and new fans....

    quinny1989 (4.5)
    Simply Fantastic....

  • Jorn van Schaïk (4)
    If the evolution found on this record is the destiny of Mastodon, then metal's collective ...

    Sean (4.5)
    An amazing successor to the critically acclaimed "Blood Mountain". Mastodon continue their...

    Nick Greer EMERITUS (2)
    A strange journey into the occult that leaves the listener with an earful of amazing riffs...

    IronGenesis (4.5)
    Crack the Skye is a musically polished output and arguably Mastodon's most technically foc...

  • Fugue (4)
    Crack the Skye is Mastodon's proggiest album to date, showing a vast maturity in the band ...


Comments:Add a Comment 
americanmusicmachine
April 30th 2010


3953 Comments


I had a professor back at brown that was a shark. nice guy i guess his exams were a pain in the ass though.


Professor
April 30th 2010


15 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Hmmm....

Emim
April 30th 2010


26666 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

YES A MASTODON GUITAR SOLO

americanmusicmachine
April 30th 2010


3953 Comments


I heard mastodon are no longer going to be scoring that "Jonah Hex" movie. that probably would have been cool a western/superhero movie with Mastodon's patented GUITAR SOLOS.

Emim
April 30th 2010


26666 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

QUE HERMOSO!

AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
April 30th 2010


7401 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

excellent review for an excellent album. its even better when heard live

Fugue
April 30th 2010


7354 Comments


Good review man, seems an age since this was released haha.

Digging: Damien Rice - My Favourite Faded Fantasy

BigHans
April 30th 2010


26454 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Good review, although I do not like this album.

mvdu
April 30th 2010


608 Comments


I have Blood Mountain, and that CD is good for when you are just mad at the world. Is this as good as Blood Mountain?

BigHans
April 30th 2010


26454 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Blood Mountain is better, although not by much. Leviathan is their best.

Athom
Staff Reviewer
April 30th 2010


17224 Comments


the middle off this really drags for me. the first 3 songs and the last baron are great. remission is where I go for my mastodon fix.

Rhino
April 30th 2010


71 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Well written review, although I'm not a fan of the album. This band needs to work on the 'less is more' idea, I haven't listened to this in ages but if I recall it seemed like every band member felt the need to fill every crevice on this album with their own little fills. Way too noisy. They should attend an "Arranging Songs 101" seminar.

SteelErectedb4you8er
April 30th 2010


2618 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I just saw them last night in Grand Rapids. Unfortunately, the one guitar player was sick, but dudes from Baroness filled in on guitar. I have to say that they have playing this record live down pat now. Their vocals were really good; especially Troy's.

TheSpirit
April 30th 2010


17988 Comments


One of the most overrated albums of last year

Digging: Volahn - Aq Ab Al

Relinquished
April 30th 2010


25504 Comments


yeah but it's alright i guess

FadeToBlack
April 30th 2010


11034 Comments


one of the most overrated bands of last year/decade

ShadowRemains
April 30th 2010


21325 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

overrated...yes. bad...no, good review though, pos'd

TheSpirit
April 30th 2010


17988 Comments



one of the most overrated bands of last year/decade


Fucking 123

Waior
April 30th 2010


11461 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

great review, great album, glad somebody else noticed the YYZ part

Deviant.
Staff Reviewer
April 30th 2010


31475 Comments


Album and review are both good

Digging: Hyperdub - Hyperdub 10.4



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