Review Summary: A mysterious, haunting, and fantastic journey across the cosmos, courtesy of Mastodon
There comes a time in any successful band’s career when they reach a fork in the road of their musical journey. Should they continue manufacturing the same type of music that gave birth to their fandom, or should they innovate and change their sound? Some bands fall prey to the first road, constantly re-hashing the same material until they begin to copy themselves, while others drift too far away from their core and lose what made them special in the first place. However, the best bands can marry these two options; keeping the basis of their sound while evolving musically and introducing new concepts and techniques. Mastodon demonstrates that they are such a band with their fourth LP, Crack the Skye.
Mastodon’s progressive tendencies have grown with each successive album, tipping the scale of extreme metal and progressive metal towards the latter side with their latest offering. The explosive technical blasts found in Leviathan and Blood Mountain, while not missing by any means, are rarer, instead being complemented with atmospheric riffs and vocal harmonies. The harsh vocals of previous albums have also been refined into actual singing by a number of the band members, with demonic voices and wrenching cries populating the seven songs on the album. Album opener “Oblivion” is a great showcase for the band’s new-found singing aptitude, trading vocal responsibilities between bassist Troy Sanders, guitarist Brent Hinds, and drummer Brann Dailor. The track is slower and more grunge-influenced than expected, but ultimately succeeds as a fantastic sample of the band’s new sound. The harsh vocals are not entirely gone, as they provide a chilling accompaniment with the title track’s atmospheric riffs. The raging beast that was contained inside their former albums has been transformed into a lumbering, Lovecraftian demon; slower, but more frightening and fiendishly malevolent.
Mastodon’s signature progressive guitar riffs and solos are still abundantly present in Crack in the Skye, from the raging twin guitars in “Divinations” to the all-out technical bombast of the latter parts of “The Last Baron”. Dailor’s drumming, while not the manic pounds of Leviathan or Blood Mountain, is excellent and provides the brooding tracks with a concise, jazz-influenced backbone. Their songwriting has improved as well, as evidenced in what may be one of their greatest songs, the epic “The Czar”. Containing a dark acoustic beginning punctuated by Hinds’ repeated “Don’t stay, run away”, a collection of chugging riffs, and an explosive finale, The Last Baron is a stunning example Mastodon’s musical abilities.
Continuing their tradition of “elemental” albums (Remission-Fire, Leviathan-Water, Blood Mountain-Earth), Crack the Skye is the album of “ether”, the element that supposedly makes up the cosmos. In their latest offering, Mastodon take their far-fetched fantasy concepts to space, telling a fractured tale about a paraplegic who travels out of his body and into the spirit realm, only to be summoned by Russian occultists. Like all of Mastodon’s concepts, the story and lyrics are not Shakespeare or even that easy to follow; the lyrics have always taken a backseat to the furious music. Conveying emotion has been left to the instruments to achieve thus far. However, parts of Crack the Skye exude a sort of frustrated sorrow, due to the album’s dedication to Dailor’s little sister Skye’s suicide at age 14. In Oblivion, the sorrowful Dailor sings “How can I tell you I failed?”, a simple line that nonetheless gives an extra emotional aspect to the song. Title track “Crack the Skye” features a personal favorite line “Please tell Lucifer he can't have this one/Her spirit’s too strong”, revealing a little more of the scar left by Skye’s suicide.
Mastodon seem to be set on the progressive path, dedicating themselves to pushing their music into unexplored territory while keeping their collective soul intact. Crack the Skye is a haunting, fantastic album that showcases an amazing band at the high of their career continuing to pursue personal and musical evolution. This album should not be missed by any progressive metal fan, and could be a good starting point for those seeking to dive into the mysterious world of thinking man’s metal.