Review Summary: Mastodon venture further into the land of prog, and discover their softer side
Back in 2002 and with their fantastic debut “Remission”, it would not have been an understatement to say that Mastodon caused something of a stir. What the metal scene had stumbled across was a band not afraid to play loud, technically difficult progressive metal with enough catchiness to make the listener come back for more. Yet behind the tough man exterior, the band seemed willing to venture further into their progressive side and add complexity and soft acoustics to their macho metal songs, and some 7 years and 3 albums later, the band reach the peak of their progressive tendencies. While “Crack the Skye” is certainly impressive on a technical level, you can’t help but get the feeling that Mastodon tried to outdo themselves just a little bit too much, and produce an album that seems to pale in comparison to the rest of their discography.
Nonetheless, for saying that this album was written by lead singer and guitarist Brett Hinds who apparently spent the whole pre-production process smoking pot on his sofa and wore nothing but his underwear, the musical quality on display is fantastic. The opening banjo on single “Divinations” and spidering lead guitar playing over the deep, gruff rhythmic section provide us with one of Mastodon’s best songs to date, and one of their most accomplished. Brann Dailor, whose sister is meant to be inspiration for part of the album, puts in yet another solid effort through and through and the harmonisation between Hinds and Troy Sanders works to great effect. In some ways, this is probably Mastodon’s most impressive release to date, as everything from the album art and cinematic music videos right through to the ridiculous concept are nothing short of ambitious.
However, it can easily be argued that this is their worst release to date, as some tracks are simply throwaways that will make you bother why the band couldn’t cut this release down to 5 epics. One horrible offender is “Quintessence”. Admittedly, it has a tough job following on from “Divinations” but right from the beginning it just sounds incredibly poor. Distorted guitars build up to very little, and it seems to lay the main focus upon Brett Hinds, who with every single release seems to insist on using his eternal Ozzy-esque wail to even greater extents. And while he is not an atrocious singer, one is just longing for him and Troy Sanders to break out the dual vocals present of “Oblivion” and “Divinations” and stick with it. The aforementioned track seems almost thrown in to please the hardcore fan base, as it sounds akin to “Iron Tusk” from 2005 Magnus opus “Leviathan” but it just does not fit with the albums overall nature. Instead of the swift, galloping leads and wails present on every song before it, it relies upon sludgy riffs and screams to convey itself which just doesn’t sound right. Yet, once taken out of the context of the album it sounds rather good.
Thankfully, Mastodon saves the best for last with “The Last Baron”, a song that builds upon layers of beautiful acoustics, organs and militaristic drums into a thirteen epic that tells the tale of the downfall of the elite within Russia. The fantastic leads yet again take prominence, Hinds wail finally fits the music and the build-up to the end of the end of the song is easily one of the most effective Mastodon has ever done. If any two tracks need to be downloaded from this album, aim for this and “Divinations”.
Perhaps the best word to sum up Mastodon’s fourth studio effort is “inconsistent”. Thankfully, for most of the time the band are firing on all four cylinders, providing psychedelic hard rock that allows the listener to get lost in the midst of it for days. At other times, the album throws up mediocre and even cringe-worthy lumps of fodder that scream filler and simply do not need to present. While Mastodon’s ambition largely pays off of this, their fourth studio effort, you have to ask the question of just what turn will this impressive four-piece take next. Hopefully not one quite like this.
2. The Czar (ii. Escape and iii. Martyr)
3. Ghost of Karelia
4. The Last Baron