Review Summary: The Mystical, the Heavy, and the Prog.
Progressive rock has always been one of my favorite musical genres. The level of artistry that goes into the music is just unparalleled. The hypnotic ambience that are created by the instruments, and of course, the long musical voyages that were taken to. The artists create a new world, a musical haven, and having us descend into an abstract realm of elaborate musicianship. It's like the musicians develop this personal relationship with the instrument, letting the sounds express what's in their soul and translate it into some of the most incredible music ever written. The sound of Progressive rock is often complex, yet at times delicate, and that's because it's all about creating an almost trancing element. The music consumes the listener within a spectrum of sounds and moods that often beguile the mind in a splendor of uncanny artistry. During the 1980's a multitude of Heavy Metal acts began fusing the abrasive sound of Heavy Metal, with the innovative nature of Progressive Rock. It was a natural coalescence, to say the least, as it brought forth an array of possibilities to both genres.
The earlier albums by Mastodon have always been known for their aggressive sound, every song contained a powerful delivery with such intense ferocity, though even then there was always a more abstract element present in their music. Songs like "Elephant Man"
and "Hearts Alive"
, exhibit Mastodon's growing appreciation for Progressive dynamics, particularly the tendency for extended instrumental passages. Their third album, Blood Mountain
, was a major transitional period for Mastodon musically as we saw them diverging from the more aggressive and heavier sound of the previous albums, and embracing a more experimental agenda with more eminent usage of ambient decorations in the music.
Crack The Skye
is the album where Mastodon fully embrace their Progressive influences. There is a gloomy shadow that casts throughout this album, darkening it's content. Crack The Skye has us embark on a new tale to be told by Mastodon, this one being rich with mysticism and explorations of the mysterious spiritual realms. The album begins with "Oblivion"
, which opens with an ambient guitar arrangement and then descends into a more restrained sound of Sludge Metal, it's very reminiscent to the overall sound of Blood Mountain. The lyrics of "Oblivion"
serve as the epilogue to the concept story behind the album. The narrator is describing his own death as he slowly loses consciousness and descends into the unknown dimensions of afterlife, which is represented by the instruments as they fade into silence. Though the story opens with the death of our protagonist, this is only the beginning. Within "Divinations"
, we find that the music is now much more darker and aggressive, reflecting the turmoil that the narrator has found himself in. We discover that the narrator is now a conscious spirit floating through the mysterious realms of Limbo, he is then brought into the conscious world through a mystic ritual but only to find a multitude of obstacles that await him in this metaphysical odyssey.
And now we descend into a more haunting atmosphere decorated with cosmic sounds. "The Czar"
opens with an ominous warning. Through mystical transcendence, the protagonist finds himself in midst of the Russian revolution. His soul has now possessed the physical body of the spiritual advisor to the Czarist royal family, Grigori Rasputin. "The Czar", is Rasputin's warning to the royal family of the horrid events that will evidently await them. "Ghost Of Karelia"
and "The Last Baron"
seem to serve as cryptic reflections of the war between the supporters of the Czar and the new rebel army that would take Russia into a Communist society. The album finale seems to be narrated by the Czar, who has now seen that his army has failed, and is now coming to terms with the fact that he will die, and his kingdom will evidently soon follow him into oblivion.
Now, to refer to the instrumental elements of the album, we see Mastodon at their most restrained. And that's because this album is not about frantic guitars and hard hitting drums. The music's delicacy and emphasis on gloomy ambience is to reflect the melancholic theme that coats this album. Death is present in every single track on the album, especially the title track, "Crack The Skye"
. The song is a tribute to the sister of drummer, Brann Dailor, who tragically took her own life. "Crack The Skye"
, the song, doesn't consciously fit in with the Czarist/mystical concept that is present in the rest of the songs, but overall it reflects the theme of death and the experience of dying which serves as the ubiquitous theme of the album. For the most part, we find the same old Mastodon sound that is present in the past album. Songs like "Divinations"
and "Crack The Skye"
are a reflection of the band's more aggressive roots. The progressive element is quite subtle in most songs, they all contain atmospheric elements decorated in psychedelia that evidently make the songs feel more mellow, but it's most prominent in the lengthier tracks.
and "The Last Baron"
share similar aesthetics in structure. Both songs are musical voyages, but they differ in sound. "The Czar"
is much more dark, driven by an ominous melodic texture. Whereas, "The Last Baron"
, is much more versatile in mood and sound, displaying numerous musical structures, ranging from a delicate ambience to a more powerful delivery that brings Dream Theater to mind one several occasions. The interesting factor in both songs is that despite their length, they don't contain any long instrumental passages that is found in typical Progressive music as vocal deliveries are often present throughout, which make the songs feel shorter during the listening experience. It's tough to say how Mastodon fans will view this album. Clocking in at 50 minutes and containing only 7 songs, something that isn't uncommon in typical Progressive albums, may divert a few fans. This is definitely Mastodon at their "Proggiest", but the sound isn't too different from anything we've heard before. I highly encourage this album to any Mastodon fan, and especially any enthusiast of Progressive music. When given the attention it requires, this album proves to be an unbelievable listening experience.