Review: Mastodon “Crack The Skye”

mastodon

It would be easy to over-analyze Mastodon’s new album, “Crack The Skye,” but I have a tendency to do too much analysis and wankering in my reviews. Instead, I’ll cut directly to the chase: “Crack The Skye” is the most satisfying Mastodon album since “Leviathan.” It combines the aggression of “Remission” with the progression of “Leviathan” while avoiding the pit of self-obsession that dragged down “Blood Mountain.”

The performances are top notch, the music is heavy yet intricate and esoteric and the whole thing smacks of perfection. This album elevates Mastodon into the top ranks of progressive metal.

When Mastodon released the “Workhorse Chronicles” DVD, another, better metal publication (Decibel, perhaps?) wrote that – love them or not – Mastodon was a band the metal community couldn’t ignore, because their every move was significant. Frankly, I thought the band had forfeited that status in 2006 with “Blood Mountain,” an album which was good in places but forgettable overall (I’m looking at the song titles on my “Blood Mountain” disc right now, and I can recall the melody of only five of the 12 songs). At the risk of uttering some form of metal blasphemy, my opinion at the time was Mastodon had peaked with “Leviathan.”

I had concerns that “Crack The Skye” was going to be less metallic, unnecessarily complicated and full of pointless guitar noodling. But I needn’t have worried: “Crack The Skye” is amazingly compact. The self-indulgence that vexed much of “Blood Mountain” is gone – there’s no “Bladecatcher” or “Pendulous Skin” here to make me reach for the skip button.

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My biggest complaint with “Blood Mountain” was that it sounded like complexity for complexity’s sake. That’s not to suggest the songs on “Crack The Skye” are simple – Brann Dailor’s drumming is as intricate and fascinating as anything he did for “Leviathan” or “Remission.” The guitar riffs intertwine, building on one another or providing musical undercurrents for the main melody. Guitarist Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher and bassist Troy Sanders are masters of their instruments … but they don’t allow the guitar/bass parts to overwhelm the songs as a whole. Not a single note feels superfluous or goes to waste.

Vocally, Mastodon are arguably limited, even with Hinds, Sanders and Dailor sharing vocal duties. But metal has (almost) never been about beautiful vocals: What’s important is that vocals work with the songs, as opposed to being a distraction.

While I only found two songs on “Blood Mountain” that compelled repeat listens, it’s difficult to point to standout tracks on “Crack The Skye.”

“Oblivion” is fantastic stoner rock, “Divinations” and “Quintessence” are powerful tracks – particularly the colorful latter song – and the four-part “The Czar” is equal with “Hearts Alive” or any of the band’s best work. “Ghost of Karelia” pulls its weight and “Crack The Skye” and “The Last Baron” (which are really one long song) achieve a status that is both epic and psychedelic.

There’s no filler here – and the album is the band’s heaviest since “Remission,” even while the band moves further away from “traditional” metal. “Crack The Skye” suggests the members of Mastodon still have endless musical vistas in front of them.

You can hear tracks from “Crack The Skye” on the band’s Myspace page. Also, here are the official videos for “Divinations” and “Oblivion.” You can find a live performance of “Oblivion” from Spinner.com here.

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