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Music Review: Mastodon – Crack the Skye

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Riding on pillars of uprooted earth, Mastodon arrives again with the rock opus Crack the Skye. This is the next step in the band’s natural evolution through the sonic realm, the next rite of passage for those about to rock, and the ultimate expression of a band kicking major ass at the heights of their power.

The intricacy of Crack the Skye reaches epic levels. Less Southern-fried metal and more classic rock, this is a record that calls to mind the supernatural meandering of concept records from the 70s and 80s. It is an album that demands meticulous, absolute listens without track-skipping or scanning ahead.

The Georgia band has come a long way since 1999 and Brann Dailor, Brent Hinds, Troy Sanders, and Bill Kelliher aren’t about to let those years fade to black. Instead, Crack the Skye is the furtherance of the water (Leviathan) and earth (Blood Mountain) these guys have been through over the course of their history.

If Mastodon’s other records found them getting down and sludgy, this record finds them reaching up and broadening their musical horizons. The seven songs brim with the technical expertise we’ve come to expect but also contain intensely personal aspects that stretch and allow for intensification. This is music that moves, breathes, exists.

It also flat-out fucking rocks.

This is big picture rock, elementally crushing the competition under its emotional load. Crack the Skye rumbles with Dailor’s inconceivable drumming, Sanders’ derailing bass, and the guitar exactitude of Hinds and Kelliher. The vocal harmonies are tremendous, too, giving the record exceptional intensity.

Said harmonies are put to good use on the first track, “Oblivion.” “Our records always open big and fast and heavy,” says Dailor. “I don’t know if you call it tradition after four records, but it’s tradition — get the kids’ heads moving.” A measured, hazardous riff opens the cut ominously, giving way to drummer Dailor’s vocals. Sanders joins, followed by Hinds, and the harmonization is just amazing.

“Divinations” offers us Hinds on banjo and a thrashing gush of guitar righteousness. The three-and-a-half minute dash surges with mythology-tinged lyrics. Lines like “Summon the soul of the Spectre” and “The fire is dancing in a silvery sheet of breath” are delivered over swirling guitars and all sorts of old-school metal magnificence. It’s fucking wonderful.

The eleven minute crush of “The Czar” filters a bit of the band’s Frank Zappa influence on to the guitar solo and melds lyrics about the assassination of Rasputin over a glossy, funky 70s rock feel. Listen as the song shifts through a range of movements, bursting with guitar arpeggios and stupefying drums. It’s the type of song that will absolutely smoke in a live setting.

Crack the Skye is a truly grandiose, colossal rock record. It is a musical voyage of epic proportions.

Mastodon has aimed their sights at creating a more progressive sound and has nailed the mark in every way. “It feels like we’re a new band — like we cracked some wall,” notes Dailor. “Collectively, we’ve all been doing music our whole lives, the last nine years together, and you wonder when this is gonna fizzle out. But for it to change like this at this point, and be this new fresh thing has really revitalizes everybody.”

The title track is the record’s most deeply personal. Scott Kelly of Neurosis lends his vocal talents to the song about Dailor’s sister. “The tragedy I was referring to was my sister killing herself when I was a teenager and her name was Skye, so it ties into that,” he explains. “Hard to go there.”

By delving into the genuinely delicate and breaking old chains, Mastodon has created a hell of a record. Crack the Skye not only reaches moments of sonic flawlessness, but it pulls the listener deep within for a truly philosophical experience. It is a concept record, to be sure, but it is also a testing, multifaceted, extraordinary snapshot of a band at its most commanding and at its most vulnerable.

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About Jordan Richardson

  • MarkSaleski

    nice review jordan. i agree, i’ve been listening to this one a ton over the past couple of days. what a blast. i love what they do with the vocal harmonies.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Indeed. I have a feeling this one’s gonna be on a lot of 2009 “best of” lists.

  • El Bicho

    Good review. I have caught them a few times live at festivals and am looking forward to this