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Sunday, March 29, 2009

CD Review: Mastodon - Crack the Skye

Mastodon - Crack the Skye
2009 Reprise Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Of all the bands to be suddenly under the scrutinizing eye of the metal and rock public, Mastodon has found themselves in such a position, largely for having the good fortune to make it to the majors. You can already hear the echoing gripes and unfortunate accusations of heresy from the Remission-era fans of Mastodon, those who might not wholly appreciate the gained maturity of this astounding band out of the land Tecumsah Sherman once barbarically leveled. On a side note, in an interview I did with drummer Brann Dailor at the time of Leviathan, I posed Mastodon do an album based on the burning of Atlanta, which he entertained with laughter and admission his band would be the right ones for such a task.

Mastodon have borne crowns of iron as one of the heaviest bands to emerge in this generation, which does leave those who've been following them since the early days at particular odds. Even this writer once turned his nose briefly at Celtic Frost's Into the Pandemonium before later realizing its genius. Hopefully the same will come to fruition with those who might scoff at Mastodon's glorious expansion of sound and theory with their latest epic Crack the Skye.

If you're from Maryland or certain regions along the east coast, you're going to wonder how Mastodon derived an album titled Crack the Skye in relation to its subject matter about the downfall of the czar era in Russia and a lingering mysticism therein. Particularly since there once was a local legend of the eighties who still gets together for reunion gigs in the Baltimore region called Crack the Sky. Coincidence? Hardly.

That being said, wherever Mastodon paralleled their muse to this title matters not because Crack the Skye is pure brilliance from a band destined to be--along with Opeth and Isis--masters of their generation.

Forget "Crusher Destroyer" or "Iron Tusk" when coming to this album. If you thought Blood Mountain was an introduction to a new order in the Mastodon camp, you're going to want to let Crack the Skye spin a few times before passing final judgment. Hell, you're going to want to spin this baby plenty because the winding details expunged on Crack the Skye are so much you're going to vaguely remember the crunch chords found at random on "Oblivion," "Divinations" and the title song.

The thing this time is Mastodon has evolved far in advance of the low-end cacophony that won them notice. It's fun to hear Brent Hinds twinkle banjo notes at the beginning of "Divinations" while Brann Dailor serves up savory drum rolls like he's issuing them for free (on "The Last Baron" he's absolutely possessed for 13 minutes). As "Divinations" switches between aggression, appositely uplifting choruses and impressively tasty psychedelic twangs and tugs, so too do the vocals change agreeably. Thank God Mastodon allowed themselves the confidence of embracing their Southern-baked cleans. Some argue that the growling of the past is their true identity yet the more Hinds and Troy Sanders (with Dailor chipping in some pipe work as well) let themselves go vocally in the direction of discernable Ozzy-like swoons (there are scant few deep growls on this thing, for the record) the more textured the band responds in progressive accordance.

"Quintessence" is both delicate and bombs-heavy (those breathy guts and swirling guitar weaves make the louder parts far more impactful with letter-perfect juxtaposition) while both "The Czar" and "The Last Baron" are marathon opuses in the senses-overload tradition of Rush. In between are the translucent "Ghost of Karelia" and the gorgeously bellowing title track, the latter of which ought to appease the monster metal devout.

The thing to stress about Crack the Skye is its unbelievable punctilio. If Mastodon takes any cue from Rush on this electrifying album (consider the broken segments comprising "The Czar"), then it might be daringly said that the band has created sludge rock's very own 2112 or least Hemispheres.

Far from conventional for a band some were cheesed at for signing with a corporate label, Crack the Skye is not an album chained and restrained by the machine. In fact, give Reprise a big hand for bravely leaving Mastodon to their own designs. If there's any commercial stakes to be had with signing a titanic band like Mastodon, it's because the world is recognizing these guys as lords of their sound and their place in music history. Having the guts to stretch their sludge-belted base with multilayered dynamics is the sign of a band poised to become the Yes of their time and style if not Rush. The prolonged, exquisite guitars rounding out the final couple minutes of "The Last Baron" is all the proof you need...

Rating: *****


Martin said...

Nice review, but I guess I have one question. Is it as good/better than Leviathan? So far thats been the high bar for them to better in my eyes. Blood Mountain was good, but seems lost when you listen the Moby Dicker album.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

The way the two albums move me, Leviathan is the better album since I think Leviathan is at least in the top 5 albums released in the metal revival. I would say Crack the Skye is far more textured and is a literal soundscape which is why I gave it full marks here. I think both can be held to a standard of their own being, but yes, I prefer Leviathan despite it slightly rawer tendencies...the emotional impact of Leviathan is an unbelievable listening experience, but so is this one, just on a different level

DPTH International said...

I'm still chewing on Crack The Skye, but I like what I hear.

There is a different layer to this album than those in the past, but their heaviness is not lost.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Layer and then some, my favorite. Quite a detailed album this one is. I'm still blown away a sludge outfit came up with this mesmerizing album while retaining its heaviness as you mentioned.

SCRATCHtheSurface said...

Good review of one the greatest records I’ve heard in the last few years.
Furthermore Crack the Skye is a prime example that underground metal bands that get signed by major labels don’t always loose their artistic integrity in order to please the corporate executives.

Anonymous said...

"I think Leviathan is at least in the top 5 albums released in the metal revival." RVH Jr.

I've seen this phrased in a similiar manner a few times already on the net and I'm not too keen on this 'metal revival' mythology. The way it's phrased makes it sound like it's a small, struggling movement that makes only small strides every so often, but can barely keep its head above water.

IMO, this is the best decade Metal has ever seen. All of the old guard have been releasing some of the best material of very long and inconsistent careers, and several of the new wave of bands are continuing to astonish with one innovative title after another.

And, a big plus, and perk over other decades, the Glam movement is deader than a doornail. The top titles of this so-called metal-revival are too numerous to mention, friend. Enjoy this while it lasts. It can be over at any moment.

Anonymous said...

"Appositely"? "Punctilio"? Really? I mean, I'm all for a having a large vocabulary, but this just comes off as pretentious in a music review. I don't care if it's metal or the most refined classical symphony. That stuff should be saved for your novels. And for chrissakes, please spell Cronos's name correctly in your pictures section.

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Mastodon haves awesome studio albums... but they SUCKS live. how sad.