It's really hard to place Mastodon into one genre. Yes, they are mainly a metal band but what sub-genre? Sludge metal? Progressive metal? Groove metal? You'd be right and wrong with all three since the band has experimented with each of those different sounds on all of their albums, but they are so much more than that. Hell, there are even some that consider them more of a progressive rock band rather than a metal band. Their newest album, Crack the Skye will make classifying the band even tougher as the band goes even deeper into prog territory and explores areas they have never touched before.
Crack the Skye is much slower than any of Mastodon's previous releases with the band focusing less on delivering crushing riffs and focusing more on building an atmosphere and melody. The opener "Oblivion" is probably the catchiest song on the entire record with the excellent melody in its chorus where the vocals actually shine for once. One of my biggest gripes with Mastodon were the vocals but they have improved a lot, mainly Brent Hind's. The vocal delivery is much more clean and emotional on this album, making their sound much more appealing. "Divinations" starts off with a little banjo playing before going into an assault of heaviness much like Mastodon's older material. However, this is the only track to sound as such and the rest of the album is loaded with surprises, starting with the slower "Quintessence." This interesting track goes into psychedelic territory and features some odd vocal effects towards the end.
"The Czar" is a four-part monstrosity of a song. Beginning very peacefully and then develops into a slower drone-metal sounding song but once it hits the four minute mark, everything changes as it shifts into a more-up tempo track. It then slows down again and continues with the same slower pace that the rest of the album has. However, it should be noted that the guitarwork on this track is absolutely phenomenal. Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher have always been strong in the riff and solo department and the really show off their skills on the latter Crack the Skye, especially on this track. Truly one of the best songs Mastodon has written. "Ghost of Karelia" carries a somewhat haunting sound with it and the title track is mostly sung by Neurosis' vocalist Scott Kelly. His presence on the album is greatly felt as his powerful growling helps make this track a real standout. Closing the album is the thirteen minute "The Last Baron," which is Mastodon's attempt at making another epic and while this song is superb, I feel that "The Czar" is a much stronger "epic" track. However, "The Last Baron" has its highlights, one being the numerous amount of solos placed in it along with the great vibe it carries.
This is Mastodon at their technical peak as musicians with Hinds and Kelliher tearing up the fretboard, sharing lead and rhythm guitar duties. However, I did find a few of their solos on the album were a bit pointless and ridiculous. Bassist/vocalist Troy Saunders also has a lot of nifty basslines that he shows off, particularly in the breakdown of "The Last Baron." Drummer Brann Dallor is, as always, a monster behind the kit. He has always been a phenomenal drummer and continues to be on Crack the Skye. He's always doing something to keep the songs interesting, whether it's playing at his usual lightning fast speed, creating an interesting fill or an odd-timed beat, he keeps his place as the heart of the band and the driving force behind their music.
Now, after all this, what category would you place Mastodon in? Personally, I would consider this a progressive rock record. A good chunk of this album draws similarities to Rush, King Crimson, and even The Mars Volta at times. Mastodon are clearly not the same band that they were years ago and have realized that and decided to do something completely different and out there with Crack the Skye. I feel like this is the record Mastodon have been aiming to make for years. They showed signs of this more progressive style with the track "Hearts Alive" on Leviathan and really explored it on Blood Mountain and found it on Crack the Skye, but they still have a few holes to fill. They are very close to making that perfect record, though.
Water. Earth. Russian monarchy? While Mastodon’s previous albums Leviathan and Blood Mountain deal with two of the four elements, their newest, Crack the Skye, deals with another element albeit in a more abstract fashion - exploring the air or rather, the ether, through the eyes of a paraplegic boy who astral projects himself into the body of Grigori Rasputin, the 19th century Russian mystic who is murdered by the Czar and then battles with Satan as their souls travel back to the boy’s home.
Stay with me. Please don’t leave. There is truly no way for anyone to explain what this album is about without inducing cringes, but listen when I say, true believers, that this is something you have to hear to understand. The cliff notes version will not help you in the least. This is easily the best album of the year so far, and this status isn’t likely to change by December 31st. The term “concept album” is one rarely used anymore, but in this caseit couldn’t be more applicable and more deftly executed than in the hands of drummer Brann Dailor, bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders, guitarist Bill Kelliher and guitarist/vocalist Brent Hinds. Every album that Mastodon has released has signified a progression and this album is no exception, but don’t mistake it for prog. There’s elements of progressive metal to be found but the pomposity of so much of the genre is blessedly absent here, despite the seemingly ludicrous lyrical content that works with these skilled individuals at the helm.
Every single song is a highlight for different reasons – the frenetic verses of opening track “Oblivion” seamlessly bleeding into Hinds’ vocals in the chorus. The eleven-minute opus “The Czar.” which is broken into four suites – “Usurper,” Escape,” “Martyr,” and “Spiral”- are all unique but that much more powerful as the whole. Brendan O’Brien has always been one the best producers in the business but the work he’s done with Mastodon this album is magnificent – a collaboration of Scorsese/DeNiro depth, scope, and vision. With each successive album, Mastodon strive to create the perfect heavy album and with Crack the Skye, they come closer than anyone has in many, many years.
8.9 / 10
Reviewed by 2 writers.
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