Review: Mastodon – Crack the Skye

Posted: December 1, 2013 in Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , ,

This is one of my older reviews, but I have been inspired by the news that we will be getting a new Mastodon album in 2014. Metal’s most important band are set to grace us once again with their music, and for that we should all be more than thankful!

I have attempted to write this review three times now. And yet I get halfway through it and I realise it has been futile. Maybe I will do the same this time, but I feel it needs to be out there anyway. I have been a huge Mastodon fan since 2004; the first moment I heard ‘Leviathan’ I knew I was in the company of something special, something quite different. The metal head in me was in love with the stomp of ‘Blood and Thunder’, whereas the more intuitive side of my musical appreciation knew there was more to be found. It became one of my favourite records ever, and I positively lusted after its follow up, ‘Blood Mountain’.

Now that was a head fuck of a record. For a number of listens I didn’t even realise how good it was, I was more in awe of the new moments or weird stuff I noticed with every listen. At first I didn’t like it, after 20 listens it had become an album so good that I don’t think even the band had realised it.

And so to ‘Crack the Skye’. Where to begin with it? Well, it is immediately recognisable as Mastodon. As with French death metal titans Gojira, they are able to mess around with so many ideas and yet retain that unique sound that brings their name to your lips instantly. Opening track ‘Oblivion’ follows a tradition of ball busting openers to Mastodon albums, and yet while not really possessing the power or thrust of ‘Blood and Thunder’ or ‘The Wolf is Loose’, it engages with a more melodic sweep, it feels HUGE in the biggest sense of the word. Mastodon’s full progressive streak sways and lifts throughout, with a solo that drifts amongst the clouds and mountaintops.

Second track ‘Divinations’ opens with a banjo. A banjo, you read that right. In the same way that the ‘laser gun’ vocal streak from ‘Circle of Cysquatch’ completely baffled you, so does this. From there it bursts into more recognisable Mastodon territory, stomping Southern metal riffing wrapped in a tornado of drumming virtuosity from Brann Dailor, the primitive roar is bread and butter to any fan of the band. ‘Quintessence’ follows with some excellent melodic guitar lines, and flashes of psychedelica shine through as the ethereal theme takes full effect; it swirls amongst the heavier riffs, infusing them with mystique. It is also evident in the eastern tinged ‘The Ghost of Karelia’, whose opening would have slid perfectly onto an album by say, Melechesh or Absu.

But it is the 10 minute epic ‘The Czar’ that provides the creative pinnacle of, not only the album but possibly the career of Mastodon. Otherworldly notes peel and fade off as a melodic, mournful guitar line sits amongst ambient bass and lyrical drumming. It is the concept of the death of Rasputin, adding yet more atmosphere to the mystic feel of the record. In fact, it is this track that truly embodies that feeling of the uncertain that you’ve felt creeping into you since you put this CD on. Don’t lie, its been there, waiting for just this moment.

It is quite a feat to include metal, hardcore, psychedelica and 70’s prog rock into the one album without it feeling contrived in any way. Yet Mastodon only use each element in their arsenal when and if it is needed. They have somewhat restrained the animalistic fury that saw the majority of ‘Remission’ and ‘Leviathan’, deciding to explore new and more exciting territories. There is a lot more melodic vocals which harmonise together, and considering the more spiritual and introspective direction of this album that is probably the best thing. I sometimes find it difficult to connect to real emotion when it is roared at me, and yet the heartfelt soar of ‘The Czar’ and epic closer ‘The Last Baron’ ring with just that feeling.

Mastodon have managed to do the impossible; create yet another piece of essential metal that cracks and ripples with intensity and yet cannot be pinned down, will not be tethered to this Earth, but is destined to live amongst the ether from which it has been forged. For those of us who thought ‘Blood Mountain’ could not be topped, we were wrong…

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