Mastodon’s Crack the Skye
The last day of my junior year in college began uniquely: my suitemate Jeremy, mid-packing session, stopped his preparations to leave long enough to burst into my room and wake me up to tell me this: â€œDude, Iâ€™ve listened to Crack the Skye like ninety five times this quarter. Thatâ€™s over 100 hours.â€
Yes, Jeremy. Yes, it is.
Later, I found that I, too had been blitzing the album ever since itâ€™s late-March release. It could be because I was among the first people in the world to hear pieces of the album at last yearâ€™s Bonnaroo. Iâ€™ve actually listened to it more than I have any CD since Machine Headâ€™s The Blackening in 2007. It should have come as no surprise, Crack the Skye is the most compulsively listenable Metal album Iâ€™ve heard since Metallicaâ€™s The Black Album in 1991. Mastodon have been following that particular bandâ€™s career path for quite some time now, releasing album after album of increasingly melodic and complex, but heavy metal with a knack for epic choruses. That said, I donâ€™t see Crack the Skye matching The Black Albumâ€™s monstrous cultural and economic presence, despite the fact that the boys in Mastodon have mastered those epic choruses and polished them to a mirror shine.
Crack the Skye has more in common with Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin than any current band, or any of the bandâ€™s previous work: the songs are lush, dense, and long affairs that double as guitar heroics and lush psychedelic soundscapes. Thereâ€™s a narrative present, some tripped-out story that involves Icarus, astral projection, wormholes, time travel, czarist Russia, ghosts, Rasputin, and drummer/singer Brann Dailorâ€™s deceased sister Skye (get it? Good). Clearly thatâ€™s all a metaphor for personal experiences of the members of the band, and thus not really meant to be intelligible, just interesting. Whatâ€™s crazy is that it almost makes sense in a waking dream logic sort of way, but the emotive dips of the album are more engaging.
Crack the Skye begins with a graceful downer in â€œOblivion,â€ one of the albumâ€™s strongest tracks, and current radio single. The album gets more intense and depressing from there as â€œOblivionâ€s mellow â€œLeaving you behind with my lonesome song/ Now Iâ€™m lost in Oblivionâ€ chorus is blasted out of mind by the frantic first lines of â€œDivinationsâ€: â€œItâ€™s gone away/ Itâ€™s gone for good!â€ The lyrics overall impress, although the moronic â€œLetting go!â€ gang shouts in â€œQuintessensceâ€ pull that track into mediocrity. Fortunately itâ€™s the only stinker. At the literal halfway point, during the final section of â€œThe Czar,â€ the sky itself does bend and crack in a moment of hopeful tranquility, â€œI see your face in constellations/ the martyr is ending his life for mine.â€ The second half of the album is a nearly seamless roller coaster of good old fashioned heavy rock.
The album vaults from electric to acoustic constantly, and there are no harsh vocals to be found: Mastodonâ€™s three(!) vocalists have learned to harmonize like The Beach Boys, or at least replicated the effect with studio overdubs. The whole affair is very produced and polished, leaving a slightly unpleasant air of plasticity in the sound, but there are enough charming flaws to make the disc seem human and crafted, not designed by executives. The whole album functions on that push and pull with consumerism. These songs are bright, almost cheerful sounding, but the subject matter is too esoteric and twisted for radio play. Likewise, while the structures work on simple verse-chorus-verse, the song lengths are distinctly inaccessible. Crack the Skye appeals to a different kind of music fan, the kind of listener thatâ€™s willing to invest effort in not skipping ahead on their stereo or iPod and let the album communicate through sheer osmosis. Stoners, in short.
Mastodon seems to trust their demographic, and hope this album will be a worthy tribute to Dailorâ€™s sister and much more. They weave together a grand total of three distinct epic choruses into a single, cohesive, thirteen minute whole on closer (and best cut) â€œThe Last Baron,â€ masterfully. That song, and the albumâ€™s most memorable moment is a triumphant crescendo where guitarist/singer Brent Hindsâ€™ normally limited voice explodes into â€œI guess they would say we could set this would ablaze!â€ Heâ€™s not just talking about the mysterious tragic heroâ€™s alliance with Rasputinâ€™s ghost and eventually victory over Satan (Yes, you read that right), heâ€™s talking about the history Mastodon know they will make with Crack the Skye. Theyâ€™ve already sold out a nationwide tour where they played the album front to back with video and special effects to help them tell its story, whatever that really is.
Point being, these guys are crazy. They were crazy enough to make this beautiful misfit of an album and give it their full support. Clearly, they love their deeply flawed masterpiece as much as Jeremy does. This comes highly recommended, with hallucinogenic appetizer if you want to follow the plot. For recommended samples, below are links to the â€œOblivionâ€ music video. Itâ€™s awesome, too.