Mastodon – Crack The Skye

b5557bf59eaa81cc17f8ab919d5c0af2Artist: Mastodon
Album: Crack The Skye
Genre: Hard Rock
Label: Reprise/Sire

Mastodon is a band that two years ago I wouldn’t have given the time of day, but oh how the times have changed. Last year, at the Rockstar Mayhem tour, I caught this band’s energetic and epic set while awaiting Slipknot and they’ve stuck with me since. I tried out the other two big records they have out, but still couldn’t grasp the overall appeal of their records. Yes, it’s heavy and large in scale, but I would get bored before an album ended. So, when the group’s new record, Crack The Skye arrived, I approached it with great caution.

There are only seven tracks within Crack The Skye, but anyone familiar with the band should know that in no way means it’s a short record. On the contrary, the record is actually 50 minutes long, which puts it well above most thirteen track records we cover.

The record opens with the poetic “Oblivion” which takes little time to grab you. The group is obviously more meticulous than ever before with the overall production of the record and it shows from the get go. The vocals are cleaner, yet still sound near demonic at times and the guitar work is of the highest caliber [as is to be expected here]. “Divinations,” the second track flows perfectly from the opener, but I must admit it does so almost too well as it goes by without really sticking out too much for me. I understand that it’s the track chosen to premiere the album to most of you, but to me, it’s one of the weakest of the bunch. The real magic of this album is found more on “Quintessence” than anywhere else. This is the first track to truly display the power of Mastodon. The genre is indescribable and the guitar work is nothing short of impeccable. If you are looking for something to make you sit back and really take in the power of this group, look no further than right here.

The eleven minute 4th track, “The Czar” is actually broken up into 4 parts: Usurper, Escape, Martyr, and Spiral. It’s not 100% clear where the sections break, but that’s only because the flow and structure of the piece as a whole is stunning. I mean, it’d be too easy to break it up based on speed and such, but in the end, that’s the only notable difference. The band has constructed a story in music like Ron Howard does with film: they’ve patiently crafted their art until it works separately and as a whole and as a result, we’re unable to see the stitches where each piece has been put together.

As we move into the back portion of the record, I felt my interest begin to drop a bit. “Ghost of Karelia” had some solid key changes and musical ideas, but in the long run, it felt like what had grabbed me earlier on the record being thrown at me a second time as if I wouldn’t remember it from before. The title track for the record however really packs a punch. From the almost 80’s metal [real metal, not the Def Leopard version] rocker, but then morphs into a modern musical giant. The sheer scale of this track both vocally and musically is enough to send most modern rock acts into seizures, but for the men of Mastodon it’s just another day at the office and that’s what makes them so fascinating to listen to.

We finally meet the end of our journey with “The Last Baron,” a thirteen minute opus. Remember that final scene in The Devil’s Rejects where our crew of evil doers rides into a blaze of gun fire with “Freebird” blaring? Well, to not give too much away, our evil doers don’t fare to well against the police roadblock, but if this were the track on the radio it would have gone a lot differently. This track is a victory anthem, yet so much more at the same time. It like the entire lifespan of human emotion compiled into one song and it’s absolutely breathtaking.

Mastodon have finally revealed to me why people have been talking about them for years. It’s not about the skillful guitar playing or incredible ranged vocals, but rather the sheer scale of their music. It’s not one epic track after another, but rather a mutli-arched storyline that’s as moving as the finest Hollywood picture. Crack The Skye is an artistic creation in a genre that seems to have thrown all thought on that subject out the window. It’s moving and powerful without being overly dramatic or dull. It’s not perfect, but I don’t see any competition for miles and miles.

Score: 8/10

James Shotwell
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